Putting heritage at the service of employment and social integration

15-01-2018
Tarek Hafid

The ‘Santé Sidi El Houari’ (SDH) Association in Oran has been training and reintegrating troubled youngsters into society for over twenty years. The SDH field school, which is ren­ovating an 18th century heritage site, has trained interns, artisans and architecture students as part of the Youth Em­ployment Support Programme (Programme d’appui Jeu­nesse Emploi – PAJE), financed by the European Union. This bilateral programme has an overall budget of EUR 26 mil­lion and contributes to improving youth employment sup­port mechanisms in Algeria.

Just a few steps away from the fort of Santa Cruz, the Sidi El Houari district has long been the beating heart of Oran. Berbers, Phoenicians, Ro­mans, Vandals, Byzantines, Fatim­ids, Abbassids, Spaniards, Ottomans and the French have all settled on its steep foothills. However, the suburb, named after a 12th century saint, has been falling into disrepair for decades now.

A little walk around the former French military camp hospital, built on the site of a Turkish bath from 1708, is enough to see how lively the old quarter is. It’s also home to the Association Santé Sidi El Houari, chaired by Dr Kamel Bereksi. He has been deeply involved in preserving the architectural and cultural heritage of the old city of Oran since the early 1990s.

“It all began by chance when I was responsible for the Oran medical and public health council. Part of the old French military hospital was being used as a public health centre but the entire building was squalid,” he recalls. One day, Dr Bereksi and the members of his team discovered the rooms of the Ottoman-period hammam by chance. “This was an architectural treasure being used as a dumping ground.” The small group decided to clean up and renovate the place. This marked the beginning of the SDH adventure!

A school for citizenship

Over the last 26 years, the SDH has become a truly pub­lic-minded school at the heart of a disadvantaged neigh­bourhood. Santé Sidi Houari partnered with local author­ities and international organisations and is now a major presence in the non-profit world.

The SDH’s extensive experience led to its selection for the Youth Employment Support Programme (Programme d’ap­pui Jeunesse Emploi - PAJE), a bilateral Algerian and Europe­an Union programme launched in 2012.

“SDH received a direct subsidy of EUR 221,882 to train and integrate 84 unemployed young people in the workplace. Our contribution also includes the training of 110 artisans and 40 architecture students in specific practices for old buildings, and awareness-raising for 300 students about heritage issues,” explains Kamel Bereksi. The initial goals have been exceeded, notably with respect to the training of young people who have left school (100 apprentices have received diplomas from the SDH under the PAJE pro­gramme).

From apprentice to trainer

Stone cutting, woodworking, electricity, iron-working, plastering, sewing, frame and parquet renovation... the school’s training programmes all involve preserving heritage and buildings. SDH is also notable for giving some apprentices the opportunity to become trainers themselves. This has been the case for Abderahmane Taleb Abdelaziz, 21, who became a trainer in woodworking. “I came to SDH by chance. I was barely 14 and I was failing at school. At first, I wanted to be a stone cutter, but I was soon drawn to the woodworking machines and the atmosphere in that workshop,” he says, showing his students a series of tools.

During his training, his teacher chose him as an assistant trainer to work with apprentices who were experiencing difficulties. After he earned his diploma, he first worked in the shops while continuing to consolidate his knowledge thanks to training courses organised by SDH and its partners. He took an active part in the renovation work for the head office and became very active in the non-profit world. He is also a percussionist and plays in the association’s band. Abderahmane has helped to train the 100 young interns registered for the PAJE programme.

The future is built in the SDH’s classrooms. An example is Fatma-Zohra Benabed, 16, who is taking sewing classes. “I quit school recently. I was angry with foreign languages,” she exclaims, with a broad smile. Fatma-Zohra knows everything about stitches and embroidering. But, she dreams of becoming... a plasterer. “I like to watch boys do that work. I asked the people in charge of the association to let me train in plastering. I hope to take the course next year,” says the young girl.

The PAJE revolution

The actions implemented by the Santé Sidi El Houari asso­ciation are at the heart of the Youth Employment Support Programme. “A real revolution is taking place thanks to the PAJE. We’re laying the groundwork for new mechanisms for companies and job creation for young people, which will be set up in all of the wilayas (provinces) of Algeria. This new organisation will enable direct involvement by the non-profit movement,” notes Hakim Kes­sal, Employment Director and Co-ordi­nator of the Oran PAJE, one of the four pilot wilayas. The inter-sector actions and network creation will reinforce the skills of young job seekers and company creators, while promoting the principles of good citizenship.

For his part, Abderezzak Boucherir, the Na­tional Director of the PAJE, notes that the results expected from the programme are the logical evolution of a youth employment and support policy initiated by the Algerian au­thorities in the 1990s. “The various mechanisms and pub­lic funds committed to youth programmes make Algeria a pioneer in the field. In the future, the non-profit involve­ment will be strengthened because the PAJE creates bridges between all the actors involved - bridges that will enable young people to take flight on their own,” concludes Abderezzak Boucherir.