In the remote, mountainous region of Sarar, 75km north-east of Aden, 471 Yemeni men and women wave their mobile phones in the air, chasing connection as they wait for the familiar ping of the message tone to signal the start of class.
“Coverage is not stable. It comes and goes. One has to wait for the signal to make a call,” explains Alawi, 32, a father of three and day labourer living in Sarar. “Electricity, telecommunications and internet coverage is very poor here.”
Sarar is only accessible over rough, mountain terrain. Roads are almost impassable for merchants who sell their goods at heavily increased prices. People rely on harvesting rainwater from the roof and storing it in tanks. The ground water has almost dried up in these areas, and electricity, supplied by small local providers, can be off for up to a month at a time.
Alawi once worked abroad, but when he returned to be with his family in Sarar, he struggled to find stable work, sometimes taking day labour as an electrician or carpenter.
Alawi was one of the 471 selected to participate in business skills training in Sarar. Supported by UNDP, For all Foundation (FAF) selected community members that were able to demonstrate an enthusiasm and drive to improve their livelihoods.
But the rapid spread of COVID-19 presented new challenges in these already remote areas.
The UNDP business skills trainors decided to use WhatsApp, an application most individuals are likely to have on their phones and confidently navigate, to conduct their training.What was born, was a hybrid face-to-face and online learning experience, that ensured continuous, safe support to the Yemeni people.
more than 900 Yemeni women and men received business skills training
After completing 7 days of face-to-face learning, participants turned to their mobile phone. What proceeded was a 7-day training course, delivered via video, voice and text message, that enabled flexibility in time and location for each participant. Women were able to safely participate from home, whilst caring for their children, and participants with lower literacy were supported to use voice messages, so they too could continue their learning journey. The trainers also sent materials for the participants to read offline, to ensure that even without a connection, they could continue learning.
Tailored training was offered to participants, designed to support the project they chose. Some were trained on solar power, some on beekeeping, while others on small business management. Once their plan was approved, small grants were distributed to enable purchase of required tools and resources.
As a result, more than 900 Yemeni women and men received business skills training – 471 using WhatsApp and the remaining through face-to-face classes – across Abyan, Lahj and Taiz Governorates.