This is the third year ATA has collaborated with Hands Along the Nile Development Services (HANDS) to host the “Hands American and Egyptian Professional Fellows Program” between the US and countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Last fall, ATA hosted Khadija Addaidi from Morocco and this January, Kenneth Davis, Business Development Coordinator at ATA participated in the reverse exchange. Davis represented ATA in building relationships with civil society organizations, working to empower women through economic development, and exchanging knowledge amongst these organizations and other HANDS fellows.

Kenneth’s journey to Morocco and Tunisia was filled with great learning and insights, the highlight of which was getting to see the incredible changes being made by civil society across North Africa. “I was exposed to areas outside my expertise; I learned for the first time the incredible work being done for disabled persons, the spirit of collaboration and learning between countries. My biggest takeaway though was the strengths and weaknesses of many local NGOs. While they often have the expertise, experience, and understanding to implement incredible projects, what they lack are appropriate mechanisms to receive and manage U.S. government and international funding” says Kenneth.

Kenneth had the opportunity to see many artisan projects in Morocco and Tunisia. One women’s artisan group, in particular, stands out, which worked on a project with a group from Denmark to produce high-quality handicraft goods reflecting traditional methods, materials, and style with a “modern twist.” The goods respond to changing local markets and the preferences in the European market. These products were of a particularly high quality and represented a beautiful synergy between North African and European style.

“I was really inspired by the women in both Morocco and Tunisia. The women of each country, in a unique way, have developed a powerful sisterhood that is performing the delicate balancing act of pushing for reform while honoring tradition, culture, and religious beliefs. Even as women choose to pursue very different mechanisms through which to push for progress, there is camaraderie and respect among them” says Kenneth.

While in Tunisia, David visited a women’s cooperative high in the mountains where the indigenous Berber community reside and experienced firsthand, the process of distilling the oils and waters of local herbs to sell within the city and export to European and U.S. markets. “The quality of the Rosemary Oil and the Rose Water was far beyond what is typically found in the city markets and even in more expensive western markets” adds Kenneth.

Reminiscing about the ten days spent in North Africa Kenneth recaps his experience as “incredibly valuable”. “ I learned a significant amount from both the partner organizations I visited as well as my fellow compatriots on the trip. I realize how much more work there is still to do in Morocco, Tunisia, and the U.S. as well. However, I left with a sense that the change-makers in both countries are going to let nothing stop their charge of bringing legal, social, and economic equality to their countries” concluded Kenneth.