Towards a sustainable school model in Tunisia: Wallah We Can

** Cliquez ici pour lire l’article en Français (traduit par Safa Jebri <>)

Wallah We Can’s goal is to rehabilitate all 330 public boarding schools in Tunisia and transform the educational experience of the student population.
Lotfi Hamadi, founder of Wallah We Can. Photo credit: The Tunisians

After its independence, and with no significant natural resources to rely on, Tunisia made a huge bet on education. The goal was to produce a capable and skilled human capital base that could respond to the changing market needs and the growing opportunity of living in an integrated global economy. Over 20% of the country’s annual budget was spent on making basic education training not just free but mandatory for students between the ages of 6 and 16.

Six decades later, in 2016, the picture is not as glorious as we had all hoped: There are not enough schools, existing schools are poorly equipped due to their limited budget, and teachers are not trained to take advantage of the latest technologies. Public boarding schools in particular are home to the poorest pupil population in the country. Parents who often live in secluded rural towns send their children to these schools as they cannot afford to pay for their nutrition, transportation or education supplies. Due to the difficult living conditions inside the school, many students choose to drop out and start working at a young age. For them, school is not a refuge, and it does not enable them to learn practical skills that will significantly impact their life.

At Wallah We Can (“We can, I promise” in the local dialect), we believe that investment in human capital and early childhood development is the way to tackle the current problems that the country is facing. Education is often introduced to students as one of the best routes out of poverty. We work to enable children in marginalized regions to complete their education in a safe and healthy environment so they can be positive change-makers in their own communities. To achieve this, we need pragmatic and durable solutions that are scalable, easy to implement, and cheap to maintain.

Our mission is to Invest in the most impoverished children of the country, and radically transform society by fostering cooperation and work ethics.

Sustainable development, not just humanitarian aid

There are plenty of initiatives out there targeting youth education and poverty in general, but most of them are short term immediate relief efforts, not viable long term investments. We shaped a sustainable business model that, if applied to a school, would yield returns on investment sufficient to cover its running cost, and generate wealth in the long term.

Currently, we are almost ready to inaugurate the first pilot school in September, at the beginning of the new academic year. The school is located in Makthar, Siliana — a governorate in the North West of Tunisia. We mandated a group of experts in childhood development to monitor the project’s impact for a year, and show how effective and scalable the different initiatives put in place are.

What we do, and how we do it:

At the moment, we get all of our funding through private donations from individuals and enterprises, as well as targeted campaigns and events. Donations come in the form of monetary contributions, physical goods, and services. For this first post, I will not state all of our partners and sponsors, and I will only briefly mention some of the projects or initiatives tackling specific problems we noticed while visiting the pilot school of Makthar. In the upcoming posts, I will go in depth about how every project came to be, and who helped make it happen.

1- Energy autonomy:

Photo-voltaic panels installed in the school of Makthar

Thanks to a favorable climate, we can rely on solar energy — the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source available — for our work. Reaching partial autonomy in energy production was one of the first goals we set. Through building insulation and the installation of photo-voltaic panels, it became possible for students living in the dorms to take three showers a week, as opposed to the one-shower-per-month policy that was enforced before. The room temperatures also became acceptable for the students during the cold winters and hot summers, therefore improving their overall well-being.

In addition to having an impact on the health and hygiene of the students, this initiative serves an educational tool: The newly established energy club works on raising awareness about clean and renewable energies, and informs students of current issues like climate change and the mechanisms of energy generation.

This picture is an innovative solar panel made of recycled cans, made in collaboration with some Tunisian engineering students. Other installed panels are industry-type photo-voltaic.

2- Food autonomy:

We installed mini-farms to provide organic fruits, vegetables and white meat to the students. The previously mentioned pilot project now has a hive and a hen house that will produce around 800 eggs per week. Lands have also been reconditioned and fertilized, allowing us to start planting trees: We have planted 130 olive trees, 20 orange trees, 18 cherry trees, 20 apple trees, 6 peach trees, 6 apricot trees and 15 almond trees.

Students in the environment club help maintain the mini-farms to learn about farming and work ethics.

3- Women empowerment:

Reusable hygienic pads, manufactured locally for free distribution.

We provide girls with reusable hygienic pads manufactured in the neighboring town of Siliana. This tackles the main cause of drop-outs among females and helps a group of rural women raise their income. By providing a safe and sustainable solution for young women to come to school, they are able to actively participate in the learning process and engage with their peers. This also allows us to start an important conversation around women’s health and the physical body changes these middle school females are experiencing — which is sometimes considered a taboo in the family setting, yet still crucial to address.

4- Student involvement:

Finally, I would like to shed some light on the the clubs we are putting in place at the pilot school, thanks to the teachers’ support and students’ enthusiasm. These different clubs teach kids valuable skills at a young age, while allowing them to express themselves outside the traditional academic setting. The clubs focus on these main activities:

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Health
  • Environment
  • Sports
  • Computer Science

While the activities inside these clubs may differ, the goal is still to encourage personal initiative as well as group work. By being exposed to a myriad of techniques to better utilize the resources available to them, the students learn to appreciate the education they receive. As they also come back to their families on weekends, we believe they could share their practical knowledge with them, and work to replant their own lands or start their own little entrepreneurship endeavor. The possibilities are endless when it comes to inspiring these students to do more and dream big, especially with the support and endorsement of celebrities and renowned athletes (example below).

Youssef Akrout — first African and Arab athlete to qualify to the Rio 2016 Olympics — visiting the Multisport Facility named after him.

The multisports facility under construction.

Wallah We Can emerged from a firm belief that every child deserves to be treated as a human being with full rights, the most important of which is his right to a decent education. The safe living and studying environment that we provide turns into a catalyst for change and creates new opportunities for human, social and economic development for an entire country. We are taking ambitious steps towards a sustainable and financially self-sufficient school model that can be implemented not only in all Tunisian boarding schools, but also in other developing countries. Many small communities have found solutions to similar problems, and we believe in sharing this knowledge for everyone to benefit from.

Anyone is more than welcome to get involved, donate, or share our vision. We are working on the English version of the website, currently only available in French, but we would love to work with individuals and groups who think investment in human capital is important in the country’s economy. Feel free to contact us through the “Wallah We Can” Facebook page, or fill out this form to join our team.

Wallah We Can official song