The father of four young children, he has traveled long distances in hope of finding work as a day laborer, though work wasn’t always guaranteed. Famine and malnutrition are always a looming threat, with extreme food shortages driving up costs and making it harder for people to scrape together proper meals. Many families in Yemen are desperate, rationing out what little food is available.
“I used to go to Aden city and try to find a job for weeks,” he says. “It took a long time to go to the city and find this work. It was hard.”
Jobs in Yemen are often hard to find as the country endures war, famine and the outbreak of disease. Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and half the population lives below the poverty line. According to a recent report from the United Nations, an estimated 22 million people are food insecure and lack access to clean water and sanitation services. Cholera is spreading as many are deprived of drinkable water.
With the country at war, Yemen has become the center of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
One way Mercy Corps is helping Yemenis meet their urgent needs is through cash-for-work programs that rehabilitate local infrastructure and provide critical employment for people who need it. The programs promote good hygiene practices while improving water and sanitation infrastructures.
Mercy Corps’ intervention in Yemen has helped more than 31,000 Yemenis reduce their vulnerability to poor water and sanitation services. Around the world, these cash-for-work programs are lifting up vulnerable communities in places like Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mercy Corps hired Wassim to help build an irrigation channel in his village. The channel provides clean water, helps increase local crop yields, and saves Wassim precious time he used to spend making the long walk to get water from the nearest well.
“Now the water is coming right here to the village,” he says. “I used to walk a half hour away. It’s much better now.”
Wassim has turned this short-term work opportunity into a more steady income by investing his earnings into his own small business — now he runs a vegetable stand that benefits several neighboring villages.
Before he opened his stand, Wassim says, people had to walk to the main city to buy vegetables. Now they have a local shop nearby, and Wassim has even earned enough to buy a cow that provides milk that keeps his children healthy.
“It was a bad situation before,” he says. “I needed to start a small business to have a suitable income. … My shop supports my family, my brothers, maybe 50 people. It’s an important thing for us, to have health and food.”
This new opportunity from Mercy Corps’ work program has given Wassim the means to better provide for his family, but it’s also provided something else — the hope that his children can have a better future.
“I hope my kids study and have better education and better health,” he says.