The life and journey of a young activist in Tunisia
Life was tough for Abdel Aziz before 2013. He did not know how to make things better in a Tunisia that was just coming out of a revolution. He did not trust the politicians in his country. No matter how loud he would speak, his voice would still muted or shooed away. He was one of many young people in Tunisia who could not act, and did not see the point in it.
“I thought civic engagement was useless. Why get involved if no one gives you the space to make a change?” says Abdel Aziz. “Young people in Tunisia face many problems on a daily basis. We need jobs and opportunities to make a living! Then, we are not represented in the different sectors of our society. You very rarely see young people in decision-making positions – in politics, public administration, media shows… How can we be heard when we speak out? I have been thinking about these issues and how easy they make it for us, young people, to veer to frustration, distrust, depression or even violent extremism. I do not want my country to remain the leading source of recruits for extremist causes. Sadly, these problems are all interconnected. They are huge and I felt powerless.”
Abdel Aziz was conscious that the prospects of young Tunisians like him needed to be better. He talked about his concerns with his friends and the people around him. But he went about his life, in as responsible a way as he could within the space he had.
In 2013, his life took a turn when his undergraduate professor advised him to join a student club.
“It was more than an advice. It was an order. I guess my professor had overheard my conversations and knew where to reorient my worries. So I joined 2main tu crées and before I knew it, I was deeply involved in civil society. The club president recommended me to be their representative within UNESCO’s NET-MED Youth project. I could not believe it! I used to see UNESCO on TV and hear about it in the news, thinking it was a place only for ambassadors. I was not aware that UNESCO also works with young people.
The consultations, training sessions and meetings I have had through NET-MED Youth with ministry officials, academicians, researchers, media professionals, civil society organizations and others taught me more about how to advocate for youth rights, and I learnt more about the situation of young people in Tunisia. I could see the bigger picture now. I could understand better the vision of our political parties and decision-makers in matters of youth inclusion,” he says.
Abdelaziz believes that the lack of representation of youth stems mainly from the social tensions and the pressure they feel. With his NGO and with his NET-MED Youth peers, he works on easing these tensions so that young people can have a platform to express themselves and be part of the reconstruction process of Tunisia.
“Many issues can be sorted out if we established a dialogue between youth and public institutions,” he says. “If our decision-makers sat down to listen to us and respond to our needs, we will be less attracted to negative forces that squander our lives. So, with other NET-MED Youth members, we came up with a plan. But first we wanted to start small and test it,” says Abdel Aziz.
Abdel Aziz and his NET-MED Youth peers began working on what became one of the most successful field actions of NET-MED Youth. They wanted to develop a youth-oriented public policy at a smaller scale, at Kalaat al Andalous – a commune 37 km away from Tunis.
They gathered local civil society organizations, youth and the commune decision-makers over a meeting at the Town Hall. Young people had a lot to propose to upgrade their town. Decision-makers interacted with them, listened to their ideas, and eventually gave the green light to three projects: a recreational space for youth and families; a culture house and museum to promote the commune’s cultural heritage; and ICT spaces for youth to learn and access information.
“The spirit of participation I saw in this campaign was tremendous!,” says Abdel Aziz with excitement. “It was heart-warming and reassuring to see how everybody wanted to improve their community and how for the first time local authorities and young people worked together. There was no top-down management, but regular collaboration and dialogue.
Sometimes all it takes for young people to take action and innovate is to trust them and believe in their capacities. Today, the recreational space in Kalaat Al Andalous is complete. The town’s scouting organization took care of overseeing the works. Our civil society organizations were involved from A to Z.”
Abdel Aziz looks back at his life before his involvement in civil society and before joining NET-MED Youth. Things sure have changed radically for him. He still likes to keep his head buried in books and learn as much as he can. But he has turned, today, into a very busy 24-year-old activist.
“I didn’t feel I was a “citizen”, I didn’t really participate in anything, give my opinion, act or take a stand on any issue. So I never planned for things to be this way, but my involvement in projects like these prompted more social projects from other NGOs to come my way. I hardly say no, and I always end up joining the bandwagon of change with the hopes that one day my country will thrive with its youth.
With NET-MED Youth, I boarded a plane for the first time in my life. It was in 2015. I went to Beirut to take part in a regional workshop. It was such an unbelievable experience that I kept checking my map application to make sure that I was indeed in a different country. I have been to many different places since then and have taken part in many actions.
The national and regional trainings in media and public policies have given me a wealth of knowledge and experience I wouldn’t have acquired at school. I have even grown my network of friends.”
The turn that Abdel Aziz’s life has taken affected him personally, and influenced his community. He has become one of the resource youth sharing knowledge gained and inspiring others to get involved and be part of change.
Abdel Aziz is no more the passive student, splitting his day schedule between school and home. He is a young man who is involved in his community, who advocates for youth participation and who is able to discuss with political representatives issues that matter to Tunisian youth the most.
“My whole vision of society has changed,” he says. “I have a better goal in life. I know I can pave my own way, critically reflect on our challenges and influence decision-making. I know I owe this to my country. I have to voice my views. I have to participate. I have to advocate for the rights of youth. I have to take a stand for today and for the future.”
Activities building skills among youth organizations and young journalists; to enhance youth representation in media and promote freedom of expression, media and information literacy and youth-generated media content.
Activities joining youth organizations, employment experts and different national stakeholders to engage in dialogue and work together on unemployment solutions and skills needs.
Activities empowering youth to participate in the communal and national development, revision and implementation of national youth strategies and public policies.