Monday, August 4, 2008


Must of the time the statistics and situations I find in Yemen cause me to stagger a bit. The unemployment rate, literacy, lack of access to education for girls, but today I came across something that gave me perspective.

As it often does, this perspective made me very hopeful, in this case for the future of Yemen.

I was reading the August 2nd edition of the Yemen Observer, a weekly English language newspaper here, ( or for the Arabic version try and the front page story was about President Saleh using the occasion of celebrating a national college graduation to call for more education reform. I could have stopped at that headline, just assuming I could have written the article myself considering the plethora of ‘education reform’ headlines that have come and gone in the United States in the last 10 years. However, I’m glad I kept reading on.

Yemeni reporter Mohammed al-Kibsi quoted some fairly encouraging statistics. The president had said “that 46 years ago there was not even a single university in Yemen and that only a few people” even finished a high school program. The university graduation ceremony President Saleh presided over had 28,400 graduates just in 2008. Yemen now counts over 240,000 university graduates in their country. Up from zero 46 years ago. They now have 8 universities in Yemen, when 46 years ago they didn’t have any.

Yemen is still direly short of trained teachers. Girls are still dropping out of school at rates that should make all of us blush with shame. There is still a critical fresh water supply problem, but it was good to take a minute to celebrate this progress for Yemen.

As we have a habit of saying when we see good data, this is trending in the right direction. Yemen has an opportunity to set an ambitious goal of college access for everyone within the next generation. Maybe we can even be successful enough with our work in St. Paul to show them how it’s done.

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