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From engineering lecturer to community leader

Libya, October 16, 2011

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  • From engineering lecturer to community leader
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    Amal El Gehani (right), cofounder of a group that aided Libya's revolution, speaks with Salmeen Jawhary, who manages our new resource center for civic groups. "It’s so helpful to know a place like this exists," says Amal. Photo: Salma Bahramy/Mercy Corps Photo: amal.jpg

Amal El Gehani joined the revolution just one day after it began.

The 25-year-old was working as an electrical-engineering lecturer at a local university on Feb. 18 when police clashed with demonstrators, killing two dozen. The next day, Amal gathered with a group of women and provided assistance at dozens of hospitals, schools and other institutions in Benghazi.

Within weeks, the group that Amal cofounded -- which later took the name Attawassel -- swelled to 170 women, all of whom worked in secret to produce radio shows, disseminate newsletters and help families in need of food and medical assistance.

These days they're working to empower women and youth and rebuild their community. And Mercy Corps is giving them the space and resources to be effective.

Earlier this month, Mercy Corps opened the doors of its Hamzat Wasl Civil Society Resource Center. Hamzat Wasl supports local organizations like Amal’s to better Libyan society. Already we've conducted a leadership and management workshop for budding nonprofits, and Attawassel is working with us to lead a two-week food distribution training.

"It’s so helpful to know a place like this exists in Benghazi for us," says Amal. "We’re working to organize an Arabic Environment Day now that will help raise awareness about proper waste disposal and sanitation issues. Hamzat Wasl gives us the training and resources to better plan this type of activity."

Amal is one of a countless number of young people who were either in school pursuing an education or just newly embarking on their career path when the revolution in Libya threw them a curve ball. But instead of becoming disillusioned, Benghazi’s youth mobilized and engaged.

With schools slowly reopening, Amal is back to lecturing at her university during the day. Still, she considers her role leading Attawassel's Human Resources and Cultural Committee as a second full-time job.

"I grew up wanting to be a teacher, and now I'm fortunate to be able to use many of the same skills through my work with Attawassel," she says. "Many of my students have expressed interest in getting involved with our work in the community as well, so I'm reviewing several applications and expecting the number of members to grow even more."