Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Something Extraordinary Happened: It really is a small world after all

Before I went back to Libya last September, I noticed an advert in the local newspaper about a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training course. It looked interesting for more than a reason or two. Above all, I liked the idea of learning how to be prepared in case of an emergency. I wanted to do something for my community, to help others and meet people. Also, I thought that this would be a way to learn about civic programs that might one day be useful should Libya ever become peaceful again and needed to rebuild – maybe I could help in some way, or maybe I’m grasping at straws, but it didn’t really matter because that wasn’t my sole reason for becoming involved. I emailed to see if there was any space left on the course. Unfortunately, the course was full, so I asked to be put on a list for the next course. Then I became busy with travel preparations and my trip back to Libya so I shelved the idea for a while.

After I returned to Florida I was notified that the next CERT training course would be starting. I attended the three days of training held at my town’s fire rescue department. Although the course was short, I learned an impressive amount. We also had the chance to meet team members from earlier courses, many of which were city council members. On the second day of training a lively and spirited woman came in and introduced herself. She turned out to be the mayor of my town; Mayor Leslie Waters, of the city of Seminole, Florida.

It turned out that Mayor Waters has been a member of the Community Emergency Response Team for our town since it was initiated and is an active member of the team. She found a few minutes to chat with each of us. When she stopped to talk to me we found out that we had something quite extraordinary in common – Libya! It turned out that the mayor has been working on a project to train Libya’s first-ever women elected to city government. Due to the instability in Libya the workshops took place in Tunisia. Mayor Waters was in the process of planning her second trip out to work with the Libyan women. She gave me her card and asked me to get in touch with her so we could discuss the project. I was rather amazed that the mayor of my small town (population 17,830) would have a Libyan connection - and I think she was equally amazed to find me sitting in that training room at our local fire house!

We emailed back and forth and ended up getting together over coffee after she returned from her second trip to Tunis. I arrived at the busy coffee/bagel shop a few minutes ahead of schedule and the mayor came in shortly after. It seemed as if she knew everyone in the shop as she gave a lively and enthusiastic greeting to many of the people there. As soon as she sat down she presented me with a souvenir from her trip to Tunisia and some information about the latest activities she had been working on for the city. Then she filled me in about her trip.

Her assignment which was sponsored by the Woman’s Democracy Network (WDN), an initiative of the International Republican Institute (IRI) located in Washington D.C. and set up in Tunis by USAID-Libya. The purpose, was to help “empower women to lead” their City Councils by educating participants on how to be effective local government officials. These training forums focused on how to improve communications with constituents, to leverage social media, to network with other women throughout Libya, to set goals, and put an emphasis on the importance of developing an expertise with government issues. 

Photo credit: USAID.gov
Over 40 Libyan women took part in the first sessions held in September 2016. This initial conference was part of an effort to build and develop a national-level network of women leaders and to launch a Women’s Municipal Council Association.

In Libya, the requirements state that one seat on the governing body of each city is held by a woman, but Mayor Waters pointed out that they could also run for other council seats. The mayor explained that these trips aren’t about politics, but simply to teach the elected Libyan women the basics of running a democracy. Such things as how to communicate with residents, how to set up town hall meetings and press conferences, and how to budget and plan for the future. 

The second meetings were held in February 2017. This was a 'Train the Trainer' session with group comprised of 15 Libyan women leaders from different parts of the country. The women were given the training and information to pass on to other women after they returned to their cities in Libya. The next 'Train the Trainer' session will be in mid-May with the same fifteen women who will return for follow up. Meanwhile, Mayor Waters has been doing some online mentoring with some of the women. The ladies are in the capable hands of Mayor Waters. 

We had a great time sharing stories and ideas about Libya. We spent two hours, but I think we could have talked all day. I’m looking forward to hearing about the next trip – and I’m so proud of both Mayor Waters and those wonderful Libyan women. 

Oh, I almost forgot to mention, I asked Mayor Waters if she had heard about a famous female mayor of Libya’s past, Huda Ben Amer and when she said no I told her the tale of Huda the 'Executioner'. Thank goodness that is all in the past!

‘We do not create our destiny; we participate in its unfolding.’ ~ David Richo


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