A mother holding her young son on her lap.

Sukaina Sharafuddin and her son

Meet a Mother on the Frontlines of One of the World’s Worst Humanitarian Disasters, Now Fighting COVID-19 As Well

Sukaina Sharafuddin, a Media and Communications Coordinator at Save the Children in Yemen, gave birth to her son four years ago as bombs were falling. At the time, her country was one year into a now-five-year war. War is “all he has ever known,” she says.

Since that day, I have been praying for him—and us—to live long enough to see the other side of the war. Today, I have a new fear: COVID-19.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world at a frightening rate. This virus does not discriminate between countries – but the risks of harm are not equally shared. Some of the wealthiest countries have been devastated by the coronavirus, with health systems overwhelmed. In countries where health systems are already struggling to deliver basic services, the risks are even greater.

With a population that is already suffering from malnutrition and disease, the last thing Yemen needs is an outbreak of COVID-19. The possibilities to contain the virus from spreading are limited and the health system is overstretched already. Children are living with horrific injuries from the conflict and the violence continues. One in every five districts doesn’t have doctors at all and a child dies every ten minutes because of preventable diseases including Respiratory Tract Infections. This means that 144 children die every day even before any COVID-19 outbreak.

“Through it all,” Sukaina says, “I have seen women show unparalleled strength and resilience—picking up  the pieces and moving on. Yet every time I ask a woman: ‘How are you?’, they all responded with the same answer, ‘Alhamdulillah,’ which simply means ‘grateful’.”

With 24.1 million people, or 80% of Yemen’s population in need of assistance, families have witnessed unimaginable devastation and loss. Nearly 90% of Yemen’s children were living in close proximity to high-intensity conflict in 20171.

“Women and girls are often disproportionately impacted by crisis. “In my country,” Sukaina says, “21% of females who are the head of their household are under 18. They are still children themselves. Many of them have had to skip meals to make sure their children have enough to eat. Others have sold everything they own – jewelry, land, livestock – to put bread on the table. And many, many others have accumulated debt.”

Sukaina says she didn’t fully realize what “Alhamdulillah” meant until an encounter with a woman in Yemen’s port city of Hodeida. The woman, a mother of four, was buying vegetables when an airstrike hit her home. Her husband, daughter and grandson were killed. Two of her other children were injured.

“ She welled up with tears while telling me the story,” Sukaina says, “but then looked me straight in the eyes and said with a smile, “Alhamdulillah, what can we do? Was there anything in my hand that I could’ve done to stop what happened? No. They were home, where we were supposed to feel safe. Luckily I still have my other two children alive. Other women probably lost their entire family while they were asleep. Now that we lost our home, we will move to live with a relative and I will register my young children to a new school and life will continue.”

“That’s when I realized that Yemeni women can’t afford to be weak. They find strength and resilience amid living an unbearable life cornered by the triple threat of starvation, bombs and disease.”

COVID-19 is a global threat and our shared humanity demands a global response. No country is immune, and no country can defeat a virus that knows no borders by acting alone. Save the Children is doing everything in our power to protect and support children and their families everywhere we work. We must act now to protect a generation.

“When my son was born,” Sukaina says, “I would stare at him for hours at night, looking at his beautiful peaceful face, and feeling sad and guilty for bringing him to such an insecure life. But ever since I met all these inspiring women, I’ve made a commitment to be strong like them.

They have taught me to say “Alhamdulillah” every day, for I can provide safety, health and love for my son. And with the help of my fellow countrymen and women, and the international community, I hope we will keep Yemen’s children and their families safe from COVID-19, so that they can grow up to fulfill their own dreams.”

Note: As of May 5, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the north of Yemen, in the capital Sana’a. According to the Ministry of Health, there are now at least 21 confirmed cases and three confirmed deaths in the country.

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