How One Jobless Youth in Tunisia Sparked a RevolutionRead All Posts
He devoured books but preferred poetry. He was a passionate soccer fan. He liked smoking and playing cards in the local café. But the harsh reality of 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi’s life was that he couldn’t find a decent job. Desperately seeking to support his mother, aunt, and five siblings, he was reduced to selling fruit and vegetables on the street. And last month, after being confronted by a government inspector who tried to confiscate his goods—something in him broke. He poured paint thinner over his body and lit himself on fire. Mohamed’s public suicide sparked the national uprising in Tunisia that forced its autocratic president to flee and that continues to unsettle much of the Arab world—most recently in Egypt.
Of all of the recent coverage of the tumultuous events in Tunisia and across the region, I was particularly grateful to see an article this weekend in the New York Times that focused specific attention on Mohamed’s personal narrative. Too often, I find myself leaning too heavily on statistics to explain the impact of the global youth unemployment crisis—instead of trying to paint the everyday lives of these young people who are struggling so hard to make a decent living and do something positive in their lives.
I know all the numbers: that today more than 100 million young people around the world can’t find a job and are unable to support their families, with the recession forcing at least 8 million more youth into the unemployment lines. And I know that skyrocketing youth unemployment, often coupled with repressive or unresponsive governments, is not restricted to the Middle East or North Africa. Frustrated and angry youth have been taking to the streets in countries like Greece, Italy, the United Kindfom, France, and Kenya, demanding government reforms, demanding jobs, demanding a voice.
But statistics, studies, and reports—no matter what the issue—are often overwhelming. Used too often, they can push any one of us to turn the page or turn off the TV … instead of feeling moved to take action. That’s why knowing something about Mohamed’s life is so important—not only that he suffered daily humiliations in his struggle to fight against a bureaucratic and corrupt system; that his father died when he was very young, or that he had worked odd jobs since he was 10. But we also know that he liked to laugh, had recently had a girl friend, and, according to his mother, loved math even over poetry. He wanted to own a van. He had dreams. Making sure more young people like Mohamed realize theirs—before they lose all hope—is what keeps me going. And perhaps you too.