This story by Rivera Sun is part of a 5-story series on climate solutions commissioned by Metta Center for Nonviolence. Find out more, watch an animated film, and find a lesson plan for students ages 11-18 here.

Faridah woke before daybreak. The sky above the city rooftops and distant hills gleamed gray as she left the house, water buckets in each hand. If she hurried, she’d beat the long line and return in time for school. She was lucky. Her family apartment was close. Other students, Halimah and Laela, had stopped coming to class entirely. The well was a long way from their homes. By the time they reached it, waited among hundreds of others filling buckets, and then lugged them back, half the day had vanished.

Faridah hurried through the paved streets. At the corner, her friend Noura joined her. Behind the veil of her niqab, Noura’s eyes were still sleepy. The two girls took their usual short cut behind the grocer’s shop. Here, the street narrowed into an alley and they hopped over the rubble of a crumbled building. Like many places in Yemen, the streets of their city bore the scars of war. Bullet holes riddled the concrete walls on the next block. Faridah avoided looking too closely at them. When she was little, she’d tried to count the holes. She had run out of numbers.

The walk took twenty minutes with empty containers. It would take a full half hour when they returned with the heavy jugs full of water. Faridah and Noura were strong, but they still had to rest.

“Look,” Noura said when they arrived. Their plastic jugs clunked together as she nudged her friend’s elbow. “There’s no one in line.”

They ran the last steps. As the jugs filled, Faridah took their money to the office and paid the fee. The man looked grumpy. When she returned outside, she saw why: Raziya was here again. She was one of those university women who had returned after graduating. To stir up trouble, some people said. Faridah disagreed. She liked the young woman. Raziya had courage.

Raziya and her fellow university graduates were trying to fix the water problem. It hadn’t always been like this. When Faridah was a small child, she remembered green gardens on the rooftop of her family’s apartment and big trees outside the door. It had been cool and shady. Back then, the faucets still worked. Girls went to school instead of walking all day to get to the well. The water didn’t cost as much, either.

That was before the fight over the water. In the conflict, men came to blows, people were shot, and the pipes were broken. Now, no one could agree on anything. Faridah’s mother grumbled that the men cared more about fighting than fixing.

It’s easy for them to do nothing, Faridah thought, they don’t have to get up early to lug water around.

“There will be a meeting with the water officials,” Raziya was telling Noura by the water pump. “We want everyone to come. Will you tell your mother and sister?”

“The officials won’t do anything. They never do,” Noura complained. She switched the container under the spigot.

“That’s why we must all go, all of us women, and even the younger girls like you.”

Faridah let out a gasp. Women and girls didn’t go to those meetings. Raziya went on, speaking fiercely, and making an even more daring suggestion: if the men wouldn’t agree to fix the pipeline, the women would interrupt the meeting. They would raise their complaints and propose the solutions. They would sit down in the middle of the meeting and not leave until the situation was resolved. All of the young women from the university would be there. They had spent the last year speaking to thousands of people in the city about the problems. They had even found someone to pay to fix the broken pipe. They just needed the men to agree to the plan.

“Faridah, you should come,” Raziya urged.

She startled. Why her?

“You should tell them how hard the water situation has made it for you and your family.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Don’t think too long,” Raziya urged. “The meeting is tonight.”

The young woman tried to persuade them further, but they had to go. Raziya shouted the time and place at them as they hefted their water jugs and started up the road. The sun was already hitting the tops of the flat roofs. They had to get home.

The water seemed twice as heavy today. Every step made Faridah’s shoulders ache. She got a stitch in her side from the heavy jugs. Her hands cramped. She stopped to catch her breath.

“Noura, maybe we should go to that meeting,” Faridah said to her friend. “If only so that we never have to haul water ever again.”

Noura giggled.

“Can you imagine? Just turning on the faucet and having water come out?”

Faridah smiled. She dabbed her niqab against her sweaty brow. It was already hot. The summers burned hotter and hotter each year. Raziya said the whole planet had a fever. Humans had been polluting the air too long. The university graduate had big plans to turn the whole city green and shady, but that would never happen so long as girls like Faridah and Noura had to haul every drop of water halfway across the city.

It was all tied together in one big knot, Faridah thought with a sigh.

Water. Peace. School. Money. Gardens. Food. Heat. Shade. Climate. Hope. Everything depended on sorting out the problem with the well.

She hefted the buckets again and started up the road. All she could do was untangle her piece of the big knot.

“Noura,” she said, determined. “I’m going to that meeting. And I’m not leaving until we get the water fixed.”

And that’s exactly what she did.


Behind the Story

In Taiz, Yemen, three villages have been in conflict over water distribution since the 1980s. In 2011, tensions over the al-Siwari well boiled over.  Violence erupted and people destroyed a 4.5 mile-long water pipe network that connected houses to the well. The communities were without easy access to water for more than eight years. Then, a group of ten young women who had graduated from university (like Raziya in the story) worked with the entire community to find an acceptable resolution to the conflict. Over the course of a year, they spoke to thousands of people, worked with technical experts, and also found a donor who would repair the pipes. They organized under difficult tensions. At one point, gunfire broke out over the water issues. Even when they had a working solution, they faced an additional hurdle: they had to convince the water authorities – all men – to agree. The women broke with tradition and attended the meeting, interrupting when the men failed to approve the solution, and insisting that it be implemented. In the end, they succeeded. Learn more here.

Like Faridah and Noura, many young girls in Taiz, Yemen, had been forced to drop out of school because of the effort to carry water from the distant well. With the pipes fixed, they could return to their lessons. In the fictional story, Faridah realizes the many benefits of repairing the water situation – her mother can save money instead of paying for water, they can grow a garden again, and it is possible to cultivate plants and trees that can help cool the city as the climate crisis heats up. Our solutions – and our problems – are all entwined. In order to work on one, we need to address the others. Like Faridah, Noura, and Raziya, we may need to find the courage to do something unexpected, disrupt the system, and speak out for solutions. If the women in Yemen can do it, so can we.

This story by Rivera Sun is part of a 5-story series on climate solutions commissioned by Metta Center for Nonviolence. Find out more, watch an animated film, and find a lesson plan for students ages 11-18 here.

Other Stories:
Rosalinda and the Cloud Catchers (Peru)
The Boy Who Hated Fishing (Italy)
Dev and the Elephant War (India)
Nuru and the Little Park (Kenya)