As an alumni of the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP)
I was invited to a reception hosted by Global Austin for the IVLP's from Libya.
At this citizen diplomacy reception I met six distinguished visitors from Libya. These emerging leaders were selected by the U.S. State Department to visit communities in the U.S. for professional appointments and community hospitality. They are members of Libya’s National Development Board (EDB), assigned the task of creating a system to address the needs of veterans. The focus of their program is on the roles and responsibilities of governments, the private sector, and local communities that provide benefits and services to war victims and veterans.
Although almost all the six leaders (average age I guess not older than 30) could speak very well English, I was glad that they were hosted by professional interpreters. With such a heavy issue (victims of war) on the agenda, you better really understand what people are talking about and more important: what they need. As we all know, Libya just got rid of their dictator Khadaffi who ruled coldbloodedly over the country for 40 years. When I speak with these Libyan representatives, one thing is really obvious to me: they are young, ambitious but also 'seeking' their way how to develop their country.
The projectmanager of the Economic Development Board that I spoke a long time with, told me that more than 50,000 people got killed. Maybe that doesn't sound much (I mean in wartime), but Libya only counts a population of 6 million, so then it's a lot. What struck me most of his story was that next to the killings, more than 8,000 women were raped. For Libyans and most Arabs (but I think for many people around the world), this has had more impact than the killings. Khadaffi knew that Libyans could accept it easier to have their sons killed than their daughters raped. He used this psychological terror, and up until now, more than 8,000 women stay at homes, isolated, far from the society, and with no help. They are scarved for the rest of their lives.
When asked the delegation what they needed most, their answer was: support. Whether it's moral, mental, professional or financial, they said it's good to know that we don't have to do this alone. I was asked personally to keep on writing on Libya and the developments concerning the Arab revolution.
Well, that's the least I can do. In the meantime it is my intention to find out whether there is some kind of program being developed to help the 8,000 raped women. I will contact the Art of Living Foundation (a humanitarian NGO engaged in stressmanagement and service initiative) to ask whether they have already started a program in Libya.
Maybe you think: it all happens somewhere far, somewhere you don't know anything about, except for the images that you've seen on tv and read in newspapers). But I will never forget what my mother once said while we were watching disasters on the news: 'It's happening to them, but it could've been us.' When I look at it that way, I feel more connected to my Libyan sisters than ever.