Youth on the frontlines


October 12, 2011

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Young people here in Libya are looking to promote positive change and have been significant in Mercy Corps' efforts. From helping us provide food assistance to exploring long term programs that help build up local organizations, I’ve met tons of young Libyans that have expressed their enthusiasm for getting involved.

Today, I had the chance to sit down with Ahmed LaTaiwesh, a young dental student, who wanted to respond to the humanitarian crisis in his home country and has been part of our food assistance efforts since the onset.

What were you doing during the revolution in Libya?
On February 17th when the revolution started here in Libya, I was actually in my last year of dental school in the middle of my practical exams. I really had no intention of getting involved in any sort of movement, I was on my way to becoming a dentist. But I started seeing civilians, families, sleeping outside of their homes at night to protect them, and it became impossible to ignore what was happening in my own hometown.

How did you eventually become involved with Mercy Corps?
As the conflict in Benghazi escalated and the humanitarian situation worsened, schools were being shut down, including my dental college. I started looking for any ways to volunteer my time. I learned of Mercy Corps’ work in Benghazi through a friend at a local newspaper and reached out to see how I could help and eventually got involved with their food assistance efforts.

Can you describe the situation?
Well, in the beginning, food shortages were a huge issue and the most immediate need. Food wasn’t getting into the city, the warehouses where food was being kept were without power and food spoiled. Thousands of families didn’t have basic items such as wheat, flour, beans, pasta, cooking oil or eggs.

How did you help?
Mercy Corps and the World Food Programme partnered to help. WFP provided food and Mercy Corps trained and monitored the food distributions through a local partner, the Libyan Red Crescent. I worked with Mercy Corps on training the LRC on things like food distribution, warehousing and disaster management. Also, I would help oversee the food distributions throughout Benghazi and other areas throughout eastern Libya.

What were you seeing and what was your experience like?
Honestly, it was a really strange and difficult experience for me. As a Libyan, living in Benghazi before the revolution, I had never seen families who didn’t have food. This was really a new problem to people here. Libyans are very proud people and asking for help wasn’t an easy thing for them.

This conflict definitely changed things. There was also an entirely new group of people who became poor because their money was stuck in banks that were shut down. I remember a food distribution where we worked with local mosque in a particularly hard hit town and the imam went from house to house leaving food on each doorstep so the families could receive the food anonymously.

What are you working on now?
We continue with food distributions, moving beyond Benghazi and eastern Libya, to areas in western Libya. We recently did a food distribution in Al Bayda, which is the only place in Libya where it snows. I saw hundreds of families living in tent-like houses that didn’t have doors and I know this area will face difficulties in the coming winter months.

Last week, I joined an assessment group in Sirte where the bulk of the conflict is happening now and we’re determining the best way to help there.

What’s in your future?
I definitely want to finish school and fulfill my dream of being a dentist in the future, but with so many people who still need help right now, I’ll continue to work with Mercy Corps as long as I’m needed.