Hussam Bazara’a is a brand-new member of MBBI, based in the city of Ibb in his home country of Yemen. He is 22 and a student in the department of medicine and health sciences in the laboratory department. Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2015, and has been the center of international attention due to a host of problems caused by the ongoing conflict, including widespread famine and an outbreak of cholera, which has killed around 4,000 people. The war has also sparked attention because of the involvement of regional and international powers, and the roles they have played in exacerbating the conflict and the suffering of Yemeni people.

COVID-19 in Yemen

Hussam joined MBBI to help improve and learn in his peacebuilding projects, something he works on in addition to his studies; he has many ideas about peace and is looking to MBBI to learn more about conducting this work in his city and beyond. Hussam is well aware, of course, of “the lack of institutional or structural stability and how that can exacerbate the outbreaks of diseases.” Although there are very few cases of COVID-19 in Yemen, Hussam and his team of seven other students are preparing for an outbreak by creating and engaging in projects that emphasize the spread of information about the virus and focusing their attention on prevention.

They have conducted an awareness campaign that used two methods: “social media and posters in the streets. The goal was to show people how they can keep themselves and their families safe through handwashing techniques, social distancing, and wearing masks.” In order to spread information accurately and quickly, Hussam has kept his team small and extremely focused. As he puts it, as the team leader he prefers a method that allows him to understand his team and how to handle them, and as a result, they work very well together. The information is communicated in an extremely clear fashion, in order to ensure that “people of all ages and levels of education and literacy” can engage with the content. This clarity of purpose and method is important when addressing such a large-scale problem because it is vital to communicate proper information while also avoiding adding to panic and stress as much as is possible.

Peacebuilding in Yemen

In order to get funding for their simple, clear cut projects around prevention, the team has been applying for mini-grants from many organizations, but unfortunately, because COVID-19 is a global issue, they have not been getting very much help. Their original awareness campaign was conducted with a small grant from PeaceFirst, a US-based organization that supports youth-led peacemaking projects. Hussam hopes to conduct a similar awareness campaign in other nearby cities if they can get the funding. Their next project idea is “the creation and distribution of hygienic bags for impoverished families, which would include essential protective gear and information about preventing the spread of the virus.”

Yemen is a particularly difficult country in which to combat the spread of COVID-19. The healthcare system is extremely weak, and the people rely heavily on international intervention – which has also been difficult to achieve since the outbreak of the conflict. As Hussam says, “If countries with a strong healthcare system like the UK, or rich and powerful states like the US and China are struggling to combat the virus, what can places like Yemen do? If and when the virus reaches them, there will be at least 3000 deaths a day – perhaps even 5,000.” That is why the early spread of preventive information is vital and extremely urgent because for most people there, they do not have a healthcare system to rely on if they do fall ill.

Article by Lizzy Nestor, MBBI Writer