News / Africa

Misrata Volunteers Help Libyan Children Cope with Wounds of War

Scott Bobb

Of all the Libyan cities that endured the fighting between pro- and anti-Gadhafi forces, Misrata, lying on the central Libyan coast, suffered the most. An estimated 2,000 people were killed and 6,000 wounded. The shelling and weeks without water or electricity were hard on all, but especially on the children.

Fun and games

Every night Misrata's main square is filled with children. There are games, skits and music, all for their entertainment. The buildings around the square are stark. Most of them are dark. Several have been gutted by fire.

For a month they were infested by pro-Gadhafi snipers who shot without discrimination at fighters, civilians, men, women and children. Anti-Gadhafi forces eventually killed them after a month of heavy fighting.

At one end of the square lie the twisted remains of several tanks. They are now painted with the red, black and green colors of the flag of the new Libya.

During the months of fighting between supporters and opponents of Moammar Gadhafi, some 2,000 residents of this small city were killed, 6,000 were wounded.

Traumatized

The violence left many of the children traumatized, some unable to speak, others unable to sleep because of nightmares.

Others appear to be healthy, chanting for a free Libya at the top of their lungs.

Children play in the main square where there are nightly games, skits and music to entertain them, which are organized by volunteers, and supported by businesses and civic groups, to lift the children's spirits, September 2011.
Children play in the main square where there are nightly games, skits and music to entertain them, which are organized by volunteers, and supported by businesses and civic groups, to lift the children's spirits, September 2011. (VOA photo)

Mahmoud Abu Dabuss, 36, is an electrician and father of three. He and other volunteers organize nightly festivities to lift the children's spirits. Initially they paid for everything themselves but now they get support from businesses and civic groups.

He says it all started one day when he brought some big speakers and put on some Quranic verses and the national song for an hour or so. He says the children started coming around and liked it so he decided to do it every night to make some fun for the kids.

Ali Shinab brings his children here every night. He says the children spent hours under chairs which were the safest places to be during the fighting.

“During the fighting the children were in a bad situation, crying. They were afraid. They stopped eating. They weren't aware where their father was,” Shinab recalls.

Support group

He says the parties help take their minds off what they experienced. Some of the healthier children have formed a support group that tries to help those who are suffering.

Abu Dabuss says the children were also exposed to graphic images of the violence on television. This aggravated their stress.

He says he had to come here and do it for the kids. He wants them to forget Gadhafi, forget the war and forget the bombs and rockets.

Leila, 7, sings a popular song about Misrata's ordeal.

The children are looking forward now to the start of the new school year on September 17. Their parents are too. They hope it will help ease the bad memories that, they fear, could last a lifetime.

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