Restarting childhood in Libya

“I wish we could go back to living in our home like it was before a rocket hit it.”

Raquiaa, 6, lives with her older sister, Rukaya, 7, younger brother Saleh and parents in Janzour, Libya. In 2014, when the conflict started, an explosion hit their house injuring Saleh who was just three months old at the time.

Rukaya and Raquiaa were understandably affected by what they went through. Having seen the pain of their little brother, they became enclosed in their own world, unwilling to communicate with other children, and desperately clung to their mother who herself was suffering.

Unable to find the money to rent another house, the family had to make some difficult choices. Eventually Rukaya and Raquiaa’s mother took the children to go and live with family members close by.

Amid this separation and further unrest however, Rukaya and Raquiaa retreated further into themselves. Although Saleh had since recovered from the blast injuries, the psychological pressure on their mother was affecting them both deeply.

Their father had heard about Al Nahla, an organisation in Janzour operating child-friendly spaces for refugees, children with disabilities, and those from underpriviledged families. He went to ask for guidance on how to support his children through this difficult time.

He explained his family’s situation to the staff. They advised him to enroll the girls at the UNICEF supported child-friendly space where they could access psychosocial support and child protection services.

Two girls in the same clothing standing on grass, surrounded by other girls who are playing
AlNahla/Libya/2017 Raquiaa (6) and Rukaya (7) at the AlNahla Child Friendly Space in Janzour, Libya

Now Rukaya tells us, “I want to come here every day with my sister!”

The child-friendly space is located inside a school whose walls are covered with drawings made by the students: it is easy to see why Rukaya loves it here.

The centre caters to around 1,200 children. Local students, from many different backgrounds, are enrolled in the school, and come to to do sport, play chess, paint and draw, and receive specialized phsychosocial suppot in a safe environment every week. UNICEF supports the space through generous support from the German government.

In just a short period of time, with the support of Al Nahla, Rukaya and Raquiaa’s parents have noticed a significant change in their daughters. Although Rukaya tells us that she sometimes has to talk for her shy sister, “she is not shy with me,”. There has been a marked difference in their behavouir. They are playing, interacting with other children again and just being normal young girls.

With the support of AlNahla and UNICEF, the girls have also enrolled at the school that houses the centre. Although there is still much more to do until this family can resume their previous lives, for Rukaya and Raquiaa, attending the child-friendly space has certainly been a first step.

Lilly Carlisle is a Communications Consultant working with UNICEF Libya

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