On the taxi ride back home tonight, I had an interesting conversation with Mohammed, the taxi driver from Taiz. Mohammed, has a masters degree in biology, with extensive courses in public health.
In the 1995 he opened a small business, but never forgot about his passion for health care. Two years later, he befriended a well-known businessmen who agreed to help him open a free clinic in his neighborhood. He hired two doctors, and gave whatever he earned from his business to keep the clinic going.
A couple of years down the line, his small business began suffering. Added to that, increase in prices, meant he needed to work harder to sustain his family’s livelihood. With no grant to sustain the health clinic and no connections to government, he ran out of money and was unable to keep the health clinic operational.
Neighborhood families were saddened by the closure of this clinic. He tried to find a more stable job to be able to support the clinic as well, but here everything needs connections. If you want a good job you need to know someone, or you need to pay some Yemeni riyals to someone who will know someone who will know someone who can drop off that paper to the director requesting a job. In addition, many of the health care institutions he applied to recruited people not based on qualifications but based on family and tribal affiliations.
On the way home, this bright man had three great ideas to improve the health care system in Yemen. However, like he said, “who will listen? The best I can do is give advice to my customers, share ideas, and hope that one day someone will implement them.” Mohammed should have been an advisor to the health ministry not a taxi driver.
The sad reality is that given the unemployment rate of 35% Mohammed is lucky to be driving this taxi. What is missing from the unemployment rate is the serious underemployment that many professional Yemenis suffer from. The employment of workers with high skill levels in low-wage jobs that do not require skills and abilities that they studied for years is a common occurrence in Yemen. Mohammed, the trained health care professional working as a taxi driver is just one example.
Unfortunately, Mohammed is not alone. This is one of the many reasons people are demanding the ouster of the regime. Yemenis want an end to corruption, a decent dignified life, and an end to family and tribal rule.