There was never enough money for food, let alone school and there was no access to healthcare or running water. Sarah did her best to care for her brother but she was still only a child herself.
Sarah had to drop out of school and would look after the home while Tareq, then only five, would go with his grandmother to beg on the streets of the nearest town. Nearly a quarter of five-year-olds in Tunisia are engaged in some form of child labour.
A new home
The increasingly desperate situation of the siblings was brought to the attention of the local social services who alerted SOS Children’s Villages. Sarah and Tareq were quickly placed in the care of Nour, an SOS mother at the Children’s Village in Mahres. Surrounded with love and care, they have flourished and both attend school every day. Their SOS brothers and sisters – many of whom have experienced similar hardships before they came to the Village – have eagerly welcomed their new playmates and Nour’s house is a full of fun and laughter.
Inequality makes growing up in Tunisia difficult for many
Tunisia has made great progress over the last few years, but unemployment remains high and many children – often from rural areas – grow up in incredibly difficult circumstances. Children born into poor, rural families are almost twice as likely to die before they reach their first birthday than children who grow up in wealthier households. It is estimated that 130,000 Tunisian children are growing up without their parents. Like Sarah, many of these children end up caring for younger siblings, exposed to harsh realities they should be shielded from.
Recovering a lost childhood
“It has been hard for Sarah to get used to not having the responsibility of caring for Tareq,” says her SOS mother, Nour. “But slowly and surely she is spending less time in the house and more time outside with her new SOS brothers and sisters.” Tareq has also transformed from a shy, quiet boy who struggled to talk. “I couldn’t forget the desperate look in Tareq’s eyes when I saw him for the first time, he was so sad, unhappy and lost,” says Amira Mannair, the Village Director. “When I look at him now with a big smile always on his face, I cannot believe that this is the same child who came to us two years ago!”