News / Africa

Benghazi Boy Scouts Fill Vacuum of Libyan Social Services

Libyan Boy Scouts, just a few of around 3,500 in the town of Benghazi, are organized and able, 7 March 2011
Libyan Boy Scouts, just a few of around 3,500 in the town of Benghazi, are organized and able, 7 March 2011

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When the Gadhafi government lost control of eastern Libya, a vacuum formed in social and other basic services.  Among those who have stepped forward to help are the Benghazi Boy Scouts.  

The chaos that has engulfed Libya in the last few weeks has sent ripple effects throughout the society.  One unexpected group has been called up to fill gaps that no one could have anticipated.

The Boy Scouts of Libya, around 3,500 in the town of Benghazi, are organized, and able.
They find themselves called upon to take on tasks that many would expect of the state - or at least more professional, trained volunteers.

But the state is all but gone in rebel-controlled Libya.  Its offices just burnt-out shells.  For 42 years the Gadhafi government set things up so that it was the only game in town, when it came to social services and running the country.  As opposition spokesman Mustafa Gheriani puts it, that left a troubling gap.

"The regime really did not invest any time or money in building these institutions," he said.  "Basically, the regime ran this country like a company and he puts a head in each department and that particular head has one interest - line up his pockets.  And when the revolution came, these guys disappeared and we found out that there is no system, just a big vacuum."

Also compounding the problem is that so many of those who should be doing these jobs came from neighboring countries.  Libya’s population is sparse and outside workers were needed.  And they were first to flee when the fighting started.

So, whether it is working in the bloody mayhem of a hospital or directing traffic because no one trusts anyone in a government uniform, in many cases it is now scouts who are sorting out the international medical aid that has flooded in.

A young Boy Scout directs traffic in Benghazi, March 7, 2011
A young Boy Scout directs traffic in Benghazi, March 7, 2011

These young boys and men - in uniforms recognizable around the world - are no longer just a youth organization.  They are helping to keep order - a job perhaps well beyond their tender years.

The man who heads the Scouts in Benghazi, Abdul Rahman, now finds himself leading an organization which is no longer about keeping kids on the straight and narrow but instead about mobilizing them to help.  The moment has filled him with pride over what his young charges can do.

"Because of God and for myself, it adds to my pride being enrolled at the Scout movement and as an international movement we offer a service to my country," he said. "With my experience and as a history of the movement we give activities that have a good response and they praise the scouts and give us self satisfaction."

A Benghazi Boy Scout, 7 March 2011
A Benghazi Boy Scout, 7 March 2011

Every day the scouts, who range in age from 7 to 18, meet to learn vital skills that can be used to help the people of their city - including first aid and organizational skills.  It’s no longer just about getting a merit badge.

With the fighting showing no sign of slowing down anytime soon, it appears that what now seems like play time could soon be all too real for these young boys in uniform - the Boy Scouts of Benghazi.

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