The Smurfs: Car Wash Run by Yemeni Children

Essam al-Qadasi | Sana’a 

Four children turned the sidewalk, located a few meters away from Sabeen Square in the capital Sana’a, into a small car wash. These four are three brothers and their neighbor. Four months ago, they decided to work to sustain their families, calling the place “The Smurfs’ Service.” 

Mohamed, 14 years, initiated the idea. He started working when the family got besieged by harsh circumstances, such as the increase in prices and living needs.

Also, the landlord started threatening to kick him out of the house where he, his brothers, and jobless father live. He would not have gone through such hardship if his father had been able to provide for him in a country where war had resulted in the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. It made 80% of the people in need of humanitarian aids to remain alive, according to UN projections.  

A study conducted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) concluded that 62% of the surveyed population is incapable of buying food and water.

Meanwhile, the prices of food and fuel soared. Data indicated that 150 Yemeni families in three southern cities are afraid of hunger more than COVID-19! 

Mohamed’s childhood came to an end when his father stopped working and had to stay at home after the water truck he owned broke down during the conflicts that broke out in August 2017. This took place near Mesbahi Tour, as ex-president’s Ali Abdullah Saleh’s guards were grappling with a checkpoint affiliated to God’s Supporters (Ansar Allah), also known as Houthis. 

How can I watch my mother and brethren starve?

According to the details of the story, Mohamed’s father used to work in water transportation, as well as in a carwash service center. He was then able to sustain his family. But circumstances have now changed for Mohamed, his brothers, and the entire family.

In fact, the child and his brothers have undertaken missions which are too weighty for their childhood to hold. In the morning, and after the academic year had begun, they would wear their uniform to go to school. Then, they would return in the evening only to work on cleaning cars to sustain their family. 

And, away from the usual childhood habits, Mohamed said in an interview with Khuyut that he started implementing this idea to improve his and the family’s circumstances as well as secure the household’s expenses and rental fees. The harsh circumstances the family leads because of the war that broke out six years ago compelled Mohamed to go through an experience incongruous with his secure childhood.

In fact, he is one of thousands of Yemeni children who grew up through the war years to find themselves in the streets and compelled to take up several vocations to sustain their destitute families. 

“When schools broke off, and we had to stay at home, we decided to start this project better than doing nothing.” Meanwhile, Mohamed who is a grade-eight student continues talking, while mopping a car. He says that he was seriously considering finding a job and eventually decided to borrow a small sum of money to buy a small generator and water tank to start the project.

His dreams are simple. They would not exceed providing a daily expenditure for the family. He adds in a tone that shows one that he is no longer a child, but rather a man who takes up adults’ responsibility, “I am the eldest of my brethren. I am responsible for them, especially that my father has become jobless.” He also wondered, “How can I watch my mother and brethren starve?” It is only here that one realizes that Mohamed is no longer a child, for he was compelled to assume an age older than his innocent childhood. 

Mohamed’s two younger brothers and one of their neighbors’ children work with him. Each one knows his mission and whatever he has to do with car cleaning and mopping. This has nothing to do with the comfort, play, or participation in public life stipulated in Article No. 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child accredited by the UN on November 1989 and which Yemen had accepted. Despite the suffering these children are going through, they have big dreams for the future. They want to continue their education.

They aspire to become physicians and engineers in spite of all the hardships and challenges. 

This article was Translated in collaboration with Khuyut.