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Thursday, May 19, 2011

A School That Brings Smiles to Libyan Children

Asma Yousef, Islamic Relief USA's public relations representative, is on the ground in Tunisia at the Ramada camp run for Libyan refugees. The following is her first-hand account of how the camp is serving some of its most precious and vulnerable members—the children.

Thursday, May 19
It is 2:00 p.m. local time. An announcer through a microphone reminded residents at Ramada camp, a camp run by the Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for Libyan refugees in Tunisia, it was time for Islamic Relief's after school programs.Children ages 3 to 14 rushed to line up for the start of the program. Libyan mothers came out of their tents calling upon their children to join the activities. Each group was divided by age and class activity. Some of the older children brought their infant siblings along.

The program is part of Islamic Relief USA's child protection initiative for Libyan children at Ramada camp. IRUSA's project provides morning schooling session for 180 students from pre-k to 8th grade. Their subjects of study cover mathematics, reading, writing, science and Quran, with plans to test the students in a month to enable them to complete this school year. After a two-hour break, students begin their after-school program which includes music, painting, handcrafts and theatre.

The 1,400 inhabitants of this camp share the same narrative: they were forced to flee their homes and abandon their possessions as violence gripped the western part of Libya. Amid constant shelling and bombardment, men rushed women and children into trucks and drove for two hours through treacherous mountain terrain to arrive in Tunisia. Inhabitants have told me that their children—traumatized by what they have seen— were having difficulty trusting others. Many I spoke with were hesitant to reveal their names or say where they came from.

But today, I can see the positive effects of the school program, and am most-amazed at the transformation of these brave Libyan children. As soon one comes upon the children at the camp, the first thing they do is extend their hands to shake yours. Children at Ramada smile as they welcome visitors to what has become their temporary home. They are eager to engage visitors in conversation—introducing themselves and asking about who you are and where you come from. As a mother of two myself, it's difficult imagine the level of stress these children must have endured. I find myself comforted by their confidence and smiles as they wave their victory signs, showing pride and courage.

Undoubtedly, the life of a refugee is new to the inhabitants of the camp. As one Islamic Relief staffer explained to me: "The situation in Ramada camp is unique. Usually residents at refugee camps in other conflicts tend to be the less-fortunate, less-educated segment of society. We are seeing the vast majority of residents here are very well-educated professionals, who have never lived a life of hardship but had to adjust to the new circumstances."

UPDATE: Moments after this blog was posted, Islamic Relief was given an appreciation award by scouts from Benghazi who visited Ramada camp.

Learn more about IRUSA's Libya humanitarian relief efforts here. See more pictures taken by IR team members in Tunisia via Facebook.

Currently, there are 1,400 inhabitants at the UNHCR-run camp with plans to expand it further. With your support, these plans can be realized. Please donate toward IRUSA's Libya Humanitarian Relief fund.

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