by Sophie Basso, EUAV in Tunisia
Translation: Meyssoune Mansour
Last team pictures, last hugs before I leave the office, « Bech netwahchouk » (« We will miss you » in Tunisian Arabic).
This Friday, all my MdM Belgium mission Tunisia, colleagues gathered on the terrace of the office to say goodbye.
It was a great surprise to see all these persons, who I shared my daily life with during one year, present to wish me the best. My EU Volunteering Aid mission, as a health-migration project assistant and task officer for gender integration in Sehaty Covid-19 projects, comes to an end on a beautiful note, under the Tunisian sun.
A year ago, I arrived under the same sun of September. A lot of things have changed. The MdM team was not as big as today, the faces were different. Only the « migrant team » of Tunis – composed of a project coordinator, a doctor, a mental health mission head, an assistant administrator and two protection officers- that quickly became my team, has barely changed. It is the story of my evolution that I want to tell.
I met the whole team for the first time during a team-building workshop at Monastir. I quickly noticed that the migrant team members were very close, they were friends and formed a sort of a clan. Not easy to settle in such a group. However, I have been welcomed, with a certain distrust. Everyone was wondering who I was, what I came to do. A lot of questions about my EU Voluteering Aid status : « are you an intern ? » , « do you work for the EU ? ». For the Tunisians, this type of initiative doesn’t exist, my co-workers had difficulty to understand what was my role. I had to explain multiple times what was my function, that I simply will be their colleague, the health migration project assistant.
I immersed very quickly with the team in the activities flux that we had to organize before the end of the year. The months of November and December have been very intense. I saw the motivation and the commitment that everyone manifested to further the project and set up activities of quality for our beneficiaries. We’ve spend a lot of time together, working, even some weekends.
As part of our project, we are operating alongside with migrants, offering them medical and psychological care and a social accompaniment. We organize some educational activities about health themes and strengthen the capacities of health structures and civil associations to improve the access to healthcare for migrants through different trainings.
At the beginning, often during the team meetings, my colleagues used to communicate in Arabic. I couldn’t understand all the informations and it was frustrating. I asked them to change the language. They apologized many times and added : « You are so well integrated that we always forget you’re not Tunisian ».
We had in December a team-building for the whole migrant team, of Tunis, Sfax and Medenine. The last exercise of the day was for everyone in turn to pay a compliment. When it was my turn to be praised, I was surprised by all the beautiful things that my team shared toward me.
It was in this moment that I felt myself being part of the team, completely integrated.
Almost everyday, a colleague would teach me something about Tunisia, expressions, traditions, cultural habits. They used to give me a taste of their lunch at noon, and some of them used to cook traditional dishes for me : the famous fishy tunisian Couscous, the Mesfouf with semolina and pomegranate seeds and the Assidat Zgougou for the Mouled celebration (birthday of the Prophet).
The life of the team was not a long calm river, but it’s during the period of confinement, due to the sanitary crisis of Covid-19, between late March and early May, that the river became a tumultuous torrent. In addition of the stress that everyone could live during this uncertain period, we had to adjust all our activities to effectively help even more vulnerable migrant populations. The teleworking was complicating and the field teams were at the forefront. We worked hard, weekends included. Every member made huge efforts. Pressures and misunderstandings have surfaced. Despite these difficulties, we kept up and today we can observe all the work done : development of mobile clinics for the migrants ; course about barrier gestures for the partners ; educational actions ; distribution of hygiene kits ; distribution of food kits with the partners, etc..
We decided during the summer to resume the project activities that fell behind. Some of the activities had to be changed and made online rather than in-person classes. We had to adapt again. Once again, it’s thanks to the efforts and the commitment of everyone to the project that we took up the challenge.
I will remember the madness, the engagement and a lot of solidarity. Even though today my mission is finished, I know that I will forever belong to this 100% Tunisian team.