Yemeni Development Foundation: Empowering communities, broadening horizons [Archives:2002/13/Business & Economy]

March 25 2002

When he talks about the death of a Yemeni worker in a factory in the north of England where he was receiving only £1.50 an hour, Mohammad Almasyabi the Chief Executive of the Yemeni Development Foundation (YDF) talks as if he has lost a member of his family.
Almost as tragic as the death itself is the fact that other Yemenis were lining up at the factory gates eager to take the job in an establishment which is clearly violating health and safety regulations and taking little notice of the basic minimum wage of £4.00.
Almasyabi is a man with a mission. He is determined to broaden the vision of the Yemeni and other immigrant communities in Britain who are stuck in the stagnant factory culture focused on menial jobs, the family and politics in their home country thousands of miles away from Britain.
At a recent lecture to the British-Yemeni Society he described how his concern about the social exclusion of the Yemeni community prompted him to set up the YDF.
The history of the Yemeni community in Britain can be traced back to 1865. It was the first Arab community and one of the first ever ethnic groups to settle in the UK. The community at the time was made up mostly of single men working as sailors and workers on British merchant and navy ships. Some Yemenis joined the British army and others worked at the docks.
Yemeni men gradually moved from the unsettling work of sea life to that of the steel factories and foundries. Some married English, Welsh and Irish women but others preferred to lead a semi-single life with their wives back home in Yemen going backwards and forwards for a few months or weeks.
In the late 70s many Yemenis lost their jobs due to the industrial decline and the closure of factories. Many left the UK to the Gulf States and some to the USA to seek better job prospects.
According to the YDF’s latest annual report, the present situation of the community is improving: a younger generation is emerging better equipped with the necessary skills, education and culture to meet the challenges of life.
Today there are around 40,000 Yemenis in Britain originating mostly from rural areas in north Yemen and the southern regions, from Ibb Shamir district of Taiz to Dhali, al Shuaib Yafi in Aden.
The community still consists mostly of men working in the steel industry, mainly in Birmingham and Sheffield. Some hold on to their ‘own’ towns where they spent their youth and have joyful memories in Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, Southshields, Middlesborough, London and Liverpool.
Economically, some members of the community have taken up the challenge of setting up their own business such as small corner and grocery shops. A number have started to prosper and others such as Prince Naseem Hamid, have become household names in both Britain and Yemen.
But the YDF is quick to point out that socially the community is still far from progressive, and marriage and issues relating to the role of women are still causing concern. Although there are no religious barriers in lifting the cultural restrictions on women many do not play an active role in British society or the Yemeni community. Politically the community is still under-represented and its influence is neglible.
“I wanted to raise the profile of this community”, Almasyabi explained. “Many Yemenis came to Britain with the idea that they would earn some money and go back home – but they never went home. Yet even some members of the third generation have the idea they will return to Yemen.
There are more than 20 Yemeni organizations in Britain but, according to Almasyabi, many are inward looking. The YDF set up 18 months ago, originally planned to concentrate its efforts among the Yemenis. But today it is working with eight Yemeni organizations as well as communities of others. such as Somalis, Algerians, Iraqis, Bosnians, Kurds, Albanians and Kosovans. A Somali doctor with 20 years experience in his country was assisted in identifying a course at Liverpool University which would ensure his qualifications were recognized and he is now able to work in the UK.
YDF is primarily engaged in the capacity building and overall development of disadvantaged ‘invisible’ ethnic minority groups in the UK.
Its aims include the promotion of the development and sustainability of a co-ordinated network of community-based organizations working to improve the well-being of Yemeni and other small minority ethnic communities, to facilitate effective networking including electronic networking between the organizations it represents, to develop resources and identify opportunities for growth and development for community groups and to promote a positive and constructive attitude to the participation of women in the management of the organizations it works with.
Since its establishment it has presented a paper on Yemen at the European NGO Forum Conference organized by the EU in Brussels parallel to the UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries, held promotional networking meetings and workshops with various economic regeneration agencies to promote the needs and interests of its members, assisted seven groups to receive grant aid from various sources and received requests for support from over 20 grass-roots voluntary organizations to provide a range of training and development services.
As well as helping to build bridges of co-operation between Yemeni communities, immigrant communities and the host society, YDF is also working at the street level in Yemen by assisting organizations which will help alleviate poverty and reduce disease.
In a country where there is no social security Almasyabi is especially concerned about the plight of the handicapped and the cure of childhood diseases such as hydrocephalus which can led to permanent disability.
The YDF has signed agreements of co-operation and partnership with ten Yemeni NGOs in various parts of the country concerned with the welfare and rehabilitation of disabled people, vocational skills training for children and poverty-striken men and women, primary reproductive and health care and mental health.
Almasyabi has personally checked out the activities of the NGOs YDF supports and warns of many so-called charitable societies which have an impressive name on a big building and are little more than a qat chewing venue to enhance the founders’ status.
“We are optimistic, we are ambitious, we are committed and we are convinced that the results of our work will be fruitful”, he says with a confident, sincere non-arrogant pride.
YDF can be contacted at Magnolia House, 73 Conybere Street, Highate, Birmingham B12OYL, UK: tel 00-44-121-685-1800 fax: 00-44-121-685-1801, email [email protected] website