Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture is an independent nonprofit organization founded in 2010 promoting local culture and sustainable initiatives through education and the integration of scientific ingenuity in Southwest Morocco. We operate North Africa's largest fog harvesting project, providing villages with access to potable water. Our Water School and Girls' E-Learning Programs build capacity in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. Through our Ethnographic Field School, researchers and students engage with local communities in Agadir, Sidi Ifni, and the rural Aït Baamrane region for meaningful cross-cultural exchange.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Dar Si Hmad Reflection on Development

Recently the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released their annual letter.  This letter has really stirred a lot of emotions and discussion in our office.  It has prompted us to stop, take a moment and think about the work and projects we do with the rural population of the Ait Baamrane.  In their letter, Bill and Melinda Gates highlight the extremely important fact that development work has changed positively the face of the world, that it has, indeed, eradicated diseases, improved standards of livelihoods, created economic opportunities for large, underprivileged, sections of human societies.  These are achievements we quickly dismiss to only highlights shortcomings, problems, challenges and gaps facing the world.  The Gates demonstrate how these positive steps have been achieved and the impact they continue having on the world-populations today. The Gates’ argument is that we are often blind to the achievements, to the positive outcomes and quickly underline the lacks and the missing components.  We surely focus on how half-empty the cup is, but we forget or disregard that the cup is equally half-full, that lives have been saved and standards improved.  
The mission of our organization is the creation of conditions that enable the emergence of more equitable living for the poorer region of Southwest Morocco where we work.  Regions where there is no water, few roads, very limited schooling or health access.  I will pass on the means on how we work to achieve these equitable conditions, but we have always thought of ourselves as a sort of loop, at the service of our communities, connecting them and helping them gain access to and benefit from various scientific discoveries and help adopt and adapt the positive aspects of modernity.  The philosophy of our work is rooted in respect of human dignity and care for our environment.  

This letter from the Gates Foundation made us stop and think in a different way.  We, at Dar Si Hmad, have always dismissed the bigot assumption that scientific progress is too sophisticated for the rural world.  We have always argued that contemporary ICTs are ideal tools for enhancing better living conditions, and for accepting change within conservative environments.  While we are always conscious of our mission, this letter caused us to reconsider what it is that nurtures our work; it gave us the possibility to reflect on who we are and what we do in very positive ways, looking at the cup half-full.
In the work we carry in our office, deadlines are of paramount importance.  Search for funding, proposing daring, innovative (almost radical ideas) occupies our days and our thoughts.  When we wrap-up the conceptional part of a given project after having worked with the potential beneficiaries and learned from them, we go once more to the field with a sense of expectation, we work with partners and are pressured by deadlines, guidelines and outcomes.  There is often a sense of ambient urgency, but we do not bring the distinction of positive-negative impacts to the table, this has remained un-seen so far.  This letter made us think of the necessity of considering this binary as an important cue, or better yet, compass to guide the work.  

The tasks will be accomplished either way, but whether the attitude we work with is steeped in positive, hopeful expectation or if it stems out of a sense of urgency and a logic of lack, make a world of difference in how we do the work and how we evaluate it.  When it is the positive attitude and hopeful seeds are sowed, the results seem to be happier, we seem to be happier having been nurtured by positiveness instead of urgency or panic.  Thank you to the Gates Foundation for helping us shift working out of pressing urgency of lack to celebrating our achievements and adding to those before us.

Jamila Bargach
Link to the 2014 Gates Annual Letter: http://annualletter.gatesfoundation.org/