YEMEN

As bombs fall about them, Yemeni children paint their war

Karen Saadi is a headmaster without a school. The school she ran has been closed since the Saudi-led coalition started bombing Yemen’s capital, Saana. Many of her students’ families have fled, but she hasn’t abandoned those who remain. Nearly every day, children gather at her house and create artwork – mostly about the violence around them, which they struggle to make sense of.

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Children painting in the courtyard of the headmaster of their school, which has been closed sinch late March due to the conflict in Yemen.

Karen Saadi is a headmaster without a school. The school she ran has been closed since the Saudi-led coalition started bombing Yemen’s capital, Saana. Many of her students’ families have fled, but she hasn’t abandoned those who remain. Nearly every day, children gather at her house and create artwork – mostly about the violence around them, which they struggle to make sense of.

Saadi, who is British, has spent decades in Yemen, and is married to a Yemeni; her children and grandchildren are Yemeni citizens. She runs the Hadda Valley international school, which goes from primary to high school. It has been closed since March 25.

"My granddaughter screams, 'Are we going to die?'"

Many of my students came from wealthy families, and were able to flee the country when the conflict started. However, about 100 of them remain in Sanaa – mostly the children of our staff members and orphans who attended the school on scholarship.

Painting in Mrs. Saadi's courtyard.

Those who live close enough to walk to my house, which is located near the presidential palace compound, come over very frequently. Myself and Ms. Deena, who is one of the school’s English teachers, try to occupy them with art projects. They draw, paint and write poetry.

A poem by one of Mrs. Saadi's students. 

Most of the kids’ artwork is about the aerial raids. They draw a lot of planes – planes they don’t actually see. They fly very high, and whenever we hear them coming, all children are quickly ushered indoors. In our house, like in most houses in Yemen, we don’t have a basement, so we just stay away from the windows and hope for the best. During some of the worst bombings yet on Monday, several of our windows shattered. Thankfully we had thought to tape them up so that the glass shards didn’t fly all over the house and hit anyone inside. Lots of people have died that way.

This drawing represents the Saudi-led coalition's planes bombing Sanaa. 

During the air raids the children are terrified; it’s very loud, and the house shakes. My eldest granddaughter just screams all the time: “Are we going to die? We’re going to die!” She’s six years old, but she knows exactly what’s going on. She’s caught glimpses of dead children on TV when my husband watches the news. We try to tell the kids that the bombs are not targeting us, that they’re targeting the soldiers on the mountain, but I’m not sure they believe us anymore.

An explosion drawn by Fatima, a sixth-grader. 

And yet in the kids also draw their hopes for the future. One of the teenage boys drew a timeline of Yemen’s history. The present is full of violence, and the near-future is uncertain, but in 2020, he sees peace and prosperity. And one of the girls drew a big flower in the middle of the tanks and planes.

A timeline of Yemen's history drawn by a 10th grade student. 

“One of our students lost her parents and siblings when their house was hit”

I’m worried about the students from the orphanage. They already didn’t get enough food before the conflict, and now there’s very little food in the supermarkets and prices have doubled. We feed them here, but they come to the house less and less often, because they have to walk two hours to get here. I try to send taxis for them when I can, but taxis are rarely running anymore due to the petrol shortages. My son had to wait in line for days to get 40 litres of petrol, which is the maximum amount allowed per person; we’re saving it in case we have to evacuate.

A flower growing among warplanes and tanks. 

At first, public sentiment in Sanaa was rather favorable to the Saudi-led coalition, but now that so many civilians are being killed, that’s changing. I know many people here who have been injured, and some killed. As far as I know, all of our students are alive. But one of them was visiting her neighbours when her family’s house was hit. Her parents and siblings all died; she lives with her aunt now.

According to the United Nations, at least 234 children have been killed in the violence in the last two months. 

Ms. Deena, the school's English teacher, supervises the children in Mrs. Saadi's home. 

More of the children's artwork: