A Story of Hope and Code in Yemen

What I am most grateful about my role at Re:Coded is the incredible human beings I have had the opportunity to meet since starting the organization with Alexandra Clare a few years ago. I have been lucky to be able to take the time to hear stories of resilience and overcoming challenges.

This week, we launched the #Code4Yemen campaign to raise $20,000 to continue training talented Yemenis to become software developers and tech leaders in their country. How Re:Coded ended up working in Yemen is a story I like to share because it blows my mind how much young people can achieve with little help and a giant dose of passion and determination.

In May, Alexandra and I met Mohamed Alaoudi and three other Yemeni developers at Facebook in Menlo Park, California. They are all born and raised in Yemen, a country they left to pursue the dream of becoming a developer at one of the largest tech companies in the world. Mohamed had connected with us because of Re:Coded’s work in Iraq and Turkey. ‘How might we take your coding programs to Yemen?’ was the question that brought us together that Spring afternoon at Facebook HQ.

Mohamed Alaoudi, Alexandra Clare and me at Facebook.

Mohamed Alaoudi, Alexandra Clare and me at Facebook.

What followed was a promise to start a movement in Yemen with a small program to test the waters. A month later, we opened applications for our Front-End Web Development bootcamp in Sana’a, the largest city in Yemen. More than 200 people applied for the program and we selected 5 women and 3 men to join the first ever coding bootcamp in Yemen.

During this journey, I was honored to meet and work with Maher Alaqil, a software developer from Sana’a that Mohamed had introduced me to as the volunteer trainer for our bootcamp. Maher is the kind of person who never thinks a mountain is too high to climb. Students don’t have laptop? No problem. Maher secured a handful of laptops for loan.

He has been a true hero because he understands that changing the narrative for youth in Yemen from war to hope is indispensable.

The ongoing war in Yemen has displaced more than 3 million people and killed hundreds of thousands through violence, hunger and disease. Sometimes we read about it in the media. Sometimes the world goes silent. But despite the bloody war, there is life in Sana’a. There are women and men who refuse to have their future decided by bombs and machine guns.

I am often asked why we teach youth how to code in countries affected by war. Isn’t the priority food and shelter? What about infrastructure? Isn’t the country a pile of debris?

That’s a common misconception. The horror of war is unimaginable to most of us. There is no denying that people must receive the most basic needs first. But people move on and life continues. That’s when hope flourishes. And having a purposeful job and a dignified salary are often cornerstones of hope during and after conflict. I have experienced it first hand in Iraq where we have trained more than 300 children and youth since May 2017.

In Sana’a, our small program finished this month and all 4 graduates — 2 women and 2 men — immediately found jobs as software developers at local companies. Only 7 months ago, the idea of a coding bootcamp in war-torn Yemen was undreamed of. Now it is an undeniable reality.

For #Code4Yemen, Maher and our students created an inspiring video in less than 24 hours to share their stories with the world.