Photo: Hani Mohammed/AP Photo

As Yemeni journalist Ahmad Algohbary covers the civil war in his own country, he uses social media to find aid for civilians caught in the middle

It all started with a tweet. Ahmad Algohbary saw a young, malnourished boy in Sa’dah, in northwest Yemen. The country’s civil war had been raging for a year when Algohbary tweeted the photo of the boy, which got attention from a donor abroad. Algohbary began posting more photos of children, receiving donations and preparing food baskets for families.

Today, the 24-year-old runs Yemen Hope and Relief, a one-man organization buying and distributing food aid to families in the war-torn country. He continues to help and advocate for those in a country caught in a bloody war and the biggest humanitarian crisis in decades.

“I cannot stand and watch that my country is bleeding,” Algohbary said. “Children are suffering. They are starving to death. Imagine if this happened to your son, or your wife or your family. Put yourself in our shoes.”

The Yemen civil war began in 2015 when Houthi fighters stormed the capital Sana’a and President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi resigned and fled to Saudi Arabia. The Houthi militants, a majority Shia militia group, were supported by former Yemen president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is now deceased.  

Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition bombing campaign in Yemen in support of Hadi. The United States has supported the Saudis by selling them weapons and carrying out drone strikes against al-Qaeda in Yemen.

“One day my children … will know that their father helped in their home crisis. I need to be a part of my country, to be a part of something good … even if I will get killed or arrested.”

The Saudi-led coalition has continually blocked Yemen’s ports, keeping much-needed food and aid from civilians. Around 60 percent of Yemenis are food insecure and 16 million are without access to safe water or proper sanitation, a group of United Nations agencies said in a joint statement. About 4,000 cases of cholera are reported every day, according to the World Health Organization, and the UN has called the situation “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”

Algohbary began Yemen Hope and Relief in 2016 after publishing that photo of a boy suffering from malnutrition. An American saw the photo and gave Algohbary $900 to take the boy to a malnutrition center and get him food.

Before this, Algohbary was despondent. He was in college studying English and art in 2015 when a series of bombings killed six of his closest friends. When the school cancelled classes, he began photographing people and sharing the stories of those affected by the war. The opportunity to help gave him newfound hope. He would help families and children.

Ahmad Algohbary, a Yemeni journalist, has used social media to raise awareness of child suffering in the country's civil war and raise funding for aid.

The ongoing war and blocked ports have caused the price of basic foods to skyrocket in one of the world’s poorest countries. The World Health Organization estimates there are around 400,000 children in Yemen suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Algohbary estimates he has distributed more than 600 food baskets to families. The average food basket contains 25 kilograms of flour, 10 kilograms of sugar and 10 kilograms of rice and costs about $40. Taking a child to the malnutrition center costs $800, and then $100 a month for medicine if the child recovers, Algohbary said.

His biggest supporters are “normal people” living outside of Yemen who connect with him on Twitter, he said. “Without them, I was not able to help any children or to distribute food baskets.”

Algohbary’s work has received international attention. He writes about the war for Al Jazeera and was featured in a Buzzfeed article about his efforts to save a malnourished five-year-old girl named Batul. His food intervention reversed the trouble.

“I was really happy because she started to play with other kids, laugh, dance,” he said. “Her life really changed. But, something happened.”

Batul died of cholera. Her father did not know about the disease and they lived too far from a hospital to get there in time, Algohbary said. The phone call still haunts him. “I will not forget this day for the rest of my life.”

The growing recognition for his work does not change the very present hazards he faces. He risks death every day. On top of the inherent dangers of living in a country at war, Yemen is one of the most dangerous places for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders. But the threats don’t dissuade Algohbary.

“One day my children … will know that their father helped in their home crisis,” he said. “I need to be a part of my country, to be a part of something good. And even if I will get killed or arrested or anything else, I don’t care.”

One of Algohbary's photos of children in Yemen from his Twitter feed.

The United States and United Kingdom must stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia, Algohbary said. Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump sold billions of dollars worth of weapons to the Saudi-led coalition, including a recent deal in May 2017 by Trump to sell $110 billion of weapons. The UK sold more than 1 billion euros worth of weapons to the Saudis in 2017. These countries should use their influence to create peace, not war, Algohbary said.

“They have to stop this war because the suffering that people are facing is so tragic. … We really want to live in peace.”

Algohbary is on the brink of expanding his work and is still looking for major international help from an organization such as Save the Children. He currently works with Hands International, an international NGO focused on improving health and education and alleviating poverty. Jamila Hanan, a UK-based web developer, connected Algohbary with the organization and built his website after following his tweets. His work is a lifeline to the people of Yemen, she said.

“The needs are so huge in Yemen that this work hardly scratches the surface regarding the scale of suffering there,” Hanan said. “But what he is doing is bringing hope and he is helping to save some lives.”

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