“I cannot describe with words what ‘music’ means to me. I am going to explain it to you with sound,” said Ms Zahra Al-Tabal, teacher at Al Ribat School in Tripoli, while she takes the accordion and starts playing a bright and addictive melody with it.
Founded in 1969, Al Ribat Primary School is located in Tripoli Center. Designated to host 600 students, it did not receive any maintenance for years.
Ms Zahra Al-Tabal has been teaching music there for 34 years. During this time, neither the conflict nor the neglected maintenance of the building made her lose the motivation to pass on her skills to children.
She graduated from Jamila Alazmrly Institute of Music and Art in 1985. Her love for music and education brought her to Al Ribat School, where she has remained for years.
“I did not have the opportunity to study in a high school. I learned in a vocational training center. One of the subjects was ‘music and education’. At first, I was not that interested on music, but when I started the classes I loved it,” explained Ms Al-Tabal. “I finally graduated from Alazmrly Institute. I started my career by chance, but I loved to teach so I kept with it.”
Since 2011, the repeated conflicts in Libya resulted into hundreds of thousands of people displaced, which brought new students to Al Ribat School. The classes became crowded and the space for teaching music unavailable.
Tripoli Center is a municipality facing challenges to accommodate the increasing population density. More than 160,000 citizens live there now, which makes it difficult for local authorities to ensure a proper learning environment at the 65 basic and secondary education facilities.
“We, the local authorities, have limited capacity to maintain the educational facilities, especially because of the instability in the country and the rising costs,” Mr Sara El-Noumi, Under Secretary of Tripoli Center Municipality, explained.
Despite the challenges, Ms Al-Tabal kept doing her job, teaching music in any corner of the school that was available.
"I had no place for training," she said. "Sometimes I taught students in a bookstore, other times in the corridors. Nothing prevented me and the students from practicing. Their passion helped them win first prize in competitions throughout the district,” declared Ms Al-Tabal proudly.