If you have been viewing any news lately, you will have noticed that Yemen has been a big topic of conversation. The war in the country is currently in its sixth year and according to UNICEF, over 24 million people or 80 percent of the population are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Children are starving to death, civilians are getting caught in the crossfire and now with COVID-19, generations of children are losing out on education due to school closures. But for Muna Luqman, this situation is nothing new.
[We want] to stop the war in Yemen.
In 2015, Muna founded Food4Humanity by fundraising and bringing food and water personally to families caught in the crossfire and in remote areas of Yemen with limited access to resources. Over time, she began focusing exclusively on delivering water due to its scarcity in those areas. Muna also began to focus on international advocacy with her team. Her goal? “To stop the war in Yemen.”
Muna grew up in Sana’a, the city where the war in Yemen originated. While she was still living there, she regularly witnessed aerial bombings and violent warfare. She was lucky to have electricity when it was turned on. It was her lived experience in these horrific conditions that spurred her desire to help. She recalls being acquaintances with many of the young men who were fighting. “They thought it was a war or battle of honor. It’s really not the case. It’s a war economy where everyone is benefitting from it except the people.” She realized that these young men could also benefit from her humanitarian work, not just those stuck in the crossfire. “It wasn’t just about the food, it was about keeping the community together.”
Muna recognizes that there have been two main themes throughout her lifetime in humanitarian work – water and women. She says both play vital roles in the community. To prove her point, she cites the release of 944 detainees with the help of women in peace talks, something the UN attempted but was not able to do. Muna says that women were the first to call for a ceasefire and lay out a roadmap for peace “even before the Secretary-General, can you imagine?” She also estimates that around 80% of humanitarian work in Yemen is done by women, yet when peace talks are finally arranged, women are often told they cannot participate.
But Muna does not let this phase her. “We just invade their space and show up,” she laughs. This forward approach took her all the way to the UN Security Council twice. But she clarifies that “it’s not just about having women at the table. It’s about hearing the voices of the people of Yemen,” and women are the best vehicle to make them heard. “Our children have lost their future for generations to come. So we don’t see any of these war lords as responsible enough to take part in these issues. [Women] should be there to strike that balance,” she says.
Muna says it is her priority to get the international community to understand what is really happening in Yemen. An issue that is often overlooked is the entrapment of Yemenis inside the country. They are disallowed from leaving and unable to receive visas to live elsewhere, making humanitarian assistance their lifeline. But humanitarian aid is often diverted inside the country due to government corruption and exploitation by armed groups. As a result, foreign countries, including the U.S., have significantly rolled back aid to the country. “It’s justifiable but difficult for a country like Yemen that needs that aid,” Muna says. To strike the balance, Muna says that she is calling “for restructuring humanitarian operations but not cutting [them] off completely.”
Violence is something we should all work against. No matter where it is.
Muna remains hopeful, despite the many problems plaguing Yemenis. “Violence is something we should all work against, regardless of where it is. Currently, there are a lot of solutions for Yemen,” Muna says. “[We have] an opportunity to try for a ceasefire or at least some sort of agreement.” The most important way to do this, Muna says, is to mobilize civil society, “the most valuable resource,” to take the lead and ensure that the international community is directly involved in resolving these issues and work toward security and military reform, the”only things that could save the day.” She also adds that civil society or grass-roots movements are even more effective than simply relying on governments or donors for aid. In other words, you and me can make a real difference.
Click to donate to Food4Humanity’s crowdfunding campaign to establish one water station in Yemen and benefit over 5,000 families or donate food baskets to starving families.