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Rising to the challenge

E. Jardin & C. Schoch

Housna Elfarj est docteur en géographie. Après un crochet vers la sociologie, elle a pénétré le milieu socio-éducatif.

"Geography is at the crossroads of the sciences, whether they are human or natural sciences. I chose this discipline for its diversity," explains Housna Elfarj. Her academic career started in Casablanca. During her masters, she brilliantly passed the selection process and obtained a government scholarship to do her doctorate in France. With 150 € per month, a few addresses and savings, Housna landed in Rouen. The culture, the language, the studies... immersion was difficult. Thanks to the support received from colleagues she met at the Geography Institute, Housna stuck it out through the first year and decided to go on with her doctorate. Her subject: "The Socio-Spatial Mutations of a Southeast Moroccan Region: the Gheris Valley," sent her back into the field. Returning to France to sort and analyze the accumulated data, at the same time, she worked as a babysitter, waitress at a restaurant, distributed leaflets... a necessary evil? "It was a temporary solution that gave me a place in society and enabled me to form deep friendships."

In 1996, she finished her degree. What can you do with a PhD in geography? "I was advised to go into higher education but I had no contacts either in Morocco or in France. As soon as you start working on a doctorate, you have to think about building a network if you hope to get a university job," Housna advises. Given her isolation, she could forget about the university. Another problem: her training as a geographer seemed to lack specialization in the eyes of recruiters. So Housna took an additional graduate degree in urban sociology. It was a good idea, because the label of sociologist and a few tips open the doors to schools in social work. Temporary teaching contracts here and there, workshops to lead... Housna did a string of jobs but didn't suffer from the instability because she experienced it as a great freedom, despite the fluctuating income. However, she continued to explore jobs in the socio-educational milieu and in 2001, via a specialized job website (Actualités sociales hebdomadaires), she was hired by an association, the CPCV, to lead educational activities among pupils having very different skills and had no trouble doing so. "Doctoral studies teach us to deal with a variety of situations, rising to challenges that we consider intellectual challenges," Housna explains.

In March 2007, within the same organization, she accepted a new mission: to coordinate social initiatives, one being emergency housing in Paris. Now Housna juggles between supervision of the people in the shelter and answering calls for projects. No easy task at a time when associations are no longer the only ones to deal with social problems, but it is possible "if one anticipates the needs and the forms of assistance and especially if you don't forget that to live together, what really counts is showing solidarity to make the world a fair place."