Supporting COVID-19 relief efforts in Tunisia

Supporting COVID-19 relief efforts in Tunisia

Wajdi Belloumi and Colleen Cook


Jihed sits at a computer

Youth play a vital role in determining the future of their communities. Through a variety of initiatives, young Tunisian leaders are helping to keep fellow citizens safe from the physical and financial effects of COVID-19.

Jihed, Oumaima, Chiheb, and Maha are four of nearly 500 Tunisian youth who have gained valuable experience in the United States through the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Program during past 7 years. The Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Programs are made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Department of State and implemented by IREX.

Stemming the spread through digitalization and personal protective equipment

To help support social distancing measures, TCCSP alumnus Jihed volunteered to digitize data in coordination with a local coronavirus task force.

Through the system he designed, patient information is sent directly to a doctor’s computer so the doctor can prescribe medication and send the prescription directly to pharmacy staff. Nurses can then prepare the medication prior to the patients’ arrival so that patients do not have to stand in long lines and risk exposure to the virus while waiting for their medication.  

“I think that my journey with the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Program played a key role in where I am today,” said Jihed, who studied at the Community Colleges of Spokane from 2013 to 2014. “I greatly admire the values of volunteerism and community service that I have seen and experienced in all the TJSP activities I have done in the United States. My field of study in the United States boosted my knowledge of computer and software programming, which has helped me greatly in designing and implementing a communication system for a community health care center. This may help save hundreds of lives, from health care workers to patients in Monastir.”

Oumaima makes a face shieldOumaima, who studied engineering at Snow College in 2017 and 2018, manufactured 3D-printed face shields for one of the most underserved regions in Tunisia.

“The 3D masks that we created after days of tireless work were donated to four hospitals, as well as pharmacies, private doctors' offices, and a number of civil society organizations, all located in Sidi Bouzid,” she explained.

Reflecting on her TCCSP journey in the United States, Oumaima said, “I acquired [the] knowledge to be a team leader who recognizes that each member of the group has essential contributions to make. It is important to also note that dialogue, respect, and kindness are key to the success of a project.”

Supporting communities through financial relief

Financial support also plays a key role for communities weathering the COVID-19 crisis. Chiheb and Maha are applying skills from their TJSP experiences to ease the economic hardship of their communities.

Tunisia UGRAD alumnus Chiheb helped organize a donation campaign that will assist Al-Sadiq Hospital in Houmt Souk, Djerba, in acquiring new equipment and enhancing its capacity to face the pandemic.

Within the first three days of the campaign, Chiheb collected more than $60,000 from almost 1,225 donors. He later coordinated with the Doctors Association in Djerba, which received the funds and worked with Chiheb to decide how they should be spent.

Chiheb attended the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities during his 2016–2017 program. He said, “The skills I acquired from my TJSP experience helped me gain confidence within the community and the leading skills made it possible to take the legal [responsibility] of the fundraising.”

Maha, a Tunisia UGRAD alumna who studied tourism at the University of Central Missouri from 2014 to 2015, utilized her network in the United States and abroad to start fundraising activities to support the Hospital of Medenine.  

In coordination with doctors from her region, Maha worked with two local organizations to fundraise across multiple continents. The funds they raised have sponsored sanitation efforts and provided food to those most in need.

Maha drew on skills she gained during her studies and internships in the United States to set up food and cleaning budgets, allowing the charity to reach more families in the region. “I believe that the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Program not only allowed me to achieve professional and academic excellence,” Maha reflected, “but also to have friends and family for life who sent around 3,000 Tunisian dinar of donations at the time I asked for help.”

Through their leadership, creativity, and strong commitment to their local communities, these young leaders are working to build their communities’ resilience during the crisis, while enhancing skills they can use to continue supporting Tunisia’s development long into the future.

The Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Programs are made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Department of State and implemented by IREX.