Sarah Toumi: “There’s a lot of hope”

A candidate for the Women for Change prize in 2013, Sarah Toumi attented at the Women’s Forum in Deauville on 14, 15 and 16 October as part of the 2015 event. We spoke to her about the work of Dream in Tunisia, her association, and her social enterprise Acacias for All.
Sara Toumi Women for change 2013 village Orange
How are you involved with the Orange Foundation?
We got in touch with each other through Orange Tunisia. We started to work together in 2013, on the Orange village project in Bir Salah, to help improve its infrastructures: a school, a clinic, a water source. We spent a year on this project as we needed to be able pass on knowledge and objectives and also train the local people. It opened in May 2014.
What benefits have there been for people living in Bir Salah, particularly women?
The educational infrastructures have changed significantly. The school was 50 years old and now it is a lot more modern. We have also built a youth club to encourage education, with two specific programmes:

  • a preschool programme, during the second term. It employs 2 people who manage two classes: one for 4-year-old children to prepare them for preschool (which only lasts a year in Tunisia). There is another for 5-year-old children, which the preschool cannot accept due to a lack of places, but which does exactly the same thing as the school. As part of the 2 classes, the children have access to a games room, a music room, they can take classes in hiphop, karate, art, and there are weaving, pottery, mosaic classes, etc.
  • the "afterschool" programme, during the first term. It welcomes children after school to support them with their homework in Maths, English, Arabic, etc., but also to encourage them into different areas, such as theatre.

We have implemented specific activities for women in the village. For example, they didn’t have access to a midwife previously. Now, there is one who comes twice a week, as well as a gynaecologist with their own office. The village was provided with the equipment needed to carry out ultrasounds.
We have also created a women’s club to organise sewing and weaving workshops. This allows them to launch activity which creates value. As an example, they have received a large t-shirt order for a festival in the south of France. They also make traditional clothing with genuine expertise. They are going to exhibit their creations in Europe at different festivals, and they have been invited to the COP21 event.

Sarah Toumi, during the Women’s Forum 2015 (left), develops weaving and sewing workshops for women at the Orange Village in Bir Salah.

Sarah Toumi Women for change 2013
atelier tissage village orange tunisie
atelier couture village orange tunisie

Could you tell us about your social enterprise Acacias for All?
It focuses on the fight against desertification through a reforestation project. Currently the aim is to plant 50,000 trees by the end of the year. There are several small programmes which contribute to the project. For example, 30,000 trees will be planted in a forest area in partnership with the Forestry Authority and the town of El Hencha (near to Sfax, 3km from Birsalah). 500m2 are going to be provided opposite the town’s school along with an educational space to raise awareness of environmental protection amongst students. Activities are planned each weekend to plant or cultivate the trees. 2500m2 will also be given to 12 farmers, who will be trained by an agricultural engineer every 2 months. Once they have completed the training, they will be certified organic farmers. Finally, 4 French people completing civic service will support them from January 2016 to create a delicatessen to pass on and transfer their knowledge.

How can we support and help your association?
With the support of the Women’s WorldWide Web, we have launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance the reforestation work.
We also have a hotel room in the village where people can stay for 50 dinars a night. This money will be used to develop the project. Finally, we organise community projects every 2-3 months with 20 to 30 people. All these people help us to develop Acacias for all and to make further progress.

Photos of reforestation work carried out as part of the Acacias for All project.

village orangre arbre Acacias for all Sarah Toumi
Sarah Toumi arbre reforestation
agricultrice village orange Acacias for all

Tunisia was the official delegation at the Women’s Forum. The Tunisian national dialogue quartet received the Nobel Peace Prize and Khedija El Madani won the Women for Change 2015 online prize. Does that inspire you?
It shows that Tunisia is on the right path. We have started to emerge from the depression following the Arab Spring in 2012. There were 6 months of euphoria followed by a violent crisis. Now we have a period of stability, and the country is bouncing back thanks to community work. Of course there are still many social injustices in regions across the country, but it all shows that there is a lot of hope.

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