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/

Monday, March 10, 2014

Memory and Revival of Agadir, Morocco Through Cinema

Association Dar Si Hmad organized a film screening and a cinema workshop from February 27th through March 1st. On the first day we screened the documentary film Agadir 1960: Un rêve en couleur (Agadir 1960: A Colorful Dream) by Mr. Brahim Amzil. For the two remaining days Mr. Amzil conducted a cinema workshop for interested students.

We remembered how on February 29th, 1960 a devastating earthquake hit Agadir at midnight and in less than 15 seconds rendered parts of the city to rumbles. It is considered the most destructive earthquake in the 20th century, reaching a VI intensity and losing over third of the city’s inhabitants. Some neighborhoods and parts of Agadir lost 95% of their population such as the Kasbah (famous now for being Agadir Oufflla), Talborjt and Ihshash.

The documentary film or the “historical piece,” as participating Dr. Fatima Bensalem named it, braids the discarded pieces of the forgotten history of Agadir prior to the natural disaster. The screening brought together some of the earthquake survivors, young people, Amazigh activists and researchers.  The moment was intense; one of remembering, mourning and celebrating the lives of those who died that night. Now and after hearing all these stories, I am much more conscious that the land I walk on carries the souls of many people who lost their lives during the earthquake and who did not receive proper burial ceremonies.

We were humbled by the presence of the filmmaker, Mr. Amzil, along with three protagonists from the film, Larbi Babahadi, Lahcen Roussafi and Marie-France Dartois. They all engaged with the audience in a very fruitful and valuable discussion. The protagonists shared with us their intimate stories, nostalgia, impressions, hopes and feelings about the film.

The audience noted how Agadir is currently missing an important part of its history; there has been a forced forgetting of this event. While walking in Agadir one does not perceive signs that relates this place to its old history and to the trauma it has gone through. For instance, Agadir Oufella, previously the Kasbah, is a historical monument which lacks the adequate preservation or historical showcasing. When visiting this site today, there is no background information or the story of the Kasbah that was destroyed because of the natural disaster. It is disappointing that the historical site has been reduced to a location filled with vendors selling fake jewelry and orientalist images for tourism. We were impressed by this documentary and we encourage the youth to model such initiative in order to preserve the history and the culture of Agadir.

Fatima Matousse
Language Instructor and Film Education Program Coordinator at Dar Si Hmad