“We heard about a woman in America who was a retired teacher and used her retirement money to buy an old bus. We knew we couldn’t buy a bus. So we rented a car for a few weeks and traveled around remote areas of Tunisia teaching computer science students.”
I am an engineering student, so I was studying at Polytech International in Tunis, Tunisia. I have also been a Microsoft Student Partner for the last few years. As an MSP, we serve in a volunteer capacity as mini-brand ambassadors who learn about new Microsoft products, receive tech training and skill-building, participate in hackathons and workshops, and teach our community about coding and digital literacy.
I am now the Country Manager of MentorNations in Tunisia. We are 100% youth-led, and we all serve in a volunteer capacity. I have learned so many things over the last year, including what it takes to run a company, how to raise funds and make people believe in your cause, marketing and communication, time management, and other life skills that I was never exposed to before. I can also speak much better in English.
I come from an extremely underserved place in Tunisia. I read in a report recently from OECD (link) that educated youth in the region where I am from in Tunisia, Jendouba, experience upward of 57% unemployment. According to the report, youth who follow the rules and finish their degrees often face a skills gap. We lack tech, collaboration, and life skills; therefore, our employability remains low. We study in theoretical ways, and miss the practicality of our learnings. We know how to pass tests, but we get lost in applying what we learn to become employable. I know I am more employable thanks to my work with the MentorNations team. I am more confident about my future, and can say that my goal is no longer about finding a way to work in America or Europe. I now recognize the important role that young engineers and social entrepreneurs like me must play to continue to rebuild Tunisia. It must come from us – Tunisian youth.
We are a big family, and I have never been so proud of being part of something before in my life. My first time outside my country, minus a small trip to Algeria was to speak at the UN with our MentorNations family. I never thought I would be saying that! I guess the answer to this question is no.
Volunteering is not just about giving back. My volunteering has given me more than I think I have ever given to others. Without this work, I am not sure I would have ever even dreamed of presenting at a UN meeting before graduating from university.
We need mentorship and other people like us who want to share their skills forward in their communities.
During Computer Science Week, we were invited to the American Embassy in my country to teach Ambassador Rubenstein the introductory building blocks of learning to code. They filed our event, and released a video from the official Facebook page of the Embassy. After I left, my family was so proud of me. Volunteerism is often misunderstood in Tunisia, as people often expect compensation for spending time helping others with something. This is an active discussion in our community. If others could see the importance of skills-based volunteerism, no matter how small, they would understand that it is not about giving something away for free or someone taking advantage of you. It is about a mutual exchange of skills and experience.
My wildest dream came true a few weeks ago. The Prime Minister’s office in Tunisia approved our NGO paperwork. I am not the President and Country Manager of MentorNations Tunisia. Maybe my new wildest dream is teaching him to code too!
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