Qatar Foundation postgraduate student Mariam Al-Dhubhani on how those looking to support the war-torn country need to educate themselves about the conflict through a wider lens
Yemen has been a charity case ever since I became conscious of my existence. Yemenis have heard about all the donations and aid different countries sent us over the years, but rarely saw any significant change to our realities. Corruption, ignorance, and poverty have all been haunting Yemen and Yemenis for decades. Moreover, the ongoing war has exacerbated the situation.
The attention span towards Yemen on social media is tied to a few times when a celebrity shares a post, which creates momentum. Not long after, when the trend fades, Yemen becomes obsolete
Media coverage on Yemen is seldom in international outlets and heavily politicized in regional ones. Despite the efforts, I view the coverage as not helpful for the country. The media mainly reflects a horrific narrative and builds on it continuously. Yemenis became trapped with the titles of “infinite war”, “the hidden exotic country”, and “the world's worst humanitarian crisis”' which only highlights this narrative of destruction. However true this may be, feeding on this narrative helps no-one, but rather stretches the crisis itself and empowers those fueling it.
The attention span towards Yemen on social media is tied to a few times when a celebrity shares a post, which creates momentum. Not long after, when the trend fades, Yemen becomes obsolete. Many accounts follow the wave and check with their fellow Yemeni friends for a recap and bullet points, or images to share with their followers. Our stories have been dehumanized and reduced to mere numbers. These waves of sudden attention and interest frequently happen, with no follow-ups. What was the result of the last wave?
In order to create a real change, donations and attention need to address development, and support Yemenis to get out of this black hole. This includes meaningful pressure on all warring sides to bring them to the realization that ending the war is better for everyone in the country and the region. The war keeps sucking everyone in. Sadly, it became the provider for many families where their children, as young as 10 years old, join the frontlines, leaving education behind. Any essential efforts to raise awareness need to support culture and preserve identity and hope, for future generations to strive for and learn from.
Besides humanitarianism and development, there is a need to highlight Yemen’s rich cultural heritage in any narrative about the county.
To the outside, we are just another war in the Middle East. A place to film movies on terrorism and scare the audience as if there is nothing good there. Like in the popular TV series Friends, where Chandler escapes his clingy girlfriend by traveling to Yemen, or where the ‘resurrection in the fifth series of Prison Break took place—although it was actually filmed in Morocco.
Besides humanitarianism and development, there is a need to highlight Yemen’s rich cultural heritage in any narrative about the county. The ongoing war has created irreversible damage to Yemen’s cultural fabric, which has served a bond to Yemenis beyond their political differences. One of the issues today is that the world generally does not acknowledge the need to safeguard Yemen’s cultural heritage and dismisses any conversation about it, because Yemen is being defined to famine, cholera, and death.
My advice to those who are trying to support Yemen is to educate themselves about the conflict before falling into the trap of a limited social media post.
As a professional storyteller in filmmaking, journalism, and museums, I view these narratives as dangerous to the country and its future. My advice to those who are trying to support Yemen is to educate themselves about the conflict before falling into the trap of a limited social media post; try to ask multiple informed Yemeni fellows to talk about their home, and support local civil society organizations with your expertise and financial support.
There are many more ways to truly offer help than only changing a profile picture and sharing a post. If anything, the current world pandemic and staying home forced people to connect more online. The digital realm is an extension of the real world, and the impact can be carried through it. Just be aware of which platforms to follow and what narratives you carry through with you.
Mariam Al-Dhubhani is an award-winning Yemeni-Russian award-winning journalist, filmmaker, and curator. She is currently taking an MA in Museum and Gallery Practice at QF partner university UCL Qatar. Al-Dhubhani’s films have been screened globally in festivals such as Carthage, Interfilm, and Oaxaca. She also utilizes Virtual Reality in highlighting stories from Yemen.