Libya: A place for children to play
As the conflict continues in Libya and is followed by newsrooms around the world, Save the Children is continuing to help those who have fled violence to the relative safety of Benghazi, the rebel-held second largest city in the country.
Children who have been driven from their homes and exposed to violence can laugh, play, and psychologically recover from experiencing sights and sounds no child should ever have to see in our ‘child friendly spaces’.
Our team on the ground tell us about how the children in one child friendly space devised a makeshift waterslide. Four thin crash mats, the sort used in gymnastics, were laid end-to-end and each child wore a bin liner with holes cut for the arms and head.
One young boy hurtled towards the slide while others dumped buckets of soapy water over the mats, allowing him to jump belly first onto the slippery mats and hurl himself as far down this apparatus as he could manage.
For this brief moment, the violence and devastation that these children have witnessed, and the uncertainty of their future could not be further from their minds. They are playing, laughing and having fun.
Save the Children is working hard to give every child who escapes the violence their ‘waterslide’ moment.
We have nine child friendly spaces in Benghazi, set up with collaboration from Unicef and the Department of Social Welfare, reaching more than 1,500 children. Children use the areas to play, dance, sing and paint – a chance for them to laugh, to socialise and to be children again.
By creating a safe environment for the children and by encouraging them to talk about their experiences, they are not left alone to bottle up their emotions.
We work closely with families and communities to help them understand the needs of these children and how they can help them recover.
This is the tip of the Libyan humanitarian iceberg. Aid organisations are still unable to access the worst affected areas. As the conflict rages, the number of children trapped without basic needs is becoming a serious concern. The weight of international pressure must be directed at bringing an end to this conflict.
If we are to avoid witnessing a lost generation, with all the economic and social implications this will have for the country and the region, we must be allowed to get help to these children.
Escaping the conflict
And if we can’t get to them, they must be allowed to get to us. Free and voluntary movement is a basic human right. Without this sections of the population are cut off from basic necessities like food and health services.
Deliberately displacing children, or stopping children and families escaping violence, is a serious crime against the rights of the child and those responsible must be held to account.
All the while our work in Benghazi continues. We recently hosted a children’s day for over 200 children displaced from Ajdabiya – with dancing, singing and painting. Benghazi Theatre recently played host to an evening of children’s art and performance which was attended by over 1,000 parents and children.
The first edition of a newspaper written and designed entirely by the children was printed recently and included creative stories, drawings and cartoons.
By getting the kids involved in these sorts of activities, we are helping them to rediscover their sense of belonging. This feeling of stability and social cohesion is a crucial step in helping children who have been driven from their homes begin to recover.
And it’s working. Instead of pictures of tanks and soldiers, children are now painting their friends and families.
This post has been written by Simon Le Tocq, from Save the Children’s emergencies team.