When two dozen graduate students from Libya found themselves in a frightening state of limbo during last year’s civil war in their country, the Case Western Reserve University community came together to help them.
This spring those same students united to express their collective gratitude to the campus—and they brought in a special guest to make sure the message was clear. Ali Suleiman Aujali, Libya’s ambassador to the United States, came to Cleveland last week to join with graduate students in expressing appreciation to university officials. The ambassador met briefly with various university officials while on campus.
“I want to thank Case Western Reserve University,” the ambassador said at a dinner party April 26 put together by the Libyan students at CWRU. “To accommodate the Libyan students is maybe the easy thing, but you took take care of them and supported them during the hard time, the difficult time, when they were away from their country, when we could not understand what [dictator Muammar] Gaddafi was doing. I’ve been told you have been supporting these students in all ways and means.”
In the bloody uprising in Libya, Gaddafi was killed last October after National Transitional Council fighters overran loyalists in the toppled Libyan leader’s hometown and final stronghold at Sirte.
The ambassador joined the campus gathering inside Nord Hall at the invitation of Ali Elfourteia, an LLM (Master of Laws) student. Elfourteia made the request because of how much the university’s various responses meant during the students’ time of need. The students wanted a Libyan official present to “make the appreciation [we feel] even stronger,” he said.
“It was a terrible situation we lived through,” Elfourteia said. “But now the situation is different. We feel better now. We knew we had to do something to say thank you.”
During Libya’s protracted rounds of violence last year, the affected students at Case Western Reserve could not access their home nation’s funding or safely return to their country. The students, some of whom had spouses and children with them, worried about the prospect of homelessness.
To assist the students, university leaders brainstormed solutions to address families’ fundamental needs—for example, by making emergency housing available on campus. They also developed strategies to ensure the students had the opportunity to continue to pursue their academic goals.
“The response across campus was really impressive,” said Elise Lindsay, Case Western Reserve’s director of International Student Services. “Everybody wanted to do all they could to support these students.”
Now that the crisis has passed in Libya, the students last month organized a dinner to convey their appreciation to those who rallied on their behalf. Lindsay and Associate Provost for International Affairs David Fleshler were among the guests the students feasted at the dinner.
Lindsay said that before the crisis the students were individually focused on classroom demands, but last year’s historic events brought them together. Planning the dinner was a natural outgrowth of their new bonds with each other and the university community, she noted.
“They’ve became a very close-knit group,” Lindsay said. “They decided to show appreciation and host a dinner. It was totally student initiated, and they did all home-cooked food. We provided a space so it could happen.”
Of about two dozen Libyan students who were on campus a year ago, some have returned to Libya or have explored opportunities elsewhere. About half remain.
Ambassador Aujali, who made his first-ever visit to Cleveland, expressed his pride in the Libyan students he met in person at Case Western Reserve.
“The future is in the hands of these young people who are being educated. We need training. We need education,” he said.