Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A part of me

I have been in about 3-4 meetings each day here in Yemen with NGOs, union officials, government officials (theirs and ours), and citizens and each meeting gets this country under my skin a little more than the last. Their problems are very well-defined, their hope is very real, but their actions seem extremely elusive. If the story of Tantalus were a country, it would be Yemen. Just when they are getting democracy off the ground, the 1st Gulf war strikes and they get an influx of extreme conservatives re-writing the agenda for women and country. Just when the Clinton administration shines a light on Yemen as an example of how the Middle East can incubate democracy, the Cole gets blown up in Aden, a Yemen port. Just as moderates begin coalescing, the 2nd Gulf war breaks out and conservatives use George Bush's reasoning that he is doing the will of God to claim that they are merely doing the same.

Their education issues (2 million students with no access to education--the majority of them girls, corruption is rampant, teachers have no uniform training when there is training offered at all, 100-150 students per class, 95% of the schools have no laboratories, 42% have no drinking water, 70% have no electricity) look insurmountable until you have seen where they were before. Fifteen years ago there were 4 boys attending school for every one girl, now there are 3 boys for every 2 girls. That is progress. Fifteen years ago about 70% of Yemen's women were illiterate, now that has fallen to 59%. That is progress. In 2006, 4 organizations cooperated to train 400 Yemen women to run for political office. Ultimately 140 actually ran, and 38 won (out of 7000 local elections country-wide). That is progress.

From at least 2 of the meetings I was in today (one with the Arab Sisters Forum, another with Islah opposition party officials) there is great determination to keep improving the condition of education overall, and specifically education for Yemen's girls. This determination is borne out of the realization that it is more than a human rights issue (which it has been acknowledged to be) but that is is an economic vehicle for a country that is going to run out of oil, run out of water, and run out of friends outside of the Middle East if it does not prepare for the 21st Century.

At our final meeting, I had an exchange that sums it up well. If the AFT is going to come in to Yemen to offer assistance to educators, the idea has to come from Yemen and they need to know what they need in an educational system that prepares this country for the future. If any one of us comes in and begins to offer something without listening first, or forcing the conversation among Yemenis first, then it is just a form of educational colonialism.

1 comment:

Lori said...

Stay safe and strong, mc. Thanks for the updates! I'm thinking about you everyday.