Youth in Sidi Bouzid Are a Force for Change in Their Community

One Youth Mapper’s experience highlights how the USAID-funded Sharekna Project is working with young people and communities in Tunisia.

Sodki, a job-seeking graduate from Souk Jedid, joined the USAID-funded Sharekna project as a Youth Mapper* in January 2018. He had seen the opportunity posted by local partner – Association des Ressources Naturelles et de Développement (ARND) – on Facebook a few months previously, and was interested by the project’s aim to engage young people and respond to needs that they identify in his community.

Souk Jedid, a rural area in the Sidi Bouzid governorate, suffers from a high illiteracy rate, low access to health services, and a high unemployment rate, which has driven many residents to leave, seeking better socio-economic opportunities elsewhere.

After some training and with support from ARND, Sodki and 13 Youth Mappers from Souk Jedid set out to talk to young people and community members to understand the challenges and opportunities that young people in their community face, in a process known as Community Youth Mapping (CYM). The Youth Mappers led an intensive research process, conducting over 401 interviews with local youth, 13 interviews with local officials and civil society, and three focus groups with other young people. Sodki teamed up with two colleagues, and together they focused their research on four rural neighborhoods in Souk Jedid, one of two communities for Sharekna activities in the Sidi Bouzid governorate.

Sodki and other Youth Mappers discuss concrete actions to respond to the findings of the CYM at the CSAP workshop, Souk Jedid, on February 20-22, 2018.

What Sodki and his fellow Youth Mappers learned through this process at times confirmed what they already know, and in others taught them new things about their community. During his research, what struck Sodki the most was the extent to which unemployment affects young people in the community: almost everyone he spoke to, no matter how educated, was in some way affected by unemployment. Sodki and his colleagues also found that very few leisure activities are available to young people in Souk Jedid. Sodki observed that “there are no places for young people to meet, no leisure centers, especially for those living in remote neighborhoods. They have to go all the way to the center of Souk Jedid to benefit from the youth center’s facilities, and they have great difficulty in accessing transport to get there”. Sodki also noted the issue of school drop-outs: “one thing I have not forgotten from the young people I interviewed, is the story of a 14-year-old girl who was forced to drop out of school by her father when she was only 10 years old, even though she was brilliant at school and enthusiastic about her studies.” Some young people told of their experiences with drugs and alcohol, and of being arrested due to cannabis consumption, and Sodki was told of one school where young people meet at night to consume drugs and alcohol. He said: “we were surprised to find out that a place usually devoted to education has become an at-risk zone”.

The research carried out by Sodki and the other Youth Mappers highlighted a few core challenges that affect young people in Souk Jedid and that they summarized under one main theme: Education, Employment, Leisure: The triple challenge for empowering youth and women in their communities. This theme became the focus for the next phase of Sharekna – the Community Stakeholder Action Planning (CSAP) workshop.

On February 20, at the start of the CSAP workshop, four Youth Mappers (two male and two female) presented their results and the theme they proposed to over 50 community members, including representatives from local authorities, civil society, education, the private sector, and others. In the three days that followed, Sodki and the rest of the workshop participants worked together to come up with and agree on tangible actions to support the young people in Sidi Bouzid. They came up with more than 50 activities; the Youth Mappers proposed eight of these activities, and were identified as potential partners on another five activities.

During the next phase of the project, USAID will support selected actions at the community level by providing grants to local organizations. For example, the Youth Mappers identified actions to improve the local youth center, and work with rural schools to reduce drop-outs through libraries and school activities.

But Sharekna’s approach does not rely only on grants for impact, the project engages and empowers youth throughout the process. For example, despite women’s low participation in public life in Souk Jedid, take-up for Sharekna’s Community Youth Mapping among young women was strong, with women representing more than half of the Youth Mappers.

For Sodki personally, the experience has been transformative. He says: “I was shy, a little quiet; I didn’t speak to people, and I always preferred to be alone. But during the training, and especially during the CYM phase, I started talking to people, communicating in the group, and even my communication techniques changed.”

* Youth Mappers are young people involved in Sharekna’s Community Youth Mapping process, a youth-led data collection and analysis process whereby youth identify the aspirations, assets, needs, and factors of resilience and vulnerability in their community.