The Etoile Culturelle d’Akbou Association is at the forefront of youth citizenship education. Having formed the first Municipal Youth Council in 2012, this association has reinforced the concept and expanded throughout Algeria with the help of the European Union.
Akbou, the main industrial city of the Soummam Valley, at the heart of Kabylie. The city centre is celebrating the end of Ramadan. Every evening, hundreds of people rush to the Abderrahmane-Farès Youth Centre to attend performances as part of the 13th Amazigh Theatre Festival. This event, which brings together Berber theatre troupes from throughout Algeria, has become a genuine institution. The initiative was the brainchild of the Etoile Culturelle d’Akbou Association.
Culture, theatre, youth, poetry, the environment, citizenship, education, health, integration, leisure, prevention of exclusion and much more, the association serves as a true driving force. The members of the Etoile Culturelle also know how to put their innovation and creativity to good use. They were responsible for launching the first Municipal Youth Council in Algeria, in 2012.
The association has its headquarters at the Akbou Cultural Centre, just opposite the Abderrahmane-Farès Youth Centre. That is where we meet Dorya Akouche. Aged 16, she belongs to this group of young people dedicated to helping their community. The high school student reflects on her journey with pride: “I’ve been coming to Etoile Culturelle association since I was 7 years old. I’ve taken part in theatre and many other activities. I’ve also learnt how to use a camera and I’ve become a specialist in audio-visual production”. Dorya is part of the team responsible for filming the Amazigh Theatre Festival. She has many interests, “I am interested in childhood, nature and scientific questions”.
These passions have naturally led her to join the Municipal Youth Council of Akbou (CCJ). “I’ve been a CCJ member for a few months. What I like is being able to put forward activities which help the citizens of Akbou, and having access to the Municipal Assembly.”
Dorya mentions one of the Municipal Youth Council instigated initiatives which she took part in: “Nature Week”. “It is a campaign which aims to raise awareness among local people about managing plastic waste. We worked with a company which specialises in waste recovery and processing. We can say that our actions have been successful because many households have started sorting their waste. The various types of plastic are no longer mixed in with the other waste”.
Getting into politics? “Why not”, replies Dorya with a broad grin. “If I get involved in politics in the future, I’d like to work on human rights, especially children’s and woman’s rights”. In the short term, the high school student aims to stand for election to the Youth Council board in the vote planned for next year. Dorya says her goodbyes; she has to get back to the Youth Centre to film the festival closing performance by the Béjaïa regional theatre troupe.
A key partner
It is now the turn of Micipsa Bentifraoui, the President of Akbou Municipal Youth Council, to give us a little of his time. Aged 18, the young student takes his role very seriously. “The CCJ is a bridge between young people in the city and the local authorities. We aim to organise tangible actions, such as collecting toys for children in hospital or collecting school items and books for disadvantaged children”, explains Micipsa. The CCJ also plays a central role in organising events. During the planning stages of the Amazigh Theatre Festival, its members approached the city council to organise permits, venues and transport.
He believes that Akbou City Council view the CCJ as a key partner. “We have a good relationship with the politicians. What’s more, this year the Municipal Youth Council has received funding from the annual municipal budget. That’s a first in Algeria”, he says, proudly.
The development of the CCJ concept has required input from several partners. The European Union has played a central role in promoting youth participation in the running of the city. “Citizenship education is at the heart of our work. Therefore, EU involvement has enabled us to reinforce the skills of members of the association involved in developing the CCJ”, explains Mouloud Salhi, President of the Etoile Culturelle d’Akbou association.
The relationship between the two parties began in 2002 with our participation in the Euromed Youth Programme and then the ONG2 Programme. “It is thanks to the contribution of the European Commission what we have been able to reinforce our members’ skills in terms of managing project cycles, communication, financial and administrative management, developing intercultural skills and living together”, notes Mouloud Salhi. Through their involvement, the EU has “added value to our programmes, in particular the advisory youth council”.
The Etoile Culturelle association has gone beyond the geographic confines of Akbou, in order to spread the CCJ concept. Today, Municipal Youth Councils exist over a thousand kilometres from the Soummam Valley, in the cities of Tindouf and Illizi.
The association is currently involved in a series of European Union Initiatives: SPOTS (Sustainable Projects for Organisations in the Third Sector); the “Reinforcing the skills of Algerian local authorities in terms of local youth policy making” project; the HVM project, which is part of “EU aid volunteers” and the DEMAR (Democracy, Future, Roots) Project.
Yannis Airouche is a true product of the Etoile Culturelle d’Akbou. Aged 34, the treasurer of the association believes that there is a change in mood among young people in the city. “As a mentor, I see this change on a daily basis. Every day, I see young people who want to launch various initiatives such as informal groups, clubs and associations. Young people are also actively participating in events which support their community. This strong mobilisation is a clear sign that young people are asserting their citizenship”.