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Libyan volunteers fill the void

Libya, March 8, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mbraja Jazwe is volunteering to tend the public gardens of Benghazi, Libya, while also supporting his wife and new baby as a taxi driver. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mbraja Jazwe works intently on the garden in front of the “fortress” — the palace where Gaddafi and his family used to stay when they visited the city. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

The Libyan people in the opposition held areas are taking great initiative to organize themselves now that there is a void of Gaddafi government structure. They have formed local committees that address sectors such as food, water and sanitation, police and security, and other critical sectors. There are volunteers who are directing traffic, tending the public gardens, cleaning the streets and taking on many of the civil responsibilities necessary to maintain order in the city.

While I was out on an assessment mission, I met Mbraja Jazwe, who was watering the garden in front of the “fortress” — the palace where Gaddafi and his family used to stay when they visited the city. He is 31 years old and drives a taxi, struggling to support his wife and new baby, but since the opposition took control of the city he is volunteering every day to take care of the parks.

“I love my country and we must work together to make it the nation we want,” explained Mr. Jawze as he pulled weeds and watered the lawn. “I will keep working here as a volunteer as long as they need me. We want freedom and a better life and we must all work together to achieve it.”

After spending hours gardening he goes out to drive his taxi and tries to earn enough money to take care of his family. He has little time for rest these days, but he is adamant that volunteering now is critical to his country’s future.

At Jallaa Hospital, more than 25 students from a nearby medical institute are volunteering as medical assistants. They administer medicines and perform basic medical tasks on the patients, mostly people wounded from the fighting in the region. Prior to the uprising, most of the nurses at the hospital were foreigners. Now they have fled the country and there is a shortage of medical staff, so the volunteers are filling a critical need.

Joma Aldressy, a 20-year-old hospital volunteer told me, “This crisis has brought the Libyan people together. Before I only talked with my close friends and family and now I have met so many residents of Benghazi and we are united. We have a common cause. I am very proud I can help my country.”

Everywhere you go in Benghazi you see the spirit of volunteerism and the pride the people have in their country. You get the feeling that this is the first time in a very long time that the people have had such a sense of purpose and responsibility for their future.