Haythem Dellai: Knowledge is Power

Haythem Dellai shares his story of how he made an important change in his life. His desire for self improvement positively impacted him, and motivates him to reach higher for his goals every day. He also encourages youth to use all that they have learned to contribute to the world. A native of Tunisia, he dispels stereotypes associated with his culture. Haythem explains how he developed into a self-aware and critically-minded individual beyond the classroom. He hopes to go back to Tunisia to run for public office in hopes of inspiring change for future generations. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.


“The radical change in my life started in 2013 when I was preparing to sit for my baccalaureate exam. I was studying mathematics, science and physics, which were subjects that I never liked and I will never like! And I feel more comfortable with studying literature, civilization, and history. Well at that year, my grandma passed away and at the end I didn’t get a good average. And I was assigned to an institute rather than a university among the universities of the capitol, because my score didn’t allow me to enter these universities. So I studied three years in the higher institutes of human sciences and languages of Jeduwah which was located in the northwestern part of my country, which is about fifty kilometers from my city.

During the summer of 2013, I made a good step forward in my life. I decided to change the wavework of how I think, to be a practical person rather than just making promises and then letting them go away in the wind. So since 2013 I decided to work harder than I used to do in the past. And thanks to these decisions, every year (in the three years of studying English) I was the top one in the department of English Literature and Civilization and I graduated with the best average in the university. I want to say my family is the best, they are very great. My father served forty years in the military. My mom doesn’t get the chance to continue her education, but she was a great mother. I have a great brother who is working as a translator in Qatar for Toyota company. My oldest sister is also an English teacher, and my other sister is an engineer of chemistry.

When I tell many people that my father was a military officer, they believe that oh, he must be a strict person. I say no because I was brought up in a family that believes greatly in communication, and trying to convince the other using a good argument rather than giving orders. Well the culture of Tunisians, some people don’t know a lot about my country. Tunisians are secular people in their lifestyle. This means you can find someone drinking beer and talking about politics, and at the same time people respecting their religion. I mean, religion and politics in Tunisia are separate.

When it comes to the issues in my country, I am interested in politics. I have always been struggling with the local counsel with the problems of my association to help us finance one of the projects that we want to bring up change within the community. One of my near programs in the future is to be the mayor of our city, because I really see a lot of flaws affecting the lives of citizens there. And I think it is the moment to allow youth to take decisions by themselves. And just to use the experience as advisors because we really need their help. But I think in Tunisia and the other Arab countries, it is time to allow youth who have been studying for hundreds of years, to take part in how they see the world. And to practice what they have in their minds, because the way that the old are still thinking is no longer working for the benefit of our countries.

For me, the core message that I want to say to anyone that is going to listen to me is that before you talk, just try to listen and observe the other person in what he is saying and do not judge. Secondly, keep trying and struggle until the end. Because as long as you struggle, you will get it and you will understand what you are struggling for. And you will discover great things that you have never discovered about yourself.”

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