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'Our children need help to deal with this'

Libya, June 14, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jill Morehead/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Misrata's Tripoli Street bears the scars of heavy fighting not long ago. Photo: Jill Morehead/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jill Morehead/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Local children, suffering through the trauma and grief of war, need structured activities and play to deal with the stress. Photo: Jill Morehead/Mercy Corps

As we pulled out of the Benghazi port into the clear, blue waters of the Mediterranean, it seemed more like we were on Greek island cruise than an International Organization for Migration (IOM) boat headed for the city of Misrata, Libya. This would be Mercy Corps’ sixth trip to Misrata since April 17, 2011. I was a little nervous. Fadl Moukadem, who has been a near constant presence in Misrata since April, was excited to return to a place that had become a second home.

I was seasick that entire first day. The next morning, I woke up grateful to not feel nauseous and went out on the deck of the ship to see what I could see. As I looked around, I noticed NATO warships dotting the horizon and their silhouettes immediately brought the game Battleship to mind. I knew we must be close to Misrata. On the other side of the boat, I could see the port of Misrata and was anxious to arrive.

After two days in Misrata and attending meetings until late in the evening, I continue to be in awe at the resilience, organization and dedication of the Libyan people. For several blocks, we drove down Tripoli Street — where major fighting took place — and though I had seen photos, they can’t begin to prepare you for the sight of all that destruction. The buildings stand, damaged but proud, a constant reminder that it was a war zone just a couple weeks ago.

However, further up the road on Tripoli Street was a group of young boys volunteering to clean trash from the streets — some as young as 12. Driving past them, we arrived at a mosque, responsible for collecting donations and providing food to the vulnerable families in the neighborhood.

The boys took us to a house, where we met a local teacher who is volunteering with other teachers at her school to provide structured activities and lessons for children to help them deal with the stress of war.We then met with the psychological committee working tirelessly to help people through the grief and trauma. And every single one of them welcomed us with a smile and a cup of tea.

As we told them about the psychosocial programming Mercy Corps was hoping to do in Misrata, they smiled. When I asked if they felt comfortable enough to let their children out alone to go to the schools, one man replied, “Our children need help to deal with this.We will send them immediately.”