When Ibrahim Zouka, director of Al Markaziya Middle School in Misrata, heard during last year’s conflict that Colonel Gaddafi’s military was on its way, he drove to the school and, with the help of a colleague, filled his car with all the financial and administrative paperwork the pair could find.
With the school about to be occupied and used as a base by Gaddafi’s military, they took the documents home for safekeeping, and prayed that the school wouldn’t be destroyed.
Though damaged – shrapnel holes are visible on classroom and exterior walls – the school was able to reopen in January, but the Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) littering the area mean that the students, all of whom live on farmlands where fighting took place, are still in danger.
“It is a real problem, because the farms that surround us have children who play outside,” one of the teachers told MAG. “The only place that they’re actually safe is inside their houses.”
A student explained how her cousin was playing with a bullet next to the family home, when the bullet exploded and he lost his finger.
To tackle this kind of threat, MAG’s Community Liaison staff have been working extensively in the area with the local population and delivering vital Risk Education – tailored safety messages about the dangers posed by remnants of conflict – at newly reopened schools.
So far, 494 girls and 340 boys in the Misrata area have attended these sessions, including more than 100 girls and 50 boys at Tomeena Al Markaziya Middle School.
‘’It [Risk Education] is extremely important, for now and for the future,” said Mr Zouka. ‘’I’m extremely happy that the school has been able to reopen. I hope that tomorrow will be better than today.”
Mr Zouka expressed relief that the students feel safer than they did before, though many of them are still anxious when they hear the explosions that still take place at night in Misrata.
MAG will soon be participating in a nationwide effort to train teachers on how to give Risk Education to students throughout all regions. This project is being coordinated with the Ministry of Education, which is keen on making Risk Education part of the national curriculum, to reduce the number of children involved in ERW accidents.
The work in this article is being carried out thanks to funding from the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) and the UK's Department for International Development (DFID).
MAG’s Libya operations are funded by: AECID; DFID; The Kirby Laing Foundation; UNHCR; UNOPS; US Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.