Food gives a family hope for the future

Yemen, March 24, 2014

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Ayesha Abdullah Mohammed Ghwiqe (second from right), her son and eight daughters live in a two-room home in Aldoosh, a village in the highlands of southwestern Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. When we met Ayesha, poverty and hunger were rampant in her village, and job opportunities were few. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Ayesha’s husband died 10 years ago. As a widow and mother of nine, Ayesha struggled to provide for her family. “After my husband’s death I didn’t see any hope for the future because I was alone and carrying the responsibility of the children,” Ayesha told us. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    She earned small amounts of money selling firewood she collected during twice-daily trips to the valley, but it was inconsistent and not enough to feed her family. They were forced to depend largely on what their poverty-stricken neighbors could spare them. “One day we would have [food], and one day we would not,” Ayesha said. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Barely able to afford food, Ayesha could not continue to pay school fees or provide lunches for all her children. “The most important thing to me is education,” her daughter Naserah (right) told us. “If there is money, I can go to school, but if there is no money, I can’t go to school. I stay home,” she said. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Five of Ayesha’s children were forced to halt their education. Instead of attending school, they did housework, fetched water from the well or went with their mother to scavenge for firewood, hot peppers or leaves — anything they could sell for a small amount of income. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Still, at times, the family went without food. Our emergency food program is designed to help families on the brink, who are stuck in a cycle of poverty and hunger. Ayesha received vouchers to purchase food supplies during the times when she and her daughters weren’t able to bring in any money. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Through the program, Ayesha was able to purchase critical daily food items, like oil and beans, from a local vendor with the vouchers she received. “Previously I was not feeling secure, but now that Mercy Corps has helped me I don’t feel that feeling of insecurity,” she explained. “I try to work, but if there is a gap, Mercy Corps helps.” Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    When families are forced to use all their resources just to put food on the table, they’re not able to contribute to the things that make them more resilient to poverty and hunger, like expanding their livelihoods or educating their children. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    But through the life of our food voucher program, food insecurity in the target area improved by over 50 percent — and Ayesha and her family once again believe they have a future. “Now I am looking toward the future with hopeful eyes,” Ayesha told us. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

More than 40 percent of Yemen’s population is food insecure — that’s 10.5 million people who simply don’t have enough of the food they need to live a healthy life.

Large-scale displacement, political instability, endemic poverty — almost 20 percent of the population lives on less than $1 USD per day — and high unemployment are just a few of the factors that add up to make it one of the hungriest countries in the world.

We implement emergency food programs when conditions are the most dire. Vouchers help families buy food, and the business supports local markets, ensuring a sustainable distribution of food even after a crisis.

Once their immediate needs are addressed, we work with vulnerable communities to make them more resilient to chronic food insecurity. In Yemen, we're helping communities fight hunger and malnutrition by providing nutrition education, developing infrastructure that creates jobs and improves access to food and water, and training community leaders on how to recognize and cope with future food crises.

Scroll through the photos above to see how this work helped Ayesha and her family overcome their struggle with hunger.