In 2011, a number of political and social changes were set in motion in Tunisia – their full long-term effects remain to be seen. In the short-term, many challenges exist: the economy has suffered, unemployment is high, and people in rural areas are affected by social exclusion and poverty.
With tourism on the decline, unemployment is skyrocketing
Painting at the kindergarten (photo: SOS archives)
Gammarth is a seaside town in northern Tunisia in the Tunis Governorate. It is a popular and luxurious tourist destination, with five-star hotels and beautiful beaches. However, since Tunisia’s 2011 “Jasmine Revolution” the tourism industry has experienced a downturn, which has affected even the most popular tourist resorts.
Tunisia is still very much in a state of transition and for many disadvantaged communities, living conditions have become even more precarious. Over 18 per cent of the workforce is now unemployed and around 1.2 million Tunisians are estimated to live below the national poverty line. Young people are most severely affected: over 30 per cent of people aged 15-24 are unemployed, and up to 44 per cent of young university graduates are unable to find work.
Vulnerable mothers and children need support
In recent years, SOS Children’s Villages has increased efforts to provide support for struggling families so that children are no longer at-risk of losing the care of their parents. Single parents, unmarried mothers, widows and divorced women are particularly vulnerable in Tunisia due to the traditional family code, and their children often suffer from social marginalisation. Children born out of wedlock are rejected by society, as unmarried women who engage in sexual relations are considered to be prostituting themselves. Although women have the right to file for divorce, it is virtually impossible for them to remarry, so they will either raise their children on their own or leave them in the care of grandparents or other relatives. Women are also often at a disadvantage when it comes to inheritance: daughters, for example, inherit only half as much as sons do.
All of these factors mean that women remain highly dependent on their father or later their husband, even though their rights to education and equal pay are legally enshrined. When the death of a husband, for example, is compounded by illiteracy and a lack of skills of the widow, the ensuing poverty and lack of resources put the children in an incredibly vulnerable position. In addition to providing material aid and practical guidance, SOS Children’s Villages also works towards ensuring that children from such families take part in the socio-cultural life of their community, for example through leisure and educational activities, so that they do not become ostracised.
What we do in Gammarth
Running and playing at the children’s village (photo: SOS archives)
SOS Children’s Villages began its work in Gammarth in 1983. Today, our SOS Social Centre offers a family strengthening programme, which reaches out to struggling members of the local community. We ensure that children have access to essential education, nutritional and health services, and we provide counselling where needed. We offer parents guidance on income-generating skills and parenting practices. In collaboration with local organisations, we also work towards strengthening the already existing support networks within the community. Around 400 children and their adult caregivers currently benefit from the programme.
For children in the region who are no longer able to live with their parents, 13 SOS families can provide a loving home for up to 104 children. In each family, they live with their brothers and sisters and are affectionately cared for by their SOS mother. The children from the SOS Children’s Village attend the SOS Kindergarten here together with children from the community and the family strengthening programme. This means that children from SOS families make friends and are integrated into the local community from a young age.
When young people who grew up in an SOS family feel ready to move out of the family home in order to pursue further education or vocational training, our SOS Youth Programme continues to support them as they make the transition into adulthood. The young people live together in semi-independent housing, with a qualified counsellor who provides guidance and assistance where needed.