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"Diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition, Mohammed is quickly given water and Plumpy’Nut, a fortified peanut butter enriched with milk and vitamins." // Photo courtesy of Peter Biro.

Yemen Art Relief: Keeping Yemen top of mind through art

By Duhaa Rahamatullah, November 2 2020—

The recently-launched Yemen Art Relief fund aims to educate Canadians about what’s happening in Yemen, and to raise funds through art.

For the last few months, social media trends have been raising awareness for social justice and the need for humanitarian aid in third-world countries. Participating in the wave of viral campaigns for Uyghur Muslims and the genocide taking place in Yemen, the founders of Yemen Art Relief (YAR) Fund, Zarmina Islam and Haniya Ahmed reflected on the ineffectiveness of sharing a post online, outlining the details of injustice in developing countries.

Raising awareness about political and social injustice around the world on social media is a trend, and in an interview with the Gauntlet, Islam clarifies that, “we wanted to initiate a longer-lasting change, to create a real impact and provide social media users with a platform to contribute to real change in the state of affairs”. 

Sharing an Instagram story with a colourful infographic outlining meaningless statistical data is an effortless action on our part. The real change lies in recognizing that “these are real countries, with cultures, histories, values, and innocent occupants who need our help,” says Islam. 

The organization’s Social Media Education and Research Director Maryam Qureshi, discusses the significance of the organization and in doing so acknowledges that a key component of her decision to dedicate herself to the Yemen Art Relief Fund was the realization of the role she played in the grand scheme of things.

“The key realization for me wasn’t the civil war, but the realization that we are all part of this, as Canadians,” said Qureshi. “Canada sells military equipment to Saudi Arabia, which is then used against third-world countries. We are all complicit in the political and social injustice occurring in Yemen, and thus, it is our responsibility to respond not only by raising awareness, but contributing to positive social change on a global level.”

Deema Barahim, a YAR volunteer, urges readers to continue to raise awareness because “the media tends to shrug off just how badly the country is doing, which tends to be due to the narrative that all Middle-Eastern Muslim countries are always, and have always been in war and poverty, which is not the case.” 

While YAR works towards creating substantial positive change, they encourage social activism via sharing and raising awareness on social media. According to Megan De Jagar, an artist for YAR, this is because it “holds a new power, one that should be harnessed for good […] Western societies tend to be unaware of countries outside of their bubble, but social media and activism has the ability to provide awareness, allow for productive assistance and for change to take place.” 

We must re-evaluate our biases and acknowledge the concept of equality. Until we are able to consider third-world citizens as our equivalents, we will remain desensitized and disconnected from the atrocities, and thus, unable to initiate meaningful change. The key to initiating change within ourselves, our biases, and on a global scale, is to understand that the injustices occurring are much deeper than warfare or mere political conflict.

“Death tolls pass us by as we are eating dinner and we don’t recognize the weight the numbers hold,” Ahmed adds.

The atrocities occurring in Yemen have deprived children of their dreams and their right to a childhood. Providing financial support has the potential to give Yemenis an opportunity to work towards acquiring an education and developing their mental and physical states. Lastly, the internal displacement citizens face from being caught in the middle of armed conflict, the rise of mental health issues as a result and the occurrence of natural disasters, has hindered the countries’ and citizens’ ability to thrive.

With your donations, YAR has the potential to bring Yemen closer to healing, one step at a time. The organization aims to bring activists, artists and others who would like to contribute to this cause together. Volunteers sell their art online and donate proceeds to the Yemen crisis. Artists have the option of donating upwards of 75 per cent of the proceeds to the fund. As opposed to reinventing the wheel, YAR is working with Islamic Relief Canada, and  donating the funds directly to contacts in Yemen, to provide medical support, clean drinking water, nutritious foods and to help provide basic living necessities. 

It is not only raising money for Yemen, but it is also bringing to light the culture and history of the country, reminding people that Yemen is more than just a war-torn country — it is a country with history, value, culture and beautiful people.

More information about Yemen Art Relief can be found online.

This column is a part of our Voices section.

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