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In Tunisia, youth boost the national vaccination effort

September 28, 2021

A Ma3an project youth volunteer offers sanitizer at a public vaccination event in Tunisia.

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As Tunisia recovers from a catastrophic third wave of COVID-19 and braces for a fourth, the country is racing to get as many people vaccinated as possible — and making incredible progress.

A record 1.6 million Tunisians were vaccinated during three open vaccination days last month. What made the days such a remarkable success? The nation’s youth.

Through the Ma3an project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), FHI 360 rallied hundreds of young people to support the national campaign to control COVID-19. The small North African nation has seen some of the worst infection rates on the continent. Home to 11 million people, Tunisia has reported more than 668,000 cases and 23,600 deaths since the pandemic began and only 9 percent of the population were fully vaccinated before last month's campaign. Now, 30 percent are vaccinated. Tunisia’s goal is to have half its population vaccinated by the end of October 2021.

“Tunisia has suffered a lot during the past couple months from high infection rates,” says Taha Yousfi, FHI 360’s Regional Program Manager for Ma3an. “We want to maximize our impact and help [national vaccination efforts] however we can. We have a very strong network of youth and civil society organizations — so we are working through them, bringing them together to contribute to these vaccination campaigns.”

The national initiative was organized by the Ministry of Public Health in coordination with the defense, interior and education ministries and in cooperation with several departments and components of civil society, including the AZIMA project supported by Ma3an.

“These are very important efforts, which help build not only youths' sense of pride but their sense of engagement, commitment and citizenship,” Yousfi says. “It is building their sense of belonging.”

More than 740 youth volunteers across all 24 governorates helped with organizational and safety measures to ensure an efficient vaccination process, allowing health workers to administer as many doses as possible. From dawn to dusk, the volunteers oversaw the registration process, organized lines and handed out supplies like masks and hand sanitizer at vaccination centers. They also raised awareness, using social media, live streams and call centers to urge community members to get vaccinated. Over the span of three days — August 8, 15 and 29 — Ma3an youth volunteers helped immunize 300,000 Tunisians.

“Despite our being exhausting and working for 12 hours a day, the appreciation of people kept us going, because we were helping them to go back to normal life,” says Mohamed Amine Hazel, 19, a young man from Bir Lahmar. “It was a moment of pure pride.”

Participation brought a great sense of pride and self-satisfaction for 29-year-old Ilhem Dhahari as well.

“I felt heard and valued as a youth and as a young woman and felt included in the decision making,” she says. “I was offering guidance to people who were older than me, who were in higher positions than me. People who came to get vaccinated were strangers, but they were thanking us for what we were doing. It was an amazing feeling — a feeling of nationalism and belonging.”

The Ma3an project engages youth in civil society to counter the threat of violent extremism. In 30 communities across the country, FHI 360 equips youth with skills to identify their community’s greatest opportunities and challenges and then to work with local stakeholders to discuss and implement solutions.

FHI 360 is committed to helping young people like Dhahari feel heard, empowered and equipped to make change and to heal and protect their communities in the face of crisis.

“My experience with Ma3an has restored my hope,” says Sofyen Drissi, 30, a young man from the community of Laaroussa. “I am honestly surprised by how much I’ve learned.”

Drissi and his peers try to pass the skills they learn to others and ask trainers to leave their teaching materials so they can share them. It is this enduring spirit of volunteerism, solidarity and generosity that will be instrumental in reversing the path of COVID-19 and its impacts in Tunisia.

“My feelings are so hard to describe,” continues Drissi. “We were working as youth, as one hand, regardless of our differences. We were working in solidarity with the main purpose of fighting the coronavirus.”

Photo caption: A Ma3an project youth volunteer offers sanitizer at a public vaccination event in Tunisia.

Photo credit: Dhouha Jaballah/FHI 360