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Building a new Libya from the ground up

Libya, May 1, 2012

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Linda Mason

Huffington Post
May, 2012

There is a feeling of intensity and anticipation in the air in Benghazi, a city in the northeast corner of Libya. There is enormous pride that last year's revolution started here; they were the first to stand up to Gaddafi. But people realize that there is much more work to be done. As is the case in many countries I've visited in my travels with the aid organization Mercy Corps, many women and young people are taking the lead.

Today, 14 months after the start of the war, and six months after the death of Gaddafi, they are still feeling the intense aftershocks. There is exhilaration, hope, and optimism. But they are also sobered by the heavy price they paid. As Dr. Hana El-Gallal, a human rights attorney, civilian leader of the revolution, and mother of two said to me, "Many of our brothers and fathers have been killed. They paid a heavy price for our freedom. We now have the responsibility to make that price worthwhile."

The entire population feels emancipated, but none more strongly than youth and women. I met with a group of young people in Benghazi at the Hamzat Wasl, a resource center established by Mercy Corps to help support and build skills and capacity in new civil society organizations. The center offers a badly needed place for groups to meet and network. Groups use the computer banks and attend trainings in strategic planning, communication, human resource development, and others.

The value of these services can't be overstated. Citizens groups are a new concept here, and they are desperate for resources. Under Gaddafi, people could not meet in groups or form associations. Over this past year they have formed a variety of civil society organizations - veteran support, youth leadership development, humanitarian aid, women's empowerment, etc. Dozens of new groups have come to the center for help, including a dozen or so new youth organizations.

This group of young people was irrepressible. Rawia Obide, a 30-year-old woman, had created "For Libya," a humanitarian aid organization. "Our energy has been released," she said. "Under Gaddafi, we had no voice, no opportunities. Now we feel that we can do anything. We can vote, we can organize, we can create our own organizations."