Tunisia: Changing the world in three simple steps: volunteer, inspire, advocate
Young Doctors Without Borders is a Tunisian NGO founded in 1993, whose principal mission is to participate in the improvement of the quality of life in Tunisia in general, and more specifically in its most impoverished areas. Activities include health caravans, community-based health education or advocacy. Since the establishment of the local NGO, many talented and dedicated individuals have contributed to the success of its mission.
One of those individuals is Amel Khedimi, a 24 year-old medical intern who has volunteered with Young Doctors without Borders since 2009. During the last 4 years, she has played an important role in the HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) Prevention programme.
This programme was implemented in 2007 to raise awareness on sexual and reproductive health. Most of the work is done in the poorer neighborhoods of Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, where it also focuses on reaching high school dropouts who do not benefit from reproductive health education, which, in Tunisia, is part of the schools’ curricula.
When Amel first joined Young Doctors Without Borders she helped facilitate community -based health education sessions in schools. Although the sessions did not focus solely on sexual and reproductive health, due to cultural taboos, she tried to make it an integral part of the her participation, given that she joined the NGO “not only to help young people make enlightened decisions about their sexual and reproductive health, but also to reduce the discrimination against people living with HIV by breaking social taboos and openly discussing issues related to sexuality”, she explains.
After becoming a trainer in the prevention of HIV and STI’s, Amel started to help new volunteers develop their skills. During this period, she collaborated in the design and implementation of a volunteer recruitment policy for Young Doctors without Borders, and stressed on the importance of encouraging young adults to volunteer. “After the revolution [January 2011] we probably felt what being a citizen meant for the first time in our lives. NGOs need to profit from this surge of freedom and encourage young adults to volunteer. I think the most effective way to do this is by sharing our experiences with our peers and sparking their attention by showing them a taste of what being part of an NGO means,” she says.
After working for three years on peer education sessions and training new volunteers, Amel realized that though providing information is an important step in preventing new HIV infections, it is hardly enough in the absence of the right policies. “Advocating for sexual and reproductive rights is a must when there are no policies that guarantee safe access to information, condoms or contraception. Young adults cannot enjoy their right to a healthy and fulfilling sexual life,” she explains.
Through different activities with Young Doctors Without Borders and other institutions, she is trying to reduce stigma regarding sexual rights and to pressure leaders to acknowledge those rights and forge policies to ensure them.
“Volunteering with an NGO is a life changing experience. It’s helped me grow as a person, made me stronger, more organised and happier. It made me feel like I have a purpose, like I have the power to change the world one little step at a time, to make my voice heard and more importantly to make it count.”
The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is the UN organization that promotes volunteerism to support peace and development worldwide. Volunteerism can transform the pace and nature of development, and it benefits both society at large and the individual volunteer. UNV contributes to peace and development by advocating for volunteerism globally, encouraging partners to integrate volunteerism into development programming, and mobilizing volunteers.