Leaving Benghazi

Libya, March 14, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    The youth focus group we met with in Benghazi before we left Benghazi. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

Yesterday we had to temporarily leave Benghazi and move west to Tubruq, as the front line fighting between the opposition and government troops slipped back and moved closer to us. On Sunday morning, all the phone lines were shut down — including our local Libyan cell phones. We had strong concerns that a strike on Benghazi may follow soon. Most of the other aid groups working in Benghazi — as well as some of the international media teams — moved back as well, due to security concerns.

Prior to our departure, Mercy Corps held a youth focus group to discuss the hopes and aspirations of the youth for Libya. The participants cited desires for better infrastructure, education and research opportunities, jobs, and freedom. Human rights were also a major concern. They noted they had never had the chance to organize themselves into any formal groups or organizations before because they were forbidden. They also noted they had no experience or previous opportunity for calling for change or influencing their government.

They asked for assistance in skills building in these areas and said they wanted to play an active role in shaping the future of their country — but they needed better skills to do this. The group was excited about the possibilities and everyone asked to be included in the upcoming youth discussions Mercy Corps will be holding here. The opportunity and need for Mercy Corps to move forward with our Youth Leadership and Civil Society building skills workshops was confirmed — as well as the strong desire of the Libyan youth to engage in our programs.

Leaving Benghazi, even if only temporarily, was very difficult. After 10 days' working with the youth and leaders here, it is clear that the Libyans we have met are seeking freedom and a better life. Many have said they want to have a democratic government like the United States where they can pursue their dreams and have an opportunity to work and live peacefully. They have risked their lives to make this dream a reality. But today, as government forces are mounting fierce attacks from the land, sea and air, the future for the leaders we have met is very uncertain.

We are in Tubruq, Libya now, where we continue to work and monitor the situation in Benghazi, hoping we can return in the coming days and support the people in achieving their dreams for positive change and a better future.