Association de l’Education Environnementale
pour les Futures Générations (AEEFG)
Interview with Semia Gharbi by Carissa Marnce
Semia Gharbi is an environmental science and management expert, she is also an educator who specialized in Life Sciences and Geology. As chairperson of the AEEFG, Gharbi develops environmental studies on subjects like pesticides, marine litter and education. The AEEFG works on various projects in Tunisia to promote environmental consciousness.
Since the AEEFG’s establishment in 2011, what have been some of the organization’s achievements?
The AEEFG has a partnership with the ministry of education in Tunisia, which has enabled us to work in schools. Our organization has also carried out some awareness activities at universities on hazardous chemicals. Our work focuses on environmental issues, where we address issues like the depletion of natural resources, preservation of soils and water, global warming, hazardous chemicals and sustainable consumption. This is done through different base models, which includes relating environmental issues to the formal curriculum, advocacy of government and engaging with international platforms. Since the implementation of Agenda 2030 in 2015, the AEEFG have focused on goal four which is on quality education because this is a key goal to reach the remaining 16 goals on the agenda. Through our work in the education sector, we have provided training and support for more than 2000 pupils and over 100 students.
Our organization is also the Middle-East & North Africa (MENA) coordination hub for the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN). We have set up various projects, where we have done work on mercury, plastic, pesticides, lead in paint, Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC’s) and waste issues. We are also involved in the anti-incineration cause and we monitor the situation in Tunisia. The AEEFG has developed many partnerships at a national level and it is because people trust us for the work that we are producing, such as our reports, communications and advocacy.
You are working on a campaign on the presence of mercury and lead in paint. Can you tell me more about it?
We are working with IPEN, among other organizations, on an international campaign on the presence of lead in paint. As part of it, we analysed paints in Tunisia and found out that there are high levels of lead in paint, which is harmful to producers and consumers at all levels. We used the report to do advocacy with the Ministry of Health, which responded to our advocacy efforts by conducting a national survey and analysis of all paints in the country.
We’ve also had successful activities surrounding the amalgam campaign. Our organization created a partnership between the Ministry of Health and a university for dental medicine, where they discussed phasing out dental amalgam.
This organization emphasises the importance of working with youth, why does AEEFG value the input of young people?
In Tunisia we have two million students in the ministry of education. They are our future and we have an opportunity to educate them on sustainable development, and also raise awareness about their environmental responsibilities as citizens. Through my work as a teacher of environmental modules at a masters degree, and my involvement in different studies and projects, I have learned that involving the youth gives us a great platform to promote basic changes in society.
AEEFG has an agroecology project, where you develop educational activities with students. How has this project been going?
We use this as an opportunity to take the lesson outside the classroom. During these learning sessions, students see how plants are able to grow without any additional pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Due to COVID-19, we have had to stop our educational projects, but we are working on starting a project to raise more awareness on solar energy.
What are some of the major environmental challenges that Tunisia is facing, and why is this occurring?
We have a lot of issues around chemicals in our country. The extraction of phosphates generates a lot of toxic waste, which has a big impact on our environment and health. As a consequence of it, many individuals suffer from diseases like cancer or bone deterioration. In addition to this, we have the issue of pesticides because we are an agricultural country, and are also dealing with plastics and how to manage our waste.
Tunisia has enforced a ban on plastic bags, can you tell us more about it?
We started raising awareness that in big markets there was an issue with single use plastics. After the legislation that banned plastic bags was passed, there was a lot of social movement on the issue of plastic.We hope that this will continue after COVID-19, and are concern that it may not be a priority for the government, due to the economic strain that this crisis is putting on the country. With little funding AEEFG is promoting the study of using natural waste as an ecological alternative to plastic. Our organization will also like to work with other organizations in Tunisia, to determine how we can apply real solutions and see real results on the plastic situation. What are some of your goals for the upcoming years?
Some of our goals include working towards the Agenda 2030 and the Africa Agenda 2063. We will continue to promote education, which is a priority for us at a national level. Our organization will continue to work on the chemicals issues, as well as to provide the government with accredited data to advocate for legislation, and better solutions at the social and educational levels.