Most people don’t exactly consider Tunisia as “the place” to be these days. A decade of political struggle has cracked the bright and sunny Mediterranean beach facade, which once served as Tunisia’s profile picture.
Now the image of a messy house comes to mind, leaving a bulk of its inhabitants with a strong desire to leave (50 percent of young people) and deterring many of its visitors from knocking on the door as tourism, a major source of income for the country, continues to fluctuate.
However, not all Tunisians choose to view their country as a lost cause. Recently I’ve had the chance to catch up with environmentalist, painter, and my friend Camy Mathlouthi. Camy is the Founder of pour une tunisie propre et verte (For a Clean and Green Tunisia–PTPV), a Tunisian movement (previously an association) that strives to empower youth to protect oceans and seas by addressing plastic pollution through an artistic lens.
Seeing Beauty within the “Bad”
If you visit PTPV’s Facebook page, you’ll notice a sharp contrast between the photos of documented plastic pollution and the pictures celebrating a clean beach, spring flowers, or trashart. This excellently demonstrates Camy’s wise approach to not only plastic pollution–but life–in Tunisia.
Camy refuses to ignore environmental issues faced by Tunisia. But rather than solely focusing on the problem of trash that can seem like never ending piles in our streets and on our beaches, she redirects the attention to possibilities through trash-to-art workshops, beach cleanups, and poetic performances carried out through PTPV.
In sum, when it comes to the trash problem and the more or less corrupted state of politics, Camy won’t sugar coat the problem, but she won’t spend too much time complaining either because she is committed to finding the beauty within the “bad”.
Adapting to Make the Difference
At the start, PTPV’s activities included more work at the political level hoping to influence local authorities. However, Camy realized early on, “After many experiences, I understood that they will never enforce the law to end trash in the public spaces.”
Instead she noted, “I am dwelling on my commitment because I am convinced that I can convince young people around me. And that’s enough for now.” In many ways, this signaled a return to the organization’s roots, as PTPV grew out of Camy’s work with her German students, which began in 2008 with an Environmental Awareness Week.
Between 2012 and 2019, PPTV has organized and implemented more than 23 awareness campaigns and beach clean-ups involving local youth, and has taken action with organizations like GreenPeace, The United Nations, and Break Free From Plastic to spread awareness in Tunisia.
PTPV’s Digital Quarantine Events (April 20th- May 20th)
In line with the movement’s approach of finding beauty within the “bad”, PTPV is working to create community online for some nature therapy and appreciation during lockdown.
Through “Elle sont jolies les fleurs de mon pays” PTPV invites everyone around the world to get out, snap photos of the spring flowers, and share them on the event page. The event is daily and runs until May 20th so get out and post your pictures here!
Tunisia may not be “the place” to be, but it sure is one of my favorite places nonetheless. Public transportation might be slower than a pet turtle, customer service is humorously nonexistent, and the struggling economy makes the lives of many extremely difficult (especially with COVID19). But, a radically beautiful charm can be found if you look for the amazing beaches, spring flowers, and most of all the people who refuse to give-up on meeting the needs of the community while seeing this country’s full potential.
A big thanks to all who are out there (like Camy!) actively working to see the beauty within the “bad”!