My name is Haifa Almaqtari and I am 26 years old. I was born in Hodeidah in Yemen, in a big family of nine members.
In a city like Hodeidah, life is difficult. It is a very poor city near to the sea. The economy depends on the port and education is very low and employment even lower. Most of the jobs are given to men. About 40% of the women I know in Hodeidah want to pursue a Bachelors degree but they rarely become employed.
My parents were not lucky to continue their education to high levels. But they kept reading and sent my siblings and me to university. We studied at public ones since private ones in Yemen are not affordable, and we were very happy when my elder siblings were able to get their Bachelors. But unfortunately they could not find a job in Hodeidah for a whole year. As a result, my family moved to Sana'a - the capital of Yemen so that my older siblings could find jobs.
My parents believe that not only marriage, but also education can make a woman. They were very careful that my sisters and me continue our education.
But I used to be very shy and very much depended on my family. Even my academic major, my family decided for me. The kind of education we receive from school does not encourage our independence or our building objectives in our lives and I was not prepared to take the decision of what to study myself. Now from my life experience I believe that at school there should be teachers who can help students make their own decisions based on how their strengths can be used to get a job.
I received a B.A. in English Language from Sana'a University in 2007 and I started looking for jobs. I thought that my skills would be immediately accepted and that all the companies would welcome me because of my degree. But things were not as I was thinking. I was shocked that my skills didn't satisfy the job market demands.
During my college study, computer skills were not taught in public universities. So when I came to practical life and I applied to a job they asked me, "Do you know how to use a computer?" I said, "No, I don't." So what can they do with me? I failed in every job interview.
I realized how important these skills which I lacked are. I wanted to take training on computer and English skills so I could qualify for a good job. But at this time, I needed to help my family instead of me asking them for money to take more courses. So, I kept my dream inside my heart! One year passed looking for a job. It was the most frustrating year in my life.
Finally, I found a job as an assistant in a kindergarten. I served there for two years. I knew it was not my dream job, but at least I could gain money and help my family financially.
One day, a friend of mine told me that there is a training institution called Yemen EFE (YEFE) that provides job training for free.
Getting the job training was the turning point in my life. I changed! I discovered the real Haifa. When I graduated from university, I couldn't write a CV and didn't know how to act in an interview or with colleagues and how to improve my skills to get promoted. The job training gave me these skills and it gave me confidence.
I could finally make my own decisions and could successfully convince my family. I was nominated by YEFE to travel to ITALY and attended the World Youth Meeting in 2010. You can't imagine how much I struggled to persuade my father. I made the impossible into I'M POSSIBLE. My older sister is able to travel abroad now because she points to me and says, "Haifa did it so I can too."
When I came back from Italy, I succeeded in the first job interview I had. It was at Universal Group (UG) which YEFE connected me to. Since 2010, I have worked for UG as the Chairman's Executive Secretary.
In addition to this, I have been promoted to a member of the Board of Trustees - in the position of the Programs Coordinator- of Al Khair Foundation for Social Development (AKF) which manages the social responsibility of UG. At AKF, I am trusted to make much more managerial decisions such as preparing budgets, managing training, coordinating with donors, etc.
I am aware of the importance of going the extra miles towards improving my skills. I am taking a MBA in the Open University of Malaysia and I want to build my abilities much more to establish my own restaurant chair, Inshallah. I will start in Yemen, and if it goes international, why not?
Being employed is really different. It impacts my family. I help my younger siblings to pursue their education. From my salary, I can help my family and pay for my sisters to continue their education, so now they take private courses in English and computers. I bought for them laptops so they can use the computer easily. I can be a role model for my family members now. My younger and older siblings and even my parents ask me if they have any questions in their lives or if they need help.
If young people aren't capable even choose their own field of study, how can they be of use to society? If we train them to make their own decisions and improve their lives, then they will be helpful and useful for their country and the whole world. I do believe that youth are the soul of a peaceful life for Yemen. Thus, they are worth the world's attention.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Middle East and North Africa not-for-profit Education For Employment (EFE), in conjunction with the third anniversary of the self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi on December 17, 2013. That event kicked off what has come to be known as "the Arab Spring" and brought the Arab youth unemployment crisis into the global spotlight. EFE's mission is "to create job opportunities for unemployed youth in the Middle East and North Africa." For more information about the Education For Employment, click here.