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Najwa Bin Wahibah – WNN SOAPBOX

Teenagers from the Libya Youth Center in Tripoli

Teens from the Libya Youth Center in Tripoli work together in a youth initiative to promote child literacy in the schools. Image: LYC

(WNN/CGN) Tripoli, LIBYA, NORTHERN AFRICA: Two years after the end of the 2011 uprising, the new Libya is still in the making and still suffers from instability and violence. The past few weeks have seen continued violence in various places, including Tripoli. On 8 June, clashes between protesters and militia in Benghazi left at least 30 people dead, leading to the resignation of Libya’s army chief of staff, Youssef al-Mangoush. Militias continue to operate while the central government seems unable to stop them.

However, despite the violence, a large majority of the young generation is still striving to build the country they have always dreamed of with their own hands. We, the youth, are still here working toward this goal.

Now two years on, thousands of Libyan civil society organizations have sprung up, operating like busy beehives in various cities with many volunteers thanks to the energy and determination of youth.

The former military regime wiped out civil society organizations in Libya, leading many to doubt whether Libyans even had the capacity to develop a culture of civic involvement. But young Libyans, both men and women, have proved to the world that they are indeed capable of building peace, that they can fulfill the demands for social justice and that they can make a better life for themselves and their communities.

When parts of the country were undergoing an armed struggle between supporters of the old regime and different militias in September 2011, Libyan youth were quick to organize. Their initiatives focused mainly on relief efforts to assist those affected by the armed struggle by delivering supplies and food. Initiatives were also focused on rejecting violence and on the need for dialogue to solve problems. For example, a group of young Libyans established the National Reconciliation Initiative to promote reconciliation between followers of the former regime and the rest of the population. Committees were formed in September 2011 the aimed to resolve the conflict in the city of Bani Al-Waleed without the use of arms. Although their efforts were not as successful as hoped because some local councils were not cooperating as expected with campaigns, the committees were a step in the right direction.

And while the media focused on the violence happening on the ground, youth were tackling issues they couldn’t in the past, like health, education and the environment.

In October 2012, the Libyan Federation for Combating Cancer organized an awareness campaign in secondary schools in many areas in Libya, including Benghazi, Tripoli and Zliten. Um Sanad, one of the participants in this campaign, says: “Breast cancer was a taboo in Libya. We didn’t know about it, [but] thanks to this campaign women [now] know how it can be detected.” The campaign promoted awareness about the disease and encouraged early detection, dispelling the culture of shame and shyness.

Youth organizations are also active in the space of environmental protection after such groups had been very limited in number and in their activities for decades. One youth activist and member of the Oxygen Society for Environmental Protection said: “Libyan youth are becoming very active in the environment field, and awareness campaigns to change the attitudes of people toward the environment are taking place.”

The Oxygen Society for Environmental Protection for its part launched a novel campaign in Libya to promote awareness of the pollution risks of plastic bags.

The formation of such groups is a positive step and an achievement that continues to bear fruit every day despite obstacles. For example, thanks to the work of these organizations, Libyan authorities have begun reprimanding people who cut down trees.

Libya participated in the Global Earth Hour at the end of March 2012 under the direction of youth, albeit on a small scale. And in 2013, participation expanded and lights were turned off in a number of large buildings in Tripoli, Benghazi, Beida and Gharyan. Young Libyans organizing the campaigns called on the Minister of Electricity to participate in the event, highlighting the dangers of global warming and encouraging the use of renewable sources of energy.

The continuing violence is depressing to many, and there are complaints by some organizations that a number of local councils in several governorates are not cooperating with youth-led campaigns and ideas. But despite these and many other obstacles, youth continue on with their efforts, and have succeeded in attracting many supporters among Libyan society who believe in their goals and intentions.

The strength of the youth lies in their persistence to continue their voyage to build their nation and in their hope that the future will be better.

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Najwa Bin Wahibah is a Libyan journalist and activist in the field of environmental protection and civil action.

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