Whilst researching participatory approaches to development during my second year at university, I came across the Center for Community-Consensus Building and Sustainable Development; a partnership of University Hassan II and the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) in Mohammedia. The Center takes a participatory approach to facilitating development in the city of Mohammedia which is central to sustainable development: the Center helps communities to actualise their own development initiatives by reinforcing their skills and knowledge with technical or scientific knowledge, which in turn assists the people to realise their own potential and increases their self-reliance. This reminded me of the idiom: ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime’. A concept from which, I believe, many successful development initiatives have been born.
By day 2 of my internship, I found myself in the car on the way to Sidi Moussa Ben Ali: one of the four rural communes out of six communes in Mohammedia. We were going to meet the Salma Association of Development and Integration for the first time and thus the aim of the meeting was to give the members a presentation of the HAF program, to evaluate the members’ requirements, and to discuss with the members the components which constitute a successful project.
Prior to the meeting, I had assumed that there would be a gender and age bias. How wrong I was!There were only 2 men present and 5 women; the majority of whom were young. Furthermore, the meeting, though conducted in the formal classical Arabic, was very informal: everyone spoke freely from their hearts and there was equal participation from all members during the discussion which was ensured by the roles of Mouhssine Tadlaoui-Cherki, program director of the Center; Safae Lacheheb, training co-ordinator; and Younes Khitouch, program facilitator.
The meeting began with the members of the Salma Association describing their commune to us. They explained that their main source of income is agriculture and this is helped by their proximity to the river which means the land is fertile and therefore very productive. They also explained that they are based in a strategic location between Casablanca and Mohammedia, but their access to the local markets is hindered by the lack of infrastructure: roads and bridges. Then a discussion followed in which the criteria of a successful development project were discussed and it was agreed by the members of the Salma Association that projects which include a participatory approach to development were more likely to succeed than those that do not. Subsequently, the members of the Salma Association decided the project they would like to undertake would be to raise goats to produce cheese which they could then sell to the local market. They explained that they felt this would be a good way to maximise profits as there is a demand for the cheese and also the cost involved would be limited. Mouhssine suggested using the Alpine goat as it is a breed of domestic goat which is known for its milking ability, and the members of the Salma Association asked for assistance to find a trainer who would be able to help them convert the milk to cheese. Mouhssine explained that the Center would remain in close contact with the Salma Association: monitoring and helping to develop and expand the project as required.
The discussion then turned to the priorities of the town; the state of current facilities and institutions and what they were lacking or in need of. These included: wells to irrigate all the land because the river is not able to do so; maintenance of sanitary facilities in the local primary school; construction of a wall around the school to protect the children; maintenance and construction of bridges and roads so residents are able to travel with safety and ease; and help to contact the responsible national co-operation agency to renew the agreement between them and the Salma Association so that the association is able to continue to use the premises as a base from which they can conduct their work.The meeting concluded with dates being set for the Center and Salma Association to have weekly training sessions and meetings, and the Salma Association will be informing all civil society organisations in the town about the weekly training meetings so as to increase the number of participants and in turn beneficiaries.
As a final year international development student at a university in London, I have only ever been exposed to second hand field experience: reading about or watching the account of another development advocate’s field experience. This was my first ever experience of development and it was one I will never forget. It proved to be an experience of great value not only to my studies but also to my personal development. I witnessed the importance of, not just including but, making sure that citizens play an actively leading role in making the decisions which affect their lives; for it is only through their support and acceptance that such decisions can succeed. I was also enlightened by the attitudes held by people, who I believe to be beacons in the modern world which is lacking humanity, on the concept of a civic duty; they believe it to be an obligation even though it is a self-imposed moral responsibility.
by Zaynab Osman
Intern with HAF at the Center for Community-Consensus Building and Sustainable Development, Mohmmedia