In wartime Yemen, children find solace in music

Children attend a music class at the Al-Nawras school in Taez, Yemen's third city, in the country's southwest, on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 28 January 2019

In wartime Yemen, children find solace in music

  • Taiz, once known for its high-quality coffee beans, is now the scene of intense fighting between Houthis and government forces
  • Around 2 million Yemeni children are missing out on school, with half a million dropping out since 2015

TAIZ, Yemen: The sound of music fills the halls at a school in the Yemeni city of Taiz, where little Nazira Al-Jaafari sits at a keyboard as a teacher takes her through the notes.

“I love music,” said Jaafari, a pupil at the Al-Nawras school where tutors are trying to help students temporarily forget the ongoing war.

“Whenever I feel sad or uncomfortable, I play music.”

She has built up an eclectic repertoire, including “Happy Birthday” and cult songs by Arab icons Fairuz and Umm Kalthoum.

“I just hope that Yemen will win this war,” she said before exhaling deeply, then smiling and adding: “And that we can live a new life.”

Taiz, a city in the southwestern Yemeni highlands, was once known for its coffee beans, grown at high elevation and exported through the famed port of Mokha.

Today, the city is home to some of the most intense fighting in a war between Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militants and government forces backed by a Saudi-led military coalition.

The UN has urged both parties to open humanitarian corridors to besieged Taiz, where state troops are embedded inside city limits — surrounded by militant forces.

The three-story Al-Nawras school was hit in 2015-2016. When it reopened its doors, walls still pockmarked with bullet holes, educators decided to expand the music program, making it part of the core curriculum alongside maths and Arabic, with the hope that it would restore joy to their students’ days.

“The psychological state of the students was very difficult when we reopened here, after all the shelling and bombing and fighting,” said principal Shehabeddine Al-Sharabi.

The head of a university in neighboring Mokha recommended music, loaning instruments to Al-Nawras free of charge.

“Music is not an extracurricular activity here. We can see how it impacts our students, how they are more responsive through music. It yields purely positive revenue,” Al-Sharabi said.

While the lessons are not part of a formal mental health program, music therapy has been used around the world to support those who have experienced trauma.

And in the humble classrooms of Al-Nawras, dozens of boys and girls find daily, albeit temporary, reprieve from atrocities in a country the UN says is home to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Smiling and tapping on their desks, a class of bright-eyed students sing, in English, “My face, my face, this is my nose.”

In a class later in the day, slightly older children sing “Education is a weapon.” But around 2 million Yemeni children are missing out on school, with half a million dropping out since 2015, according to UN figures published last March.

In Taiz, teacher Abir Al-Sharabi takes the time to help students — like Jaafari — learn to play the tunes themselves.

“There’s a sense that students feel more comfortable here than in their other classes,” Sharabi told AFP. “Their energy in this class is different.

“And some students even have experience in singing! All their voices are beautiful. Singing helps the psyche,” she told AFP.

“War is the cause of so much pain, and sometimes it’s easier to express that through song.”


UK summons Iran envoy as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces return to jail

Updated 30 October 2020

UK summons Iran envoy as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces return to jail

  • Husband Richard Ratcliffe: Iran has ordered Nazanin to report to court for a new trial on Monday and then back to jail
  • Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab: Britain has made it clear to Iran “that is entirely unjustified and totally unacceptable and must not happen”

LONDON: Britain on Friday warned Iran against throwing detained woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe back in jail, after hauling in Tehran’s envoy for a dressing-down over her emotive case.
The Foreign Office summoned Ambassador Hamid Baeidinejad on Thursday to hear renewed demands from a senior official for an end to the British-Iranian captive’s “arbitrary detention.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC radio Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in a “horrific position,” after her husband said Iran has ordered her to report to court for a new trial on Monday and then back to jail.
Britain has made it clear to Iran “that is entirely unjustified and totally unacceptable and must not happen,” Raab said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who will turn 42 on Boxing Day, has been on temporary release from Tehran’s Evin prison and under house arrest since earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
She has spent more than four years in jail, or under house arrest, since being detained in the Iranian capital in April 2016 while visiting relatives with her young daughter.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation — the media organization’s philanthropic arm — denied charges of sedition but was convicted and jailed for five years.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has spent more than four years in jail, or under house arrest, since being detained in the Iranian capital in April 2016. (AFP)

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe said this week that the Foreign Office’s handling of the case “seems disastrous,” and that “the UK is dancing to Iran’s tune.”
Raab told the BBC: “We’ve made it very clear we want to try to put the relationship between the UK and Iran on a better footing.
“If Nazanin is returned to prison, that will of course put our discussions and the basis of those discussions in a totally different place. It is entirely unacceptable.”
Richard Ratcliffe linked the latest development to the postponement of a hearing that was due to take place on Tuesday in London to address Iran’s longstanding demand for the repayment by Britain of hundreds of millions from an old military equipment order.
“As Nazanin’s husband, I do think that if she’s not home for Christmas, there’s every chance this could run for years,” he said, accusing Iran of “hostage diplomacy.”