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.

Monday, April 27, 2015

“These women did not need much to defy the obstacles that existed between them and learning.”

It all started with the dream of making drinking water out of fog and by the same token, empowering women in rural Morocco. Day after day, the dream is becoming a reality. The last time I checked, the fog nets were up at the top of Boutmezguida Mountain and the fog water was flowing with profusion. With that dream coming true, women would gain the time and energy that they would normally spend on their three hours daily walks in extreme weather conditions to collect water from distant wells. Water will now flow from the taps inside their houses. However, with the advent of the fog water technology, our wish is to conserve and respect the inherent and positive norms of the community and protect women’s ancestral role as water guardians in the region. In the context of our community engagement program, a team from Dar Si Hmad was working with the women in the villages on establishing a model that would conserve their ancestral role as water guardians in their villages’ new water landscape.

In the context of Dar Si Hmad’s pre-inauguration community engagement programs, a team of five people have designed a system with and for the women that ensures their involvement in the management of their water resources in order to protect their ancestral role as water guardians in the region. That system required these women to be trained in how to communicate and solve water-related problems. For her doctoral dissertation entitled “Equitable Information Flow for a Fog Water System in Southwest Morocco”*, Dr. Leslie Dodson developed an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) based solution that helps women communicate water-related problems to Dar Si Hmad through mobile messages and phone calls. This ICT technology accommodates the cultural gender roles that limit women’s interactions with men they do not know. By directly reporting water-related issues to Dar Si Hmad through text messages or phone calls instead of dealing directly with male water managers, women will be able to safeguard their role of water guardians safely and comfortably. Due to high illiteracy and innumeracy rates, Dar Si Hmad simplified the ICT system into a visual chart that matches water-related issues with a picture and a Latin alphabet (see below). In addition to this ICT training, we have trained the women in how to fix common indoor plumbing problems.

Figure 1 : SMS visual chart given to the women that simplifies the ICT water-reporting system

 The ICT and plumbing trainings took place in nine villages in Southwest Morocco; Id Aachour, Agadir  Id Lghachi, Id Saoussen, Aguejgal, Agni N Zkri, Agni N Ihiya, Id Satour, Tamrout and Timtda and were led by a team of five people. In line with Dar Si Hmad’s participatory approach to development, a young woman from the villages joined our team to work side by side with the rest of the community engagement team in delivering the training to the rest of the women. We visited fifty-one families and sat with every single woman either in their houses or the school village or under an Argan tree for eight days. Since the large majority of the women in these villages are low literate and monolingual, we had all of our trainings in Berber and ran pre-training classes on Latin alphabets and numbers. We then proceeded with our ICT and plumbing trainings. We trained the women in how to use a phone, send a text message to report on different water problems to Dar Si Hmad and fix the common indoor plumbing problems. It was magical to see the skilful and cracked hands of these women adjust their glasses (for the few women who owned a pair), hold a phone with one hand and a paper or a wrench in another.

  The work revealed itself more pleasing than exhausting as I shared privileged moments with some of the greatest and most inspiring women I have ever met. These women did not need much to defy the obstacles that existed between them and learning; they only needed someone who could believe in them and a few opportunities. At the beginning of the training, I felt an element of doubt in the large majority of the women I interacted with because they believed they were too old and illiterate to learn Latin alphabet, use a phone or send an SMS. Facing such self-doubt and lack of confidence, our first impulse was to motivate them, show our genuine belief in them and stretch their learning assumptions. Not much later, I clearly saw a new sparkle in their look and a twist in their smiles as they felt more comfortable with the material. To me, that something in their eyes and lips looked like empowerment in its essence. But there is still a lot to be done to achieve women’s empowerment in Southwest Morocco. For instance, during the community engagement trainings, we encountered obstacles as a result of the poor phone network in all the villages, the serious low-literacy of women, the limited number of women who own a phone in a good condition and women’s poor eyesight. Women’s empowerment in rural Morocco will not be attained until we solve the problems of basic literacy, health, infrastructure and technology in the rural world.

  Until then, the women of Ait Baamrane can at least enjoy the three more hours generated by the fog water project and spend it on income-generating activities. During our training programs, we have been asking women what they wanted to do with their newly available free time. I was surprised that the income-generating projects ideas would be that popular within the female community. Before my conversations with these incredible women, I had not yet grasped how much they were eager to become financially independent and pull their families out of poverty. So I initiated informal brainstorming sessions on their desired income-generating activities. Income-generating project ideas were suggested primarily by women and girls in the villages. These ideas ranged from sewing to baking to Argan and prickly pear cooperatives. Our income-generating projects conversations have triggered thoughtful reflections on the problematic and tense relationships between the people of the villages and the importance of integrating men in the conversation of women empowerment in the region. All in all, this passionate discussion of female entrepreneurship has not ended and I hope that one day, we will be witnessing a resurgence of female entrepreneurs in the villages of Ait Baamrane.

  This community engagement program transcended the realm of mere educational training and became about empathy, trust, community spirit, entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment. After having walked many miles carrying gifts and the training’s heavy material for the families under the burning sun and the rain, I have cultivated empathy towards the hardships that these women experience every day to collect water from wells. I have also experienced genuine moments of sharing and generosity with these wonderful women who trusted us with their most personal stories and vulnerabilities. But most importantly, this community engagement experience and the women I met challenged my preconceptions about development projects, women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship and rural Morocco.

Mariam Bahmane
Volunteer at Dar Si Hmad

*Dodson, Leslie. "A Foggy Desert: Equitable Information Flow for a Fogwater System in Southwest Morocco." UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER, 2014. A Foggy Desert: Equitable Information Flow for a Fogwater System in Southwest Morocco. ProQuest LLC. Web.