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A fresh coat of paint can make all the difference

Yemen, April 26, 2012

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Victoria Stranski/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Yousry Mehdi, as part of our Empowering Youth for a Stable Yemen project, leads a community service project rehabilitating part of the local mental health hospital in Aden. Photo: Victoria Stranski/Mercy Corps

Yemen’s youth are demanding change across the country on a large scale, but I’ve also seen them bring it in their communities one improvement at a time. Through our Engaging Youth for a Stable Yemen (EYSY) program, Mercy Corps is working to keep Yemeni youth away from violent activities and extremist groups by channeling their time and energy into civic life.

A few months ago, I visited ten young people in Aden who launched a community service project to bring a ward at the city’s Neuro-Psychiatric Teaching Hospital back to life. Over the course of three days, they provided new bed sheets and cleaned and painted a 208-patient section that was previously unusable.

“I passed by this hospital every day and wanted to do something to help,” said Yousry Mehdi, who is currently studying business management. His brother Yasir and friend Iman Hamood agreed, adding, “We wanted to take action to develop our lives and community.”

All three young men participated in EYSY workshops to prepare for the project. This USAID-funded program helps young people form positive social connections and overcome generational and community divisions with a combination of conflict management, consensus building and leadership training; dialogues between community, government and youth; community service projects; and internships.

Founded in 1964, the Neuro-Psychiatric Teaching Hospital is the only governmental mental hospital in Yemen. “It is better for the hospital and better for the youth. We appreciate that they are doing something for the patients,” said Dr. Waheed Hussein Mogani. “It is now a ‘five star’ section of the hospital thanks to this rehabilitation. It is the first time an organization and youth have come to help us.”

While the hospital wing has improved, the youth want to continue their project by more fudning to rehabilitate the toilets and ceiling. “We want to do more, but we need to find people to support this project,” Yousry explained. They’re speaking with other international and local organizations to reach these goals.

Mercy Corps’ two-year, $1.2 million EYSY program began in October 2010. It works in eight districts in Aden and Lahj Governorates, where it is has registered over 500 people, trained 350 youth, arranged 128 internships, and initiated five community projects by 65 young people that have benefitted 7,000 community members.