“When I returned to school, I was overwhelmed with joy.”
Ahmed Al Abani is nine years old and lives in Sirt, Libya. Because he uses a wheelchair, he and his family have had to struggle to fulfill his right to a quality education.
Although he has been enrolled at the nearby Al Kholoud primary school since the first grade, he faced challenges because it was not accessible for students living with disabilities.
His mother, Khairy Hussin, who teaches at the school, did the best she could, but the family’s lives were disrupted when violent clashes erupted in the city in 2016.
The family fled to Tripoli, and life there was not easy. They couldn’t find a school close to their house, or one that accommodated students with disabilities.
The family returned home to Sirt as soon as they safely could.
“When war ended in Sirt, we returned immediately,” Khairy said. “My son was very excited to come back to his school and see his friends and teachers.”
Unfortunately, the school had been severely damaged in the fighting. Almost everything had been looted or burnt and the classrooms were in poor condition.
The conflict left only a few schools in Sirt standing, which exacerbated the problem of overcrowding. Several families could not find a place for their children and were forced to leave again.
With the school closed, Ahmed’s family also had to reconsider their options.
“My husband and I thought a lot about where to take Ahmed. We even thought of going back to Tripoli,” she said.
UNDP and the Stabilization Facility for Libya (SFL) stepped in. The SFL is an immediate stabilization initiative which provides quick rehabilitation of critical infrastructure damaged in the conflict.
The family received news that the school was to be rehabilitated and would soon be re-opened. “We were very happy and full of hope,” Khairy said.
Al Kholoud Primary School was renovated and handed over to Sirt Municipality in 2018.
Ahmed is not only back in school — it’s a school that’s better than ever. In addition to rehabilitated classrooms, it now has a covered playground where students can play at any time, even when it is raining.
“Rehabilitation has been carried out correctly and the centre can host students again. They are very happy to learn in such environment,” said Meftah Khakis Masood, School Director.
The best thing for Ahmed is that the revamped school has been designed with him in mind.
“I can easily access all the classrooms and different learning spaces in the school,” he says.
“In the school, moving from one place to another is very easy for persons with disabilities. All the corridors are ready for them,” Mr Masood says.
The SFL has undertaken several projects in Sirt, including providing ambulances to Ibn Sina hospital, delivering garbage trucks and garbage bins, and renovating several other schools also damaged in the conflict.
Across Libya, UNDP is responding to the short-term urgent needs of the people while providing long term and sustainable support. The goal, as with Ahmed’s school, is to bring vital immediate help, as well as to lay the foundations for a better future.
“When I returned to school, I was overwhelmed with joy, especially when I saw my friends again,” Ahmed said. “In the past, we could not practice sport or play in the playground, especially in winter, because it did not have a roof. Now, we can play at any time, before going to class, or during sport lessons.”
Ahmed is also flourishing academically in his new environment.
“Now Ahmed is among the top students in his class,” Khairy says. “He returns home with a happy face.”
Ahmed loves to tell his mother how he spends his days, and now that he can dream of the future he deserves, he has big plans.
“I would like to be a medical doctor when I grow up.”
Photos by UNDP Libya/ Abdeladeem Ajaj. Photo editing by Rico Cruz, photography intern at UNDP New York.