Pain, reality and care at ‘Dar Al-Shafaqa’

National Yemen

Salah Al-Haddad, project director at 4Yemen Foundation handout refreshment to Patients

By Jihan Anwer

Najat was diagnosed with cancer when she was 16. A tumor first affected her arm, at which point she was told by doctors that it would need to be amputated if she was to live.

Deciding between losing an arm or living wouldn’t seem to be a difficult decision to make. However, Najat’s husband decided he wouldn’t want a wife without an arm and forbade her from undergoing the life-saving operation.

When the amount of blood in Najat’s body became critically low, necessitating further care and costs, she obtained a divorce at the entrance to Jumhoori Hospital in Sana’a and proceeded to leave the hospital grounds. She returned to her father’s house, where she sought assistance and support. Her father, though, was completely unresponsive when it came to her need for an operation.

Eventually, Najat made it to Dar Al-Shafaqa – ‘A ‘Home For Those Without One’.

Dar Al-Shafaqah is a charitable institution in Sana’a that hosts patients with cancer and renal failure. Residents without relatives or sufficient financial resources to pay rent arrive from different governorates for treatment.

The institution was recently visited by the 4Yemen for Development Foundation. Foundation volunteers spent a morning getting to know patients, who they presented with symbolic gifts, if only to temporarily alleviate their suffering.

The Dar Al-Shafaqa building can hold 64 people. During Eid, those who weren’t able to visit their families because of financial limitations or treatment schedules remained there.

“Our principal objective is to provide a safe and suitable environment for patients who arrive here from other governorates and who came to Sana’a seeking cancer treatment or kidney implants,” said Dar Al-Shafaqa’s resident doctor. Beyond shelter, patients are provided with food, medicine, and cash for transportation and phone calls.

Najat stayed for about a year and a half at the institution. Sadly, when she was transferred there, her condition was already too advanced for her to survive the tumor. When she requested that she be abe to see her two daughters, her ex-husband several times refused. For it to finally happen, a member of Najat’s family left his own son with the ex-husband, essentially as a hostage, with a promise that his daughters would be returned.

A video was shot in celebration of the reunion. Yet there was little to celebrate.The little girls were allowed to remain barely three hours, and they appeared estranged from their veiled mother, looking at their veiled mother curiously and timidly, as they would a stranger. How could they know that that would be the last time they would see her?

Najat died three days later.

Oftentimes cancer patients arrive at the institution with tumors which have reached an advanced stage. This is so mainly for two reasons: their economic situations don’t allow for frequent medical checkups, which leads to they’re going for them only when their wellbeing is seriously and clearly threatened – or the doctors themselves are unable to recognize cancer symptoms.

One cancer patient recounted how for over a year he had been told that he had a blood infection. Only when it was too late was it discovered what his disease really was.

Salah Al-Haddad, project director at 4Yemen Foundation, remarked that the visit to Dar Al-Shafaqah made a strong impression on every volunteer, as they were able to discover a reality they knew little about.