Wafia is a young activist who has always been involved within her community. She created the CSO “Volunteer Libya” in Tripoli and is now one of its board member. CIL is currently supporting one of their project (more info here¹)
What made you decide to become involved in the civic life of Libya?
All my life I have been told about Libya and the beauty of Libya, the country of my parents and my forefathers, a country I grew up dreaming to visit and help rebuild. As a daughter of exiled parents, I was always dreaming of the day that, when the time came, I would move to Libya and put all my education and experience into helping rebuild the country. In 2011, the call to rise up came, a revolution happened, an uprising by the people to overcome the struggle and injustice they faced. I answered the call by doing what I knew best – helping to organize the humanitarian aspect of the revolution. I started with HOPE relief and social media promotion of things we needed. Later I co-founded Volunteer Libya, an organization structured to bring in volunteers from all over the world to help rebuild the country. But my true passion came when I was on the ground in the end of 2011 and discovered the youth of Libya, their passion and commitment for their country, which inspired my organization to refocus its responsibilities to the youth of Libya and what they can do via volunteering projects and giving back selflessly, as they have been doing for the past year. This is when I knew that Libya would be okay, because youth like me were taking a stand, and working together to volunteer and help rebuild the country. So in the end I would say this, what made me decide to become involved in civil society? It’s simple; it’s the calling I have to my country to help move it forward, the commitment I made to my parents that I would help in such process. It’s my responsibility and my mission to put all that I learned in my years abroad to better help the country I consider heaven on earth and not to stop till I see progress even in the smallest ways possible, that is called CHANGE and that is the FUTURE I see.
Can you shortly describe your career/path as a young activist and how you became a board member of Volunteer Libya?
I am a dedicated professional with a successful track record in leadership and relationship building with years of experience in education and project management in nonprofit work (…). In my previous position as a Student Service Specialist, I have worked with organizations within the community college to provide excellent opportunities for students. During my time at the college and to improve my skills, I applied and was accepted to the Student Affairs and Conflict Resolution and Analysis master program, which helped me to further develop my skills in solving problems and mediating situations in the office with students and colleagues on the spot. Furthermore, I have developed a deep understanding of analyzing conflict and understanding how they came to be. I also served as the Co-Advisor for the Muslim Student Association, where I managed over 20 students and a budget of almost twenty thousand dollars. As a Student Service Specialist, I was asked to serve on a committee boards to interview and hire new staff members. During my years of experience I managed to help various projects that promote togetherness for the college staff and students alike, which include but are not limited to , fundraising for tsunami victims on campus, organizing a diversity concert promoting peace and raising funds for underprivileged children in various countries. I served as the Florida liaison for Islamic Relief where I also helped raise over $100,000 for their various programs. I was asked to serve on the committee for the Muslim student association national for East Zone conference for Florida and New Jersey. Later, I was asked to serve as one of ISNA MSA NATIONAL program chair and presented in front of an audience of 10,000 people.
In the end of February of 2011, I was approached by a member of the community who wished to start a nonprofit organization dealing with organization of volunteers going into Libya. We discussed all the details, helped promote the idea, conducted research and created a board of 7 individuals. Each one of us had a job to do to create Volunteer Libya and make it become the organization it is today.
In light of the situation of Libya, what were the greatest challenges you have faced? And currently, which challenges do you keep facing?
One of the greatest challenges we, as civil society organization, face in Libya is the lack of trust in our ability from the government. Most civil society organizations in Libya face scrutiny from all because they were started by the youth. But the youth are the face of our country’s future, we are the hope and dreams, and the government should always provide us with the ability to help rebuild our country, the chance to hear our demands for change, because some of us have been doing this for years and know what works and what doesn’t.
But our biggest and current challenges are opportunities! Whether they are opportunities for funding our projects, opportunities to present our culture and hard work at different conference around the world, or job opportunities. If you look closely, Libya lacks many types of opportunities, or they are given to the same individuals over and over again. We have some of the most amazing and talented youth who deserve to be challenged and given the opportunities to rise above and beyond, and even though they have found ways to do it on their own it doesn’t hurt to get recognition from inside and outside of the country.
Would you say that being a woman makes a difference in your engagement?
(…) As a Libyan woman, I have been blessed to not have faced much difference in my engagement in civil society, but that doesn’t mean the issue isn’t there. A woman plays a vital role in the advancement of many sectors in Libya and the sooner we recognize that, the sooner we are able to better our country and move it forward.
Can you describe the operating environment for civil society organizations in Libya?
Two years ago the environment was welcoming, working from a small office with the team, but unfortunately the lack of funds and current situation has forced a lot of civil society organizations to meet in cafes or work from home. We have used telecommunication in order to coordinate between the team and despite the difficulties, we still manage to implement our projects and work around the struggle to give back in any ways we can. The work cannot stop just because we face challenges; we work around them and hope to make a difference.
What advice would you say to young Libyans who would like to be involved in their community?
I know the revolution holds a lot of struggles and pain, but our families did not fight for years on end to give up now! (…) I remind myself that the hopes and dreams I work for towards Libya is what we all worked for during the revolution, but I choose to continue the fight, I choose to not GIVE UP, and I choose to believe that Libya is and will always be an EPIC success story, with few minor setbacks.
I read the negative, but I can find three more positives. I get frustrated and angry, but I’m reminded that after 41 years of oppression we can’t go down any more, only up. It’s okay to have ups and downs because we have only tasted freedom for few years, we were overdosed by it, but now it’s time to refocus and stay the course no matter how hard it is, we stand firm, for Libya!
(…) We are a young nation, we are a strong nation, but we have to continue to believe, we have to continue to educate, smile, laugh, even cry if need be, but stay positive and believe because only then will we have succeeded, only then our fights and those who died for that fight wouldn’t have gone in vain.
(…) Keep fighting, keep believing, and when you stop believing, continue to look for the light that gives you that hope again that Libya will be okay, only then will we have won the battle we started years ago, only then will we have freed a nation and truly built it. (…)