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Coloring Conflict with Hope: Art Helps Yemeni Children Heal and Learn
June 15, 2023

Yemen is enduring one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with millions of people displaced, vulnerable, and struggling with hunger and poverty. The ongoing conflict has disrupted the education of millions of children, who continue to face violence, trauma, and insecurity. Many children have missed years of schooling or have never been to school at all.

But there is hope. Thanks to the USAID-funded Yemen Gateway to Education project, implemented by Save the Children in partnership with Creative Associates International, thousands of out-of-school children are getting a chance to get back to school, to learn and heal through art.

The project supports non-formal education (NFE) centers that provide flexible and accelerated learning programs for children who have been left behind by the formal system. The NFE centers also offer Healing through the Arts sessions, where children can express their feelings and emotions through drawing, painting, sculpting, acting, singing, and dancing.

One of the beneficiaries of the project is *Maryam, a 14-year-old girl who lives in a district affected by the conflict. Maryam was not enrolled in a formal school when she was young due to personal and family reasons. Fortunately, the project supported the formation of a community education committee and helped her enroll in a class at one of the project’s community NFE centers. She studied at the NFE center until her class was integrated at a formal school in her district.

In addition to learning Arabic, mathematics, and science, Maryam participated with her classmates in weekly art sessions organized by her teacher, Eshtiaq. Because she likes drawing and painting, Maryam finds these sessions very helpful and enjoyable as they make learning fun.

“Today we did an activity called the ‘pie of feelings’, where we draw a pie and color it with different colors that reflect how we feel: happy, sad, fearful, optimistic, anxious, etc.,” Maryam said. “When I grow up, I would like to become a painter because it’s what makes me happy and it helps me release any stress I feel.”

Eshtiaq is one of more than 150 volunteer teachers trained by the project on learning and teaching approaches in emergency situations. She also received training on how to best conduct healing through the arts sessions for children.

“This is a valuable program that contributes to the well-being of students and helps them deal with emotional stress and trauma,” said Eshtiaq. “Each week we have a structured activity that is designed to help students understand, express and communicate the different feelings they have at that moment. This activity empowers and gives the students the courage to share their feelings with their peers and better understand themselves and one another.”

Eshtiaq adds that art activities are very important in the educational process, especially in a country like Yemen that is coping with a lengthy war. “Most of these students were very young when the war broke out, and many of them still remember the war and what happened; some of them could potentially have post-traumatic stress disorder. Knowing their emotions, I could adjust my teaching methods to better suit each student’s needs.”

The Gateway to Education project promotes safe and equitable access to quality education through the formal and non-formal school system for Yemeni boys and girls—in host and internally displaced persons communities—and for students with special needs. Through the NFE classes and art sessions, the project is reaching some of the most vulnerable children in Yemen and providing them with valuable assistance to help them learn, cope with the impact of the crisis, and prepare them for a brighter future. The project also supports safe and upgraded facilities, improved teaching and learning materials, stronger institutional support for the education system, increased community participation, and access for children with disabilities.

*Name changed to protect her identity.