30 July 2012
Muaad Al-Maqtari, the Yemen Times
The tribes of Al-Zuriaka exist in hidden villages within the Al-Makatara mountainous ridge in Lahij governorate, in south Yemen. There, unprecedented physical impairments exist, ones that remain largely unseen.
In Al-Azraka village in Zurikat Al-Sham, there is a small cottage where Sharifa Mahyoob, 75, lives with her three daughters. Her daughters grew up disabled.
The family’s story was documented by the Ma'an Foundation for development, which paid a visit to Al-Azraka to distribute food aid and to conduct statistical analyses on the disabled.
In a recorded document, Mahyoob said her eldest daughter, Katiba, 30, lost her vision much too soon in life, and her ordeal was exacerbated when she fell from a high place, fracturing her back and paralyzing half of her body.
Jooz, Mahyoob’s middle daughter, has a similar story to Katiba's. She lost her sight as well, though she is five years younger. Mahyoob is afraid Jooz would face the same fate as Katiba.
Jawhara, 20, is the youngest and was exposed to a different impairment. Mahyoob said her daughter Jawahara was unable to endure the pain that her two sisters bore. She went mad knowing nothing of what is around her. This became particularly heightened following the death of her father six years ago.
These three daughters have an elder brother, 35, and younger brother, 18. Mahyoob said the eldest son is blind and the younger one is mentally unstable.
Mahyoob alone is responsible for handling this plight. She is the sole source of income for the family, all tortured souls in a hollow cave that none remembers but death.
A multitude of handicaps
Fatin, Sifyan and Syeon all suffer from rachitic and glaucoma.
Mansour Al-Asbahi, a Ma'an Foundation employee who visited them, said these three handicapped persons lack food, health care and a suitable residence.
The situation worsened when their father committed suicide and their mother died from grief.
Rachitic, an inflammation of the spine, is the biggest hindrance in this village.
Raseel Ali Saif, 22, and his brother Rafee, 20, suffer from rachitic as well. This led their father to flee to Aden 15 years ago. The mother died five years ago.
These two boys have nobody to help them but their grandmother, who said she does her best to care for them along with their sister, who continuously weeps for lack of food. Food support is seasonally delivered to them.
Amen Al-Masani, a pediatrician in Khalifa Hospital in Al-Turba, south Taiz, said hundreds of children in these villages suffer from impairments in relation to childhood, parenthood and nutritional diseases.
Al-Masani said he thought people in these villages were unable to face these problems, which triggers further suffering.
He said cases of impairment are increasing in the villages, calling for a medical study to detect the reason of the prevalent diseases in these villages.
Rahma Afeef, 8, was born with two interconnected heads. Al-Masani said the two heads do the same job. This child was not exposed to a qualified hospital test to diagnose the case.
Al-Masani said glaucoma, blood diseases and respiratory diseases threaten the lives of these village residents.
Abdu Al-Rakeeb Sweileh suffers from a psychological imbalance because of the daily hardships he encounters as he cares for his disabled child, Kabeel, who appears emaciated from the lack of food.
Mentally disabled and kept in caves
Documents from the Ma'an Foundation indicate that there are a large number of mentally unstable people in these villages. Poverty is the primary reason for psychological instability for those who have nobody to care for them; most only take one meal a day.
Nokta Mohammed Abdu, 29, and her siblings Abdu, Maleeka, Bushra and Shahd are mentally handicapped and homeless, residing in mountainous caves. Their mother, who used to help them subsist, lost her vision and is unable to help.
Some mentally disabled people are fastened with chains and kept in the mountainous caves. Locals said Azal Al-Maqtari used to have a clinic; handicapped flocked to receive medical help. Unfortunately, Al-Maqtari could not endure the situation of those disabled. She committed suicide, poisoning herself..
According to the foundation, there are approximately 800 cases of people suffering from a disability; the total number of the population is about 10,000.
Drought forms the major problem in these villages where drinking water is not safe.
The locals have no choice but to drink from this water; otherwise they would perish because of thirst.
Agricultural products are unavailable. According to Zaeem Al-Maqatari, the head of Ma'an Foundation, 70 percent of people in this village live only on one meal a day.
The locals prefer to emigrate in order to look for food, water and medicine. Because the capable leave the village, the villages become housing estates for the sick and the handicapped.
There is no medical organization that diagnoses their diseases and provides them with medications.
The population of Al-Makatara is estimated at 60,000; this means there is one doctor for every 1,416 families and one medical center for every 2,000 families.
Doctor’s assistants, nurses and medical guides don’t exceed 80 people working in 19 unqualified medical units.
The medical workers in these centers receive cases that cannot be diagnosed by doctors and psychologists; they have no medicine to offer.
Fadl Al-Asbahi, an employee in the field of education, said the rehabilitation of the disabled is scarcely available due to the absence of a specialized foundation.