Ajdabiya’s first public space: A place of joy, unity and community

Mohamed Atta, a 13-year-old school student from Ajdabiya, eagerly awaits the end of the school day so he can play in the newly opened park in the city. “My dad was initially hesitant to let me go alone,” he shared, “but when I told him all my friends were there, he came with me and saw that it was a safe and perfect spot for us to have fun.” In the park, Mohamed and his friends can be found playing and having fun. “We love to do physical activities, like climbing, playing games, and competing against each other,” he said. “The time passes so quickly, and I get to spend time with my friends and meet new kids from the neighbourhood.”

Ajdabiya is a city with a history of over two thousand years and a population of nearly 180,000. Located 150 km west of the city of Benghazi, it forms a triangle with Kufra at the head and Al-Nawfaliya and Al-Jabal Al-Akhdar at the base. Dating back to the Roman era, Ajdabiya was an important hub for the caravan trade and has contributed to the diverse culture of Libya. It is renowned for its poets, writers, and sports, making it a unique and historical city. However, prior to the renovation of the city’s new park, there was no public space for the local communities and families of the city to gather. “Before,” Mohamed Atta remembers, “my dad would not even let me leave the house because there were no designated places for us to play and there were always problems with other young people.”

Historic square transformed through Civil Society Initiative

Mrs. Zahra Abu Bakr Al-Saadi and Ms. Somaya Ashwaidi, Libyan Red Crescent Volunteers.

To address the lack of a public space in the city, volunteers of the Libyan Red Crescent Society, a voluntary civil society association in Ajdabiya, came together to develop a proposal to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with the idea of transforming the old, neglected historical Al-Alam Square in the centre of the city into a recreational park. Mrs. Zahra Abu Bakr Al-Saadi, one of the long-standing officials and volunteers of the Association, explained how she has witnessed the historical periods that this place went through, which date back to the 1950s during King Idris’ reign: “When I was a girl, it was a place of beauty and grandeur,” she said. However, changes in political regime left the square neglected and full of dirt and rubbish. 

“Public gardens are essential for promoting a culture of non-violence and peace,” said Somaya Ashwaidi, another volunteer with the Libyan Red Crescent involved in making the park a reality. “With the ongoing conflicts that Libya has faced in recent decades, it is important for young people to have places where they can go to relax, exercise, and be with friends.” Ashwaidi believes that having public gardens can help children build their social skills and encourage positive interactions: “Children need to spend time outside with their parents and friends, rather than sitting alone in front of the TV. Public gardens provide a safe and enjoyable environment for children to play and have fun,” she added.

Red Crescent Park: A new source of hope and development 

Mohammed Al-Bhaiji, Project Director, Ajdabiya Municipality

Mr. Mohammed Al-Bhaiji, a Project Manager at Ajdabiya Municipality, has also been engaged in making Red Cresent Park a safe and enjoyable place for families in Ajdabiya. Al-Bhaiji himself is especially excited about the new park, as it provides children with the opportunity to explore, play, and grow. “The local park is a great way for parents to get involved with their children and help them grow and develop,” he says. “The garden is a source of pure joy, promoting the development of the city and creating a sense of freedom and comfort. There is a unique social dynamic that cannot be found anywhere else.”

The rehabilitation of the square was completed in September 2022, and it was named after the Red Cresent Association as the initiators of the first proper public space in the city. It provides local communities and visitors with a place to meet, relax, and enjoy, and serves as an ideal spot for children to gather and play after school. 

The rehabilitation is part of UNDP’s local peacebuilding and resilience efforts in the East of Libya, through the EU-funded Baladiyati programme. Since 2018, approximately 150,000 people out of the total population of 190,000 of Ajdabiya have benefited from rehabilitation of critical infrastructure and provision of equipment such as firefighting trucks, pesticides sprayers, sewage suckers, ambulances, and hospital equipment to the city’s hospital. With the Red Crescent Park, families in Ajdabiya now have a safe and enjoyable place to grow and create lasting memories.

Kids Playing at the new park in Ajdabiya

The Red Cresent park in Ajdabiya was rehabilitated as part of the EU funded “Baladiyati” programme implemented by UNDP, the Italian Development Agency (AICS) and UNICEF. The €50 million “Recovery, Stability and Socio-economic Development Programme” currently works with 24 municipalities across Libya with the aim of improving people’s access to quality public services such as education, health, water and sanitation. The programme is funded by the European Union through the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, to improve living conditions and build resilience among vulnerable populations, including migrants, refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs), returnees and host communities.

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