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Story of Inspiration: Giving back to the most vulnerable through renewable energy technologies

The Association Voix de l’Enfant (Voice of the Child) is a civil society organization whose main objective is to take in babies without any family support as well as to provide accompaniment and professional training for single mothers in precarious situations. The center was created in January of 2007 in celebration of World Children’s Day. Thanks to generous donations, a “Mother-Infant” complex was created. It is composed of a ”Life Unit” for the babies as well as a social and professional support center for the women. The social and professional support center is composed of 6 workshops that teach important resource-generating skills that promote the insertion of women into the workforce.

The Life Unit has the capacity to host 12 babies at a time from 0 to 18 months. They are cared for 24 hours a day 7 days a week by the organization’s maternal assistants. They are given a medical and psychological check-ups as well as a follow-up of their social and legal files with the relevant regional authorities. After being placed in stable homes, the center does regular check-ups to assure babies are in safe homes. They also participate in awareness campaigns to teach the local community about the type of services they provide.

(Baby and Toddler reception rooms in the Life Unit)

The center for Social and Professional Support facilitates the access to professional training for employment to mothers in precarious situations (widowed, single or divorced) with the objective of providing a life with dignity. They provide the following types of services:

  1. Therapeutic: Psychological support, including safe spaces for support groups that provide reception and listening.

  2. Socio-educational: Literacy program, education about reproductive health, integration of social life skills and values

  3. Legal: Informing mothers of their rights and providing legal counselling, guiding and advocacy.

  4. Professional: Training workshop, internship, insertion in the workforce.

(Women in the sewing workshop training)

The women can choose from the following training workshops, eventually getting offered internships that can lead to stable employment:

  • Laundry

  • Sewing

  • Artisanal embroidery

  • Horticulture and gardening (plant nursery)

  • Cuisine and catering

  • Baking

  • Elderly care

(Bakery and Artisanal Embroidery workshops)

Out of these professional training workshops, the organization raises the funds and resources for their operations via the income generating activities being done in the laundry, bakery and nursery workshops. However, these services are very costly to the organization, forcing them to spend around $21,000 a year on electricity and water. In particular, the laundry service, which is their highest income-generating workshop, is consuming the most energy. The washing and drying machines are of industrial size, which consume significant amounts of water and energy. The amount of water needed to run these machines is extremely high, which has led to the organization creating a special water reserve out of potable tap water. This has particularly increased the costs for them.

(Industrial washing and drying machines, potable tap water reserved to power them)

The MINARET project aims to reduce the energy costs of Voice of the Child by installing a 15 kW PV system as well as constructing a personal water well. The return on investment of this intervention will be less than a year, and the financial savings will permit the organization to improve and expand their services. This is a perfect example of gender mainstreaming in the NEXUS approach; where renewable energy technologies can be used to improve social services provided to the most vulnerable women and babies. For this intervention MINARET has agreed with VOC that part of the generated savings be used to support the local “Birbasha” women, those who work in waste management through plastic waste collection and sorting.

The Birbasha women make their daily living and support their families by collecting trash around Monastir, then sorting and selling it. The nature of the job is difficult, but the women have expressed to us that the community is very supportive of them and helps whenever possible. Hotels and restaurants in the area also view them as a social cause and are very cooperative in providing waste when the women ask for it.

Our meeting with the Birbasha women provided important insights on the multitude of problems they face while conducting their daily work, issues such as:

  • Having to carry the collected trash on their backs.

  • Health problems such as eye irritation and allergies due to constant exposure to trash fumes.

  • The individual who purchases the sorted trash gives different women different prices for their plastic.

  • Difficulty to access sources of plastic waste such as hotels in the touristic area due to the distance.

(Meeting with Birbasha and VOC)

By empowering Voice of the Child and enabling them to generate significant annual savings, they will be able to provide 80-100 of the Birbasha women with services that will crucially improve their work environment and quality of life. To start, the Birbasha women will be hosted under VOC’s umbrella, where they will receive significant benefits by having their operations organized through the CSO. The women will receive uniforms, safety equipment, vaccinations and motorcycles that will help in transporting the collected waste. To deal with the fluctuating purchase price of plastic being offered to different women, VOC will host them by offering a space to sort the plastic and sell it at a fixed price at a single point through VOC. This intervention will not only benefit the different vulnerable women of both organizations; however it will also contribute to recycling, use of renewable energy technologies, conservation of energy and water, as well as access to finance and resources.

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