Mohammed Al-Adlani was the Content Coordinator for TILE^Yemen, TILE’s first location in a war zone.
In September 2017, Mohammed escaped from Sana'a, Yemen into Beirut, Lebanon.
This is his story.
I was born and raised in Sana’a, which is the epicenter of the crisis that has ravaged Yemen since 2011. Due to severe political instability and conflict, basic needs have been left unfulfilled for most residents. As a result, hope in Sana’a—especially amongst my generation—is extraordinarily difficult to come by.
Perhaps the worst side-effect of the conflict has been the impact it has had on the mindset of my peers. The neverending strife, in tandem with few reasons to hope for a better future, has robbed them of any optimism—they are consumed by the conflict. Many teens here have lost family members, opportunities, and a general sense of wellbeing.
Even if they manage to graduate, most students cannot get out of Yemen due to travel restrictions and significant language barriers that are exacerbated by a lack of formal education. Despite the strong efforts of students and teachers, quality educational resources are scarce; as a result, few believe their future will be better than their already difficult existence.
The key to my survival thus far has been a never-ending search for more educational resources. When I entered high school, I wanted to gain a better understanding of innovation, leadership, and entrepreneurship. These concepts are foreign to most of the students here, but they are imperative in fulfilling our desire to shape our country for the better. One evening while browsing the internet, I stumbled upon TILE, an organization started by an American high school student named Michael Ioffe, and quickly became fascinated with TILE’s premise and mission.
TILE stands for Talks on Innovation, Leadership, and Entrepreneurship and was founded on the idea that every student should have unobstructed access to conversations with the people they look up to the most. Using the TILE Manual, a guide for starting and operating TILE events, each chapter organizes monthly, hour-long student-led discussions between the audience and an invited guest, typically a local luminary. TILE operates entirely off of volunteer work and the dedication of students all around the world.
After convincing two of my friends to join me, I decided to start a TILE chapter in Sana’a. We convinced our school, Al-Kuwait High School, to let us use a lecture hall after hours, and started searching for fascinating guests who could speak at our events.
Our first event had about 100 students. It was way more than we expected, and the hall was overflowing with students from all around Sana’a. The speaker, Shaya Al-Dailami, was well known in our community—he had written Al-Mutfwaq in Biology, one of the most referenced books for students interested in science. Over the course of an hour-long interview that I facilitated, Shaya shared the inspiring story of his life and how he became a successful educator. He spoke about how he rose from abject poverty to become someone, a trajectory that the students in the audience dreamed about.
Many students saw themselves in Shaya’s story, and the simple idea that they too could become someone gave us all a sense of hope. It was reason enough for them to keep learning, to persevere through the suffering just a little bit longer.
After that first night, my peers became noticeably more active and passionate. One simple conversation helped us realize that we should still have hope; we should still take action to shape our future. Launching the first event was indescribably difficult, but the conflict could not stop us from creating a venue for such important conversation and interaction.
For the second event, about 150 students came. By our third event, students were unable to fit into the hall. The compelling part of TILE was that the stories that speakers shared were not imaginary or distant; they were real, tangible, and present. It is one thing to watch a video online or listen to a podcast, but hearing meaningful stories from such inspiring individuals while being in the same room was truly life-changing.
TILE was pivotal for me. I was able to develop management and leadership skills that are difficult to develop in a place like Sana’a. Thankfully, my work with TILE helped me secure a scholarship and get out of Yemen, I am now studying at one of the best universities in the Middle East, American University of Beirut. I was incredibly lucky—few students were able to escape the conflict. Unfortunately, after I left the country, the conflict escalated to a point where it was no longer safe to organize talks in a safe manner. Now, I am in the process of launching a new TILE chapter in Beirut.
When I read the stories of Nelson Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir Mohamad, and others, I am inspired to be like them. My dream is to someday be Prime Minister of Yemen; I know that the path I’ve chosen will require an insane amount of effort, but my desire to make a genuine change in Yemen will not be hindered. I want to ensure that hope is never again lost by Sana’a’s youth, and I will stop at nothing to fulfill that ambition.