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As some Libyan children return to school, effects of war evident

From Ben Wedeman, CNN
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Back to school in Misrata
  • Public schools are still closed, but an ad hoc group has started classes in Misrata
  • Schoolchildren describe gunfire and violence after months out of school
  • Many of the city's male teachers have taken up arms against the Gadhafi regime
  • Save the Children: Some parents worry about sending kids to school amid violence

Misrata, Libya (CNN) -- After months of being holed up as the war in Libya continues, some children in the besieged city of Misrata have returned to class.

The schoolchildren are full of pent-up energy. Not far beneath the excitement, perhaps, lies a life's worth of trauma.

Eight-year old Abdel Aziz unleashed his emotions in a speech to his classmates.

"People died," he tells them. "They shot children. They shot families. They shot girls."

Abdel's father is fighting on the front lines in the battle between ruler Moammar Gadhafi's forces and rebels demanding his ouster. War has come to dominate his life.

Schools across Libya have been closed since the rebellion erupted in February. During the long siege of Misrata, many of these children barely ventured outside.

Libyan families reunited in war

Many of Libya's 2 million children are still missing school amid the months-long conflict in the country, according to the charity Save the Children.

Many schools, including 43 in the eastern city of Benghazi, are closed because they are housing people who have fled the fighting, the group said in a statement.

"We are really worried that children will fall behind in their education if schools stay closed," El Khidir Daloum, Save the Children UK's Middle East regional director, said in the statement. "But it's also about helping kids deal with the disruption and trauma they are facing as a result of the conflict. Many are suffering symptoms of stress and shock."

Daloum said some parents worry about sending their children to school.

"There are a lot of armed men around, often firing into the air, so parents don't like to let their children out of the house."

Public schools have yet to reopen. But an ad hoc group, the Bashair Charitable Society, has started teaching students in Misrata lessons in Arabic, math, patriotic songs and English.

The group tossed the old curriculum. This is a private, local initiative, designed to give the kids something they haven't had in months -- a taste of normalcy, said Sana Ibrahim of the Bashair Charitable Society.

Many of the city's male teachers are gone, having taken up arms against the Gadhafi regime. Abeer Ahmed, a university English student, became a volunteer teacher. She said the children desperately needed a change.

"They are happy to get back to school and meet their friends," she said. "It's nice to get back again."