Work is under way across the northern Syrian city of al-Raqa as local residents and the city's civil council work together to remove all traces of the war and set the city on the path towards recovery.
"It is a massive construction worksite," said retired teacher and al-Raqa resident Mahmoud al-Amin, who returned to the city after its liberation from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).
"Everyone is moving purposefully to carry out the task assigned to them," he told Diyaruna, expressing surprise at the level of activity throughout the city.
Al-Raqa Civil Council (RCC), which administers the city, is moving in all directions and "appears to be in a race with time to rebuild the city", he said.
Council members are working to ensure services are available for residents who wish to return to their neighbourhoods, once mines have been cleared and rubble has been removed, he said.
The RCC has been working simultaneously to remove the explosive remnants of war and restore electricity, water and sanitation services, he said.
At the same time, he added, the council has launched public health campaigns for the benefit of all residents, and is working to repair schools and even co-ordinate sports activities for the city's youth.
During a competition organised by the RCC’s youth and sports committee, "Al-Raqa in Our Hearts League", 14 soccer teams competed to represent al-Raqa.
"Who would have imagined that a mini soccer league would be organised and a team representing the city would be formed by this time, not too long after the city’s liberation?" al-Amin said.
Reconstruction presents challenges
"The RCC is meeting on a continuous basis to follow up on all developments on the ground and intervene to respond to any reports of shortcomings," said Khalid Mustafa, who serves on the RCC reconstruction committee.
RCC members are in constant consultation with the city's elders to modernise the council and improve its performance, he told Diyaruna.
They will achieve this through "forming specialised committees and selecting the right people to carry out the many tasks that await them", he said.
"Reconstruction is the key to restoring life to the city," Mustafa added, noting that the reconstruction committee is currently removing the rubble of destroyed structures to enable residents to return to their neighbourhoods.
The council has encountered some challenges in carrying out its work, he said, notably a shortage of resources, but recently received 50 work vehicles, including trucks and bulldozers, along with other mechanical equipment.
"The other obstacle is the mines," he said, pointing out that the engineering teams have so far cleared 12 of the city’s districts.
Mustafa said his committee’s tasks include ensuring returning residents will have access to drinking water and electricity, and removing rubble from the streets to enable reconstruction efforts to begin.
"But reconstruction efforts require significant international support to complete," he said, noting that in the interim, some of the city’s more affluent residents are restoring and rebuilding at their own expense.
Restoring schools, health services
The council's reconstruction committee also has been working with the education committee to rehabilitate some of the area's schools, Mustafa said, with more than 180 area schools now open to students.
"Schools are operating once again, thanks to a joint effort by the RCC’s committees, residents and teachers," he said.
Volunteer work played an important role in speeding up the reopening of schools, he said, but supplies are still lacking and many of them will require quite a bit of construction work.
"The RCC has secured medicine and medical supplies, that were then distributed to medical posts established in some of the districts where residents have returned," said deputy chairman of the health committee Saddam al-Huwaidi.
Al-Mashlab district was the first to receive returning residents, he told Diyaruna.
The health committee’s work also extends to rural al-Raqa, he said, where the committee has established contact with local pharmacies.
"The toughest medical task is providing treatment to the victims of the mines planted by ISIS," he said, as these are causing serious injuries to residents.
To deal with mine-related injuries, the health committee has been setting up medical posts and equipping them as best it can to receive these almost daily emergency cases, al-Huwaidi said.