The walls are crumbling, the windows shattered, and the boys sit three to a desk, but by being enrolled in classes at all, the pupils are among the luckiest children in war-torn Yemen.
In the capital Sana’a, students in olive green uniforms lined up for a morning salute at the Al-Wahda boys’ school, AFP reported on Saturday.
“Onward!” nearly 70 pupils chanted in unison, reaching forward to form a human chain.
But 15-year-old Alaa Yasser was not among them. Instead, he was working at a nearby car shop to support his family.
“I had to stop going to school to work with my father to help him earn a living,” said the teenager, whose family fled the southwestern city of Taiz.
Two million children across the country have no access to education, according to the UN children’s agency UNICEF, three years into a Saudi-led war that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine and shows no sign of waning.
Hisham al-Saka, 12, also dropped out to help support his mother and sister after his father’s death in 2015. “I wish I could go to school,” Saka said. “But my mother cannot afford to pay for school supplies … she can’t even afford to get me and my siblings the uniforms.”
More than 22 million people – three-quarters of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.
Fifteen-year-old Mokhtar Yehya is one of the fortunate few enrolled at Al-Wahda.
“We want to carry on studying to become doctors, engineers and pilots,” he said.
“We hope that things will get better, so that our future is bright.”
‘Message to the world’s UNICEF estimates 4.5 million children risk losing access to state schools in Yemen, as teachers have not been paid in nearly two years.
More than 2,500 schools have been damaged or destroyed, while some are now used as shelters for displaced people or as camps run by armed groups.
Christophe Boulierac, a UNICEF spokesman, said many teachers “have looked for other work to survive or are only teaching a few subjects. So, obviously, the quality of education is at stake.”
“Children are not getting their full lessons due to the absence of their teachers.”
Last month, Saudi air raids on residential areas killed more than 60 children, including 40 on a school bus in the northwestern Sa’ada province.
The bombings continue to haunt pupils in the capital Sana’a.
Taha Okbeh, a 14-year-old student at Al-Wahda, said that his “message to the world” would be “to stop the war and the airstrikes on our way to school.”