Over the last eight months, International Alert has been training young people from the deprived and marginalised suburb of Ettadhamen in Tunis to map their local area and the problems their community faces.
The neighbourhood is marked by poverty and high unemployment, and, like neighbouring Douar Hicher, is often described as a hotbed of radicalism. Our research has found that the social and urban inequalities to which young people in particular in these areas are subjected penetrates every aspect of their lives, leaving them feeling excluded and marginalised.
To help address this issue, Alert has been training young people in Ettadhamen to use OpenStreetMap, a global collaborative mapping tool updated by volunteers. The tool has never been used in Tunisia and provides an opportunity for communities to mark out their local neighbourhood, which doesn’t even exist on the likes of Google Maps.
Among those trained are many unemployed young graduates. The project not only offers them an alternative to crime, but also gives them confidence to believe they can make a positive change in their society. By marking areas that require basic services from the government, such as rubbish collection points, it has provided young people with a platform to meaningfully engage with authorities and request improvements to local services.
Gathering the data for the map has been a challenging process. Some people didn’t know the numbers of their own houses and not all street names had been officially registered. Initially, the local authorities were not very enthusiastic about the project. Some members of the community also didn’t understand what the young people were doing, questioning why they needed specific information about the neighbourhood. However, it has been a positive learning process and has enabled the young people to challenge the stigma associated with their neighbourhood and change their own daily realities.
The initiative is part of a wider project aimed at strengthening youth participation in Ettadhamen and Douar Hicher, launched in September 2015. By encouraging engagement between young people and local authorities, through OpenStreetMap and other activities, the project helps to give more meaning to the young people’s sense of citizenship and demonstrate that marginalisation is not inevitable.
Earlier this month Alert hosted a press conference to present some of the activities of the project so far, which was attended by numerous Tunisian news outlets and delegations from the Swiss, Canadian and French embassies. The press conference was covered by Zituona TV, Al Janoubia TV, Agence Tunis Afrique Presse, Babnet Tunisie, Express FM and Nawaat.