Charitable bakeries are a welcome lifeline in fighting hunger in Yemen
In every corner of Yemen, you are confronted by the immense scale of hunger. I saw first-hand how seven years of conflict and aid cuts have shattered lives. Mothers begging on the streets, babies severely malnourished; one step away from being administered to a feeding clinic, and people rummaging through rubbish in the middle of the night to try and find food to feed their families.
According to the WFP, over 50% of Yemen’s population is food insecure and this is projected to rise by the end of 2022. The Ukraine conflict will have consequences for Yemen too, as the country relies on Ukraine and Russia for nearly 50% of its wheat imports.
With Yemen and the world now competing for this limited resource, rising prices on wheat and other basic food items will mean that families will either continue to ration their meals or go hungry.
"It is remarkable to see how a community of Muslims from all over the world has formed through our bread factory initiatives, all united by a dedication to fighting hunger in Yemen"
In response to this deteriorating situation, Muslim Hands has spent over 1.5 million pounds establishing five independent bread factories across Yemen since 2020 – being the only charity in Yemen to implement such a project. They are located in the governorates of Aden, Ma’rib and Hadhramaut.
Collectively, these bread factories produce fifty-thousand loaves which reach 25,000 widows, orphans and those with disabilities every day. These loaves are distributed through school feeding programmes, camps housing those that are internally displaced and even to Yemen’s only centre providing specialised, free care for children with cerebral palsy.
As I visited the various distribution points, I met beneficiaries from all walks of life who had their own story to tell. All these stories had one common theme: the families would go hungry without this intervention. This was echoed by one of the workers at the bakery who told me, "The bread is in so much demand that since the factory started running, never have we had leftovers."
Shams Albaydani, a widowed mother in her late sixties, has three mentally and physically disabled children. Her family have been beneficiaries of one of the Muslim Hands bread factories in Aden for 18 months.
I asked her how the family copes with so little and she said, "Alhumdulilah if He (Allah) gives, we eat, if He doesn’t, we don’t."
She added, "receiving this regular bread means that we have one less thing to worry about and extra money to spend on other food items such as yoghurt, eggs and jam, which we couldn’t afford before.
"Before this, we would either buy bread when we could afford to do so or receive support from our neighbours. We give this bread to our disabled sons by soaking it in milk, so it is easy for them to chew and fills them up quickly. I pray for the donors and thank them for providing a lifeline. In my eyes, they are better than the people of Yemen."
The generous response from our supporters to the crisis in Yemen meant that Muslim Hands was able to open more bread factories than anticipated, which includes its second bread factory in Ma’rib, which has seen one of the largest influxes of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Yemen.
Maryam, who made the donation for the establishment of this bakery also funded six months of running costs. "I haven’t seen other charities open bakeries and distribute bread like Muslim Hands. I encourage contributions to such a worthy cause, where we can feed the poor and hungry who are from the ummah of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) in the lands that he loved," she said.
The bread factories employ local workers, often from the IDP community, and ensure a fair and stable income so they can support their families. Kamal Galib, a manager of one of the bakeries said, "My life has completely changed because of the war. I left Sanaa with my family and was unemployed and severely in debt. I now have a future here and can afford to put my children into a good school. As someone who is internally displaced and working for this bread factory, I feel like I am one of the lucky ones."
I visited Suweydah, the second-largest camp for internally displaced people in Ma’rib. For miles, thousands of makeshift shelters occupied the white, dusty desert. Children were running towards the Muslim Hands bread distribution point collecting their loaves for the day ahead. I visited the home of Amad, a 15-year-old girl who had been living in the camp for over two years. I saw how her siblings ate their loaves with jam or cheese and she told me with a smile, "we like the taste of this bread, it’s a meal we look forward to every day."
Yahya who lives in the camp with his wife, four sons and his mother said, "When people in the camp heard that a bread factory was coming here, we were all so happy. Without this intervention, we would starve. We can be assured that we have at least one meal in the day. We hope projects like this expand because the need is huge."
It is remarkable to see how a community of Muslims from all over the world has formed through our bread factory initiatives, all united by a dedication to fighting hunger in Yemen. With their support, as the need grows, so will Muslim Hands’ response.
With Ramadan now upon us, we hope that our community once again stands in solidarity with families in Yemen. Our bakeries are more than just bricks and mortar, each sweet golden loaf they produce gives someone the hope and strength to carry on in their darkest times.
Sahirah Javaid is a senior press officer at the UK-based charity Muslim Hands.
Follow her on Twitter: @JavaidSahirah