Libyan boys hold fake bullets during school time
Libyan boys hold fake bullets as they play at a school run by volunteers to keep children engaged in activities far from fighting between rebels and loyalists to Moamer Kadhafi in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi on June 1. Rebel children, in a rebel bastion, are seeking ways to find a new life as they await Moamer Kadhafi\'s fall. © Saeed Khan - AFP
Libyan boys hold fake bullets during school time
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Jean-Pierre Campagne, AFP
Last updated: February 6, 2012

Libya's rebel children find a break from the violence

"Hurra (Free) Libya! Hurra Libya! Hurra Libya!" -- the chant rang out in the playground of Fajer al-Hurra school in Benghazi from 100 boys and girls, assembled in separate lines.

In front of them, one of the eldest waved the red, black and green flag of the Libyan rebellion.

These children of the revolution, which erupted on February 17, are aged between four and 12. Rebel children, in a rebel bastion, seek ways to find a new life as they await Moamer Kadhafi's fall.

Since the start of fighting against government forces, Benghazi's 300 schools and universities have turned into ghost towns.

In their place, volunteers have opened centres for children to have two hours each morning to forget the violence which is graphically portrayed on television.

"We see these children suffering, shut away in their homes, held captive to these violent images on television. We wanted to bring them away from it a little," explained school director Sadek al-Harari, who started as a teacher in the school 30 years ago.

"The first day, April 1, we had just one solitary child, that's all. Then I went out into the street, spoke to parents going past with their families in cars; I suggested they send their children each morning from 10 o'clock to 12."

"Now there are about 200 who alternate between theatre classes, drawing, music, technology and... arithmetics. Even an English class has opened," Harari said.

How does it compare to the old system under Kadhafi?

"There is a huge difference," explained 20-year-old Fatma, one of the volunteer teachers who like her colleagues was a student herself before the insurrection.

"Under Kadhafi, everything was controlled, everything aimed to boost his image, his power. The teachers were strict. We came to pass exams, that's all," she said.

"Now we come to learn about life, to become someone for the future, someone free."

More cries rose up from one of the classes. It was a play being put on by children, miming a demonstration and chanting "Hurra Libya."

Opposite them, two infants armed with plastic AK-47 guns acted, hesitatingly, as Kadhafi troops. They pulled back, opened fire. Two demonstrators fell, to be carried away by their comrades to receive first aid.

In a nearby class, a nurse with compresses in hand explained to the children the basics of first aid.

Some 25 volunteers work, for free, in the school.

Only the teachers from "before the revolution" are paid by the National Transitional Council, the rebel leadership struggling to fill the void created by a paralysis that has hit all public institutions once financed by Tripoli.

In total, said the school director, some 35 similar programmes are functioning in Benghazi.

"We are fighting to free the whole of Libya. When the cities besieged by Kadhafi are free, we will reopen all the schools throughout the whole land, not before," the director added.

Fatma was a third year medical student and may return to those studies.

But she was uncertain: "I want to become a doctor but I also like to write, why not become a writer, like Shakespeare?" she asked, inspired by the slogan "We have a dream!" that is omnipresent in Benghazi.

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