Libya teachers, parents mobilise to fix battle-scarred school
Some of the walls have been repainted, furniture has been installed and ageing computer screens dusted off. But the roofs and other walls, pockmarked by gunfire and mortar blasts, remain grim reminders of the recent fighting.
"We didn't want to sit and wait for help," said Najah al-Kabir, a teaching coordinator in a patterned jallaba gown and a hijab.
She is taking part in a refurbishment campaign launched by staff and joined by enthusiastic parents of students from the surrounding Ain Zara district.
"We're one family," Kabir said, standing in the playground of the primary school, damaged by weeks of artillery fire.
"This school was our second home."
When eastern Libyan military chief Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in April 2019 to seize the capital from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), Ain Zara found itself on the front line.
The fighting degenerated into a long battle of attrition on the outskirts of Tripoli and lasted until June this year, when pro-GNA forces ended the stalemate by pushing Haftar's forces back eastwards.
By the time the fighting ended, the school had been reduced to "ruins", Kabir said.
"It needed to be rebuilt quickly," she added.
'A terrible state'
The UN children's agency UNICEF warned earlier this year that "attacks against schools and the threat of violence have led to (school) closures and left almost 200,000 children out of the classroom".
The Martyrs' School is one of around 100 schools fully or partly destroyed during the offensive by Haftar, backed by Russia and the United Arab Emirates.
Pro-GNA armed groups, whose counter-offensive was spurred by Turkey, used some schools to stock arms or as observation posts.
By the end of the fighting, the Martyrs' School was "in a terrible state", said headteacher Saleh al-Badri.
The establishment caters for 1,500 students in an area three kilometres from the next school, making it "important to reopen it as soon as possible," he said.
Mahmoud Abdelkhalek, who lives nearby and sends his three sons to the school, was keen to get involved.
"It seemed important that everyone get involved to fix it," he said. "A collective effort has brought it back to life."
The effort to reopen is well underway, with some teachers and parents donating money while others have helped with DIY skills.
But "the money has run out and we're waiting for more funds", al-Badri said.
Pupils had been set to return in early December, but with efforts also slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, hopes are now pinned on January.
If the funds are found, that will give volunteers time to fix the electrics and renovate the classrooms -- as well as plastering over the remaining bullet-holes and the scars left by rockets and mortar fire.
But teaching coordinator Kabir says there is also other damage to be addressed: the psychological impact the fighting has had on pupils.
"Most of them have suffered the horrors of war and displacement," she said.