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 north-west region of the country has always been one of the poorest, and things have not shown any sign of improvement as of yet.
Up to half of the local workforce are unemployed
Women from the community take part in a weaving workshop at the social centre (photo: SOS archives)
Siliana is located in northern Tunisia, just 130 km south of the capital Tunis, and has a population of over 25,000. The region’s economy is based primarily on agriculture and some industry is also present. However, unemployment is extremely high in the Siliana region and poverty is widespread. In the recent past, there have been frequent strikes and road blocks demanding increased government efforts to improve the living conditions of the population. Poverty levels are higher on the whole in the interior of the country, as compared to the more affluent coastal regions, but in Siliana residents have historically felt marginalised and now feel neglected by the new government.
Siliana is one of Tunisia’s poorest governorates, with unemployment rates of up to 50 per cent. Many of the current job seekers are recent university graduates. A lack of investment into new projects in the region means that there simply aren’t enough jobs available. These difficult economic conditions can drive families into despair and can ultimately lead to family breakup.
Strengthening the community in order to protect the children
In recent years, SOS Children’s Villages has been expanding its outreach work within the local community due to the high number of families in need of support. Children under the age of six are particularly vulnerable in the region, as there is a lack of both government and non-governmental organisations who address their needs. Women who are the head of the household, be it as a result of divorce, the husband’s death or unmarried mothers, have a very hard life. They often lack the resources, the education, experience and the professional skills to find employment and provide for all their children’s basic needs. Furthermore, a large proportion of them are illiterate and thus excluded from the formal job market. When parents are affected by mental health issues, chronic illness, or a disability, children are also at-risk of losing their care.
The goal of our work within the community is, on the one hand, to raise families’ capacities to become self-sufficient and meet their basic needs. On the other hand, we want to raise awareness in the community so that children from struggling families are not marginalised.
What we do in Siliana
Children performing a dance (photo: SOS archives)
SOS Children’s Villages began its work in Siliana in 1983. Today, our SOS Social Centre offers a family strengthening programme, which reaches out to struggling members of the local community and provides support. 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 Siliana who are no longer able to live with their parents, twelve SOS families can provide a loving home for up to 96 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.