From the ground in Yemen, Progressio development worker Prachanda Man Shrestha explains why he feels his work is all the more important given recent turmoil.
Before now, I’ve only ever heard gun firing or cannons during festivals in Nepal, but over the last few days in Aden they became all too familiar.
A kind of fear arose within me and I sensed I might have to leave Aden or the country if the demonstrations and violence escalated. Soon enough on Saturday morning I got the news that we had to move to head office in Sana’a. In ten years working as a development worker, I’ve never before had to relocate in such dire circumstances.
On our way to the airport hotel I saw the remains of burnt tyres and logs at every junction. And the turmoil still remains fixed in my mind. The country is in a political crisis - people are in the streets seeking regime change, inspired by the changes taking place in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries in the Middle East.
Why are people angry and where are the women?
Some Adeni people express grievances about the unification of Yemen which happened in the 1990s, while Al Houthi and others have their own agenda of dissatisfaction.
People complain of poverty and unemployment as well as corruption. Anti-government protesters are seeking regime change to find solutions to all these issues while those who support the government don’t want to forget the good things that have happened in recent decades.
Women did not show up or were few in numbers, as they are assigned to remain indoors. I have heard that protesters on both sides are taking breaks to chew Qat (a mild stimulant).
Progressio in Yemen
It is in these difficult times, that I find the work I do to be even more important. For almost three years I was based with Abu Musa Al Ashary, a Progressio partner organisation committed to social service and development. Through our work we gained recognition as a faith based organisation working on HIV and caring for people living with HIV/AIDS in Yemen.
Abu Musa Al Ashary has even started raising awareness of Female Genital Mutilation. Our work has been possible because the people I work with at various levels are supportive, and this brings me a great deal of satisfaction.
Now I am working in Aden with Progressio’s partner - the Women’s Association for Sustainable Development. My work includes preventing HIV transmission among sex workers in Aden, where there is a severe denial of sex work, and high levels of stigma and discrimination towards those involved in it.
In the midst of the unrest in Yemen, I am reminded of the old Progressio motto “changing minds, changing lives” which has been established here in Yemen for the past three decades. I think the work of Progressio is very important today and will continue to be important tomorrow and in the future. People are in need of better lives.
So what now?
The humanitarian services and development work Progressio offers is essential and should not be limited by political, social or religious boundaries. I believe the UK should continue supporting Yemeni people to work towards better lives through social development.
My general observation is that people are seeking change; whether change in the regime, social developmental change or to change their own identities. However, a potentially unstable transition period, in which a tug of war of different forces plays out, will inevitably impact the lives of ordinary people.
Photo: Aden's 'Crater area' and fishing market viewed from Seera Castle (© Prachanda Man Shrestha/Progressio)