Middle East

Libyan children struggle for normality

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Media captionMany teachers have not been paid in months

How do you provide stability and education for children amid the turmoil of a civil war?

That is the challenge currently being grappled with in Libya.

In Benghazi, which the rebels have held for most of the five-month uprising, schools are struggling to provide anything like a normal education for their pupils.

As I stared out of the window of the Alsuisi family car, we passed upturned vehicles, a burnt tank and the bullet-ridden walls of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi's military barracks.

This is the morning school run for seven-year-old Awwab and his eight-year-old sister, Buruuj.

Acting differently

While the nearest frontline is now around 200km (125 miles) further west in Brega, the landscape has been deeply scarred here by the fighting that took place back in March.

The children's father, Dr Abdul Salem Alsuisi, told me that he wondered whether his children would be affected psychologically by this journey that they have to take everyday.

Image caption Few children are able to go to school in Libya

"First of all I was a bit worried, but now they have been accustomed to that. I think they feel sad at first and then they started enduring the situation and living normally. Especially when they started going to school," he said.

Awwab and Buruuj are among the lucky few that can still go to a school in Libya, as all of them across the country closed five months ago.

Here in Benghazi, a handful of schools have been reopened but for activities, rather than actual lessons. They are run by local unpaid teachers, such as Naeema Kawofya.

"The last time I was paid was May. The reason I want to continue teaching is that I don't want the children out in the street. I want them to go to school," she says.

She also says she notices that the children have started to act differently.

"Of course, they have been affected. Sometimes they don't want to come to school. They say 'maybe the mercenaries will kill us. I want to go and see my dad, I want to go and see my mum. What if Gaddafi kills us'.

"Some of them are very scared to come here and you can see it in their behaviour," she adds.

The main aim for the rebel authority, the National Transitional Council, is to have every school in Benghazi open for some activities by September and to pay the teachers.

In addition, there is the task of looking after children who have been turned into internal refugees by the conflict, often after having witnessed horrific events. 

At least 70,000 people are estimated to be living in makeshift camps in Benghazi after escaping from areas of intense fighting around Misrata and Brega. 

Drawing weapons

Some are staying in displacement centres, often offices abandoned months ago by foreign companies. 

Image caption Aid agencies are trying to provide activities for children displaced in the conflict

I visited one of the sites, 30 miles east of Benghazi on the barren plains of the east coast.

Families are staying in the empty labourers' quarters of a foreign fishing company, and many of the displaced children there have witnessed unimaginable violence.

Aid agencies and volunteers are working to provide activities for them.

Jenny Humphries, from Save the Children, says many of the children are deeply traumatised by what they have seen.

"What [we have] been doing is allowing them to express fears and concerns that they have through art and through drawing, and when we first started working with them some of their images were of quite horrific scenes of rockets and tanks and weapons and actual death scenes," she says.

The volunteers say the drawings over time have become less violent, less filled with hate.

But the question the children ask is still the same: when can they go home?