“You fought or you died,” explained Ashraf al-Meer, who in March 2011 joined the revolutionary fight against the 42-year rule of Moammar Gadhafi to protect his family. At the age of 28, after two weeks of military training and armed with a Kalashnikov, he would fight for the next eight months for the liberation of his country.
Following Gadhafi’s fall, Meer joined the military, but suddenly decided to hand in his weapon in 2012. Thanks to the organization the Libyan Program for Reintegration and Development (LPRD), which offers training for ex-combatants, he realized that fighting wasn’t the only way to rebuild the future of his country.
“We needed to move the youth from arms in a peaceful way,” explained LPRD’s founder Mustafa El Sagezli from Benghazi. “The youth need to be given a chance to build the future of Libya,” he said.
Like Meer and a majority of Libyans, Sagezli took up arms against Gadhafi back in 2011. He joined the first revolutionary brigade in Benghazi on Feb. 27, 2011, and witnessed firsthand thousands of young people being trained and armed. A vast majority were men younger than 35 years old.
As the struggle dragged on in 2011, Sagezli kept wondering: How will we disarm and integrate these youths after the war? At the end of October 2011, after Gadhafi had been toppled and killed, Sagezli put his career as a computer engineer to the side and founded the Warriors Affairs Commission, which would later become LPRD. With governmental funding and support from international organizations, its aim is to disarm and reintegrate Libyans who had become militarized back into society through rehabilitation and training.