Yemen Can't Wait - One Mother's story of desperation

An Impossible Choice

Sofi is one of thousands of mothers in Yemen being forced to make impossible decisions



By Action Against Hunger

Jan 28 2019

‘I know my daughter is malnourished, but I didn’t have the money to help her or take her to a hospital’. This is the reality for Sofi, the mother of seven-month-old Afina.

Sofi lives with her family in the outskirts of Taiz, the third largest city in Yemen and one of the epicentres of the violence since civil war broke out in 2015. The ongoing violence and insecurity in the country has pushed the nation into a devastating humanitarian crisis. The people of Yemen are faced with severe food shortages and the child malnutrition rates are among the highest in the world. Sadly, Afina’s story is all too common.


With eight other children to feed, Sofi has had to do her best to make ends meet, often meaning that she didn’t eat healthy or sufficient food during her pregnancy with Afina. This meant Afina was born severely malnourished and in the months she has been alive, her health has deteriorated. Afina became extremely ill three weeks ago, with severe diarrhoea. Sofi didn’t know where to turn. The nearest hospital is 40km from her village, making it extremely hard for Sofi to get her daughter the life-saving treatment she so desperately needed. With barely enough money to buy food for her children, Sofi made the tough decision of borrowing money from someone in her village. ‘I resorted to borrowing from a neighbour so I could take Afina to the hospital’.

Sofi got Afina to the hospital just in time. Afina is responding well to treatment, has gained weight and is on the road to recovery. A child of her age and height, should weigh 7kg, but Afina is a tiny 2.9kg.

‘I have sold everything to save my child and make sure she gets this treatment. I have nothing left’, says Sofi.

‘When you become acutely malnourished, your appetite can fail which is often a sign of medical complications,’ says Alexandra Rutishauser-Perera, Head of Nutrition at Action Against Hunger UK. ‘In severe cases like Afina’s, first we have to administer therapeutic milk to boost the body back into action before they can continue their treatment at home. Being malnourished makes you more prone to disease, so it is key that a child in this condition gets the right calories, minerals and vitamins to build back up the immune system and basic bodily functions. Our first priority is to ‘restart the engine’ as it were, only then can we move on to helping the child to gain weight’.

Typically, a child in Afina’s state would need 6-8 weeks of treatment with therapeutic milk before being able to move on to either a Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food or a therapeutic milk with more calories.

For many parents in Sofi’s position, the relief that their child is getting the life-saving treatment they need is also met with worry for the future. The uncertainty of everyday life in Yemen has pushed families like Sofi’s to live in extreme poverty and to have to make impossible choices. ‘I hope that my daughter becomes healthy but most importantly, I hope to live without asking for help from anyone’.


This is a brutal reality for families in Yemen right now. This is why Action Against Hunger, along with the other 13 other aid agencies have decided we must reach out together with one voice to our supporters, to the British public and to our politicians, and ask everyone in the UK not to look away. We must stand by the people of Yemen living through this nightmare.

Please help us put Yemen at the top of everyone’s agenda by sharing our letter, the video or people’s impossible choices in Yemen on your social networks, with the text “This isn’t a choice, it’s a tragedy. #YemenCantWait.”

Our team has been on the ground helping children like Afina recover from severe malnutrition since 2012. We work in locations across the entire country where there is especially vulnerable children, treating malnutrition, providing medicines, safe drinking water and promoting good hygiene practices. We provide immediate support to families who are extremely vulnerable, especially after being displaced from their homes due to combat.

Photo: Azzam al-Zubairi