Lamia, choose to challenge | Photo Credit: UNDPYemen/2021


Challenges bring out the best in us, push us to the limit so we know of what we are capable. Once we figure our strength, the journey to achieve begins.

“I come from a small family. I have no brothers; I only have one sister who is two years younger. We live with our single mom and our mom’s uncle."

In 2013-2014, I was awarded a fully paid scholarship to the USA through a cultural exchange programme to study for my junior year in high school. I was one of few who were lucky to experience living with an American family, go to an American high school, and meet so many people and other exchange students from different sides of the world.

During my exchange year, I did about 100 hours of volunteer service and was rewarded with a fully paid trip to New York City from the US Department of State. After finishing my senior year here in Yemen, I tried applying for scholarships to study for my bachelor's degree abroad, but unfortunately, things did not go as planned.

I started working because I needed to financially support my family. I stopped college for three years and almost decided not to continue. Although it was hard to cover college expenses, my family kept me motivated so I did not give up; in the end started college after all. I am currently in my third year of my bachelor's degree in Business Administration. I am working full time in one of the biggest media production and advertising companies in Yemen and studying at the same time.”

What challenges you?

Every year I face new and different challenges. But in 2020, the challenges were heavy with high-value lessons. The first was how to develop in a way that fulfilled my position professionally. The second was how to stay motivated with all the situation Yemen and the world was experiencing. And the third was learning how to manage my time between work and study.

These were on top of one of the main challenges facing Yemeni women which is to free our minds from negative ideas and societal pressure. For example, being told that “there is no point of working or self-development because as a woman, how far you will you get?”. 

COVID-19 has also been challenging to me personally. I was really stressing at the beginning and was filled with fear that the world would end. The biggest challenge was to stay calm and think straight. I constantly thought about ‘How can we make it through this pandemic?’ and ‘What if we stay home and I lose my job?’.

Thinking about how we could provide all our necessities if we were forced to stay home weighed heavily on mind. My biggest challenge was to stay mentally and emotionally stable and calm to be able to think of a solution. We were able to adapt as we adapted to harder circumstances over the past few years. Things are better now; I have learned how to manage different types of stress. 

How did you overcome the challenge?

At each stage of my life, I faced obstacles and challenges in achieving my goals because I am a woman. In my opinion, these were because of two main reasons.

First, people have a tendency to underestimate women’s skills. Second, my family was very protective of me. However, overcoming these challenges became easier as years passed – particularly because I have been working since the age of 17.

When I started working, I initially had some challenges with my family. They centered around my work location and the long distance from home, my long working hours, and phone calls after work hours. I knew it was coming from their love and concern for me, and I needed to be so careful to overcome this challenge. I had to think like my family – to put myself in their position and help them feel safe about my work. I had to show them I was mature and that they can rely on me. Now, they are really supportive in many ways. I am so blessed to have them.  

In the beginning, I heard negative things about my work – even some comments came from the closest people to me – which I took as a motivation to prove myself.

Over time, however, this changed; I like to think the trick was in never giving up. I was determined to change their minds through my achievements I was sure I would accomplish. I did not argue with them about their comments – I only worked harder and I continued to develop my skills. I also have great colleagues who provide me with advice, training, and working with me to grow.

I am very thankful for the people and friends that God put in my path, especially those with great minds who provided me with all their support and believed in my abilities.  

As Yemeni women, the pressure we get from the environment around us can sometimes be the most challenging thing. One negative idea does not affect us – we are strong – but when there are so many, we should be careful as to what we allow ourselves to absorb.

I recall hearing multiple times: “What is all of this effort for? You will end up married and cooking in the kitchen in no time”. The funny thing is that I heard this only a few times from men and countless times from women. I think the only way to overcome this negativity is to stick to what you believe in no matter what you are told.

The feeling of improving every day and learning as much as possible helped a lot in keeping me motivated. My desire to want to be useful for my country has always driven me to keep going and never be tired. Yemen needs the strength of the youth to grow and develop, now more than ever.

I am so thankful for all the challenges of 2020. They helped me in different ways to grow personally in being wiser, more mature, holding on to my believes, and staying self-motivated. Professionally, it has helped me be better at making decisions, working under pressure, and with my self-development.

What is your hope?

Throughout history, women in every place in the world have faced different types of obstacles such as not having the right to vote or having lesser positions in society, resulting in them giving up on their goals and accepting their lives as they were. But with awareness, women began fighting for their rights and digging themselves from the darkness to be part of society and equal to men.

What I want for Yemeni women is to have this awareness and desire for equality and strength. We must seek an education no matter what, and to want to be an effective part of society – as a leader, not an observer.

I hope every woman can live her childhood dreams, finish her education, and create a path to be all that she has dreamed.

I want these words passed to all Yemen’s youth – both women and men. It is not easy to achieve your dreams with the conflict our country is experiencing. It is not easy to stick to education and seek knowledge. It is not easy to make a better change. It is not easy to stay motivated, but it is not impossible to reach what we want. It is not impossible to be helpful to society. It is not impossible to create a future for which we have wished.

Challenges are everywhere in the world. Some people have experienced the worst and they have come out the other side as great leaders. Places, people, and circumstances never define us; seeking knowledge and raising awareness are keys to all the great things in life. 

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