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Why this hero mom-to-be refuses to leave war-torn Yemen

She could evacuate to a safer place, but Sarah Shamsan won't leave Yemen's starving children behind.
/ Source: TODAY

When Sarah Shamsan found out she was pregnant with her first child, she felt excited and happy, but with a lingering sense of fear. That’s because Shamsan lives in Sana’a, Yemen, and her country is in the middle of a civil war and a massive famine that has already killed an estimated 85,000 children and threatens the lives of millions more.

Shamsan could leave, but she is determined to stay and save as many children as possible.

“I really cannot leave because I feel like, at least, I am helping,” the 28-year-old told TODAY. She works as a nutritional manager for the International Rescue Committee and spends her days treating malnourished children 5 and under. Even though she could be evacuated, she refuses to leave. “It is not easy at all. But sometimes we are trying to find solutions if we can … the numbers in need are very high.”

Nearly 22 million people are in immediate need of humanitarian aid and about half those are children in what the United Nations calls “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis."

Despite the danger to herself, that’s exactly why Shamsan feels she must stay.

Shamsan kept waiting to have a baby because she hoped that the two sides would agree to peace. But her life felt like it was on hold.

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Even though Sarah Shamsan is 7 months pregnant, she stays in Yemen to help children suffering from malnutrition in what is considered the "world's worst humanitarian crisis."Kellie Ryan / IRC

“I have waited for two years for this war to end. It seems like it will be worse. I cannot stop my life and wait for the war to end,” said Shamsan, who is now seven months pregnant with a girl. “As a woman you are trapped between the war that is not ending and you actually want to be a mother and to feel that good feeling.”

She worked through her first-trimester morning sickness and plans on working until she goes into labor. She sees between 40 and 50 children every day who need treatment, which consists of giving them Plumpy’Nut, a nut-based nutritional supplement.

“Children are suffering,” she said. “Daily they are eating one meal and daily if they are not finding anything to eat they are going to rubbish for food."

A father holds the hand of his 4-month-old daughter, Hajar, who died of malnutrition in Sanaa, Yemen on November 15. An estimated 130 children in Yemen die every day of starvation and disease. MOHAMED AL-SAYAGHI / Reuters

Sometimes children do not recover as well as she would hope. Often desperate parents give the Plumpy’Nut to all their children because they have so little food.

“We talk to the mother and tell her that she cannot do that,” she explained “(But) they are looking for something to eat.”

Unlike many other people in the country who have lost their jobs because of the war, Shamsan and her husband still have work. But food prices have skyrocketed as inflation continues rising.

Air strikes have targeted the area outside Sana'a and she has to be home by 7 p.m. because of nationwide curfews. More importantly she fears for her safety if she's out after dark. But she plans on working for as long as children in the country need her help.

“I am trying to cope with the situation and do my best now to prepare for this child,” she said. “I know it will not be an easy job to do and to be a mother but I will do my best.”

For more information on how to help people in Yemen, click here.