''When I returned to Sirt with my family, I could see the heavy smoke coming from the area where my school was located. I was very sad, my eyes where full of tears, '' said Ibtisam Ramadan Al Misrati (11 years old), student at Al Dhahir School in Sirt.
Following violent clashes in Sirt in 2014, Ibtisam and her family fled to Ben Jawad, 90 km East of Sirt. She had to leave the school where she had been enrolled since grade one and all her friends. ''One day I was going to school with my father. The way to school was empty and we could only hear the sound of bullets and loud explosions. At a crossroad, we met a fighter who told us to return home immediately because the situation was very bad. Two days later, we left our home and everything behind us, heading for Ben Jawad, '' she explained.
Ibtisam was enrolled in another school in Ben Jawad where she spent two years. ''The new school was not bad, but I could not stop thinking about my school and my friends in Sirt,'' she said.
Great challenges after return back home
When the security situation in Sirt improved, the family returned home, only to realize that Al Dhahir School was severely affected by the violent clashes that took place in the area. '' It will be quite impossible to join that school again. The school is destroyed,'' said Ibtisam’s father.
'' When I heard that from my father, my heart was broken. Joy and excitement that followed our coming back home transformed into despair,'' said Ibtisam.
One of the corridors at Al Dhahir School during renovation and after. Photo: ©UNDP Libya/Abdeladeem Ajaj
Ibtisam was impatient to know exactly what happened to her school. When she went there, she could not find anybody to explain to her. But what she saw was clear enough to give her an idea of what happened. There were no doors neither windows. The facility was full of war ammunition and garbage.
Despite the fact that the educational institution was not meeting basic requirements to host students, it opened its doors and studies resumed in very challenging conditions. Ibtisam and some of her classmates were among those who joined again the educational institution.
'' The clashes caused many cracks in the ceiling and walls. With no windows, students suffered from cold. In winter, there was a lot of absenteeism, '' stated Mr Ali Baba, teacher at Al Dhahir School.
“Bathrooms and toilets were unusable as well,'' declared Ibtisam. In winter, rain was falling in classrooms. Studying in those conditions was almost impossible,'' she added. Ibtisam and her friends were discussing daily about this situation but could not find a solution. ''We had no other alternatives and we stayed at that school,'' she said.
When renovation brings a gloom of hope
Led by national and municipal Libyan institutions and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with international support, the Stabilization Facility for Libya (SFL) is an immediate stabilization initiative which provides quick rehabilitation of critical infrastructure and delivery of equipment to support local authorities to improve services to their citizens.
Al Dhahir School is located in the suburb of Sirt, 17 km west of the city. It was established in 1998. The SFL renovated the entire building. Now, 137 students and 36 staff are taking advantage of the renovated facility.
Ibtisam and her classmates are reading at Al Dhahir School in Sirt. Photo: ©UNDP Libya/Abdeladeem Ajaj
''The situation in the school was very unfortunate. When we heard about school maintenance, this was a solution to all the bottlenecks in the facility. It is now ranked among model schools thanks to the remarkable renovation work that has been done, ''stated Mr Baba. ''The decision to maintain the school by UNDP was a fair one. It came on time and we really needed it, ''said Mr Abdel Karim Elmourtaja, Director of the school. ''As a matter of fact, the school spent 20 years without renovation except some minor works and some furniture delivered by the State, '' he added.
The SFL has undertaken several projects in Sirt, including delivery of ambulances to Ibn Sina Hospital, delivery of five garbage trucks and 200 garbage bins, and the renovation of Aqba Ibn Nafi, Al Ittihad, Khawla Bint Azur, Sana Ibn Youssef, Al Kholoud, Shohada Tagrafet, Al markeziya and Al Fath schools. It rehabilitated the Study and Examination Education Sector Office as well.
Ibtisam is having a look at her presentation at Al Dhahir School in Sirt. Photo : ©UNDP Libya/ Abdeladeem Ajaj
Much motivated to learn Mathematics!
''The organization was able to provide us with a safe place that would provide a suitable environment to study,'' declared Mr. Elmourtaja. “After renovation, students can now focus on learning as they don’t have to worry any more about challenging conditions.”
''During our free time, we discuss about lessons and our plans for the future, Bad weather conditions do no bother us anymore,” said Ibitisam. “I especially like discussing about mathematics. I am fonder of mathematics problems. My mother is very proud of me and encourages me to move forward. I dream to become a mathematics teacher,'' she concluded.
With support from 13 international partners and the Government of Libya, the SFL has enabled 6,270 students including 3,514 boys and 2,156 girls to learn in improved educational institutions in Sirt.
Ibtisam and her classmates are following a lesson at Al Dhahir School in Sirt. Photo: ©UNDP Libya/ Abdeladeem Ajaj