This January, six American professionals in the fields of economic empowerment of women and people with disabilities traveled to Tunisia as part of a Professional Fellows Program Exchange, organized by HANDS. The American professionals each represented an organization that had hosted one of ten Tunisian program fellows last year. This two- year exchange program is funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and other generous HANDS donors.
These American specialists had the opportunity to reunite with the Tunisian program alumni for nearly two weeks, visiting former fellows’ organizations and seeing their work firsthand. The Tunisian fellows and their organizations are dedicated to helping women and people with disabilities in Tunisia socially, professionally, and politically.
As Tunisia turns a corner and solidifies its status as the newest democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, this was an opportune time for Americans to hear from organizations supporting the rights of women and people with disabilities. The Ligue des Electrices Tunisiennes (LET), which is focused on women’s civic engagement and election participation, was one of the many inspiring organizations the Americans visited. LET staff described how they supported for women voters in Tunisia’s most recent elections.
Equally impactful was the Tunisian Organization for the Defense of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (OTDDPH), where staff discussed their work in campaigning for disability rights, especially concerning disabled peoples’ participation in the constitutional process.
In addition to visiting local organizations, the American professionals participated in three workshop sessions with the Tunisian fellows. They discussed project ideas emerging from their experiences in the U.S. and worked together to develop proposals to fund these projects.
Beyond professional networking, the American professionals enjoyed experiencing elements of Tunisian culture, including visiting Carthage and local museums. One of the Tunisian fellows also generously hosted the entire group in her home for a traditional Tunisian feast, which was a great opportunity for the two groups to enjoy delicious home-cooked food and conversation with one another. Both the Americans and Tunisians appreciated the chance to deepen relationships that began in the US. We look forward to continuing to watch these relationships grow.
In February, as the next step of this initiative, another group of American professionals will travel to Egypt, engaging in similar capacity building efforts for Egyptians focused on women’s empowerment and empowerment for people with disabilities.