Libyan students feel effects of revolution from miles away

Though physically thousands of kilometres away, Libyan students and expats of the country have felt the emotional — and sometimes financial — effects of the unrest that has permeated their country over the past year.

Ayat Mneina, who recently graduated from the University of Manitoba and is currently pursuing her graduate degree in the U.K., said she decided to help create the Shabab Libya, or the Libyan Youth Movement, website as a way to stay connected and aid those at the frontlines of the Libyan revolution even though she was living in Winnipeg.

The non-profit website and social media campaign was created in late January during the Egyptian revolution in anticipation of the February uprising in Libya, in order to provide independent coverage of the pending revolution.

“My friends in the U.K. and in [Libya] knew that if something happens, it’s not going to get the coverage that Egypt got or the coverage that Tunisia got because there’s no independent media inside the country,” Mneina explained.

“So we took it upon ourselves to act as the media until that light would be shed on the issue.”

With the help of their sources on the ground, organizers of Shabab Libya have been used as a resource by various media outlets around the world, including BBC and Time magazine.

“We would call those people on the ground because we were able to disseminate their information around the world, which is something they couldn’t do at the time,” she said.

“It really worked to our advantage, [ . . . ] because if we had been on the ground we maybe wouldn’t have been able to access” social media outlets and other technology that were not available to those in Libya, Mneina explained.

Mneina commented that her family was often in “zombie mode” when it came to their lives in Winnipeg during the revolution, as they were completely engulfed in following news coverage of Libya over the past year.

“It really put our lives on a standstill, and we were just completely immersed in Libya. I know a lot of my friends went through the same thing,” she said.

Her family continued this pattern until the end of the summer, she commented.
“It wasn’t even conscious, that’s just how it became.”

Some U of M students from Libya also had their finances jeopardized over the summer.

In late June, the university was notified that funding support for 30 Libyan students provided through the Canadian Bureau of International Education (CBIE) had been frozen due to economic sanctions on Libya.

“Typically, [the federal government] had been giving us funds in quarterly installments. But because of the situation and international sanctions on Libya [ . . . ] we were extremely concerned, because it seemed as if we weren’t going to have any money for any of the students for quite some time,” explained Jennifer Humphries, a spokesperson for CBIE.

The university was asked to defer tuition fees for these students and provide some advanced funding to cover some of their living costs.

Peter Dueck, director of Enrolment Services for the U of M, explained that the university decided to honour CBIE’s request after examining who the students were, what kind of programs they were in, and how much money it would cost them, with the understanding that CBIE would repay the university once their funding had come through.

“There was a relatively small risk that that the money would never come, of course, so we had to make sure that if that happened, we wouldn’t be left high and dry,” Dueck explained.

The university has since been repaid in full by the CBIE after they were able to secure enough funding to extend the students’ scholarship program until May 2012.

With an interim government established in place of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Mneina said she is optimistic about the future of the Libya.

“It’s been a 180-degree difference between the way it was under the regime and how it is now,” she said.

“What we have now is full potential. We hit rock bottom with the regime in place, and maybe that’s what it took for the revolution to form such a powerful force that it did.”

Mneina also said she felt it was important for both Libyans living abroad and in the country to work together to rebuild the country.

“They have endless opportunities in front of them. It’s an amazing time for Libya right now.”

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