In the beginning of the Arab Spring, we were contacted by several Tunisian researchers from Luxembourg and France who wanted to return to Tunisia, and rebuild their country bit by bit. Together, we connected with local NGOs Un toit pour tous and Mashreq Shams to explore the potential of local crafts being used to generate an economy in the rural areas of southern Tunisia, thus funding community development.
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The people of around the city of Gafsa used to be nomadic berbers and settled in the arid hills in central Tunisia. The homes are simple, people own little but have a rich culture. There is very little work available locally, the men tend to work in the capital of Tunis, mostly in construction jobs that don't require an educational background. A medical dispensary was lacking, and water wells would improve general health of the community. Drinking water is collected from open cisterns that are fed by rainwater, but also collecting everything else. The result is diarrhea, general health issues and intestinal worms.
On arrival, we brought suitcases of reading and school books for the elementary school and educational equipment. Ali Ben Yahia, founder of un toit pour tous, introduced us to the community and their projects - building a medical dispensary, cisterns for people's homes and water wells. We spent a week in the area, exploring the community, visiting homes and planning on potential design and product solutions based on people's cultural heritage, skills and the respect of their local history and beliefs.
The planned result is a series of locally crafted products, mostly made by women, who can sell these goods in larger cities and make a fair living of their individual skills, while staying close to their families and having access to medical care, clean water and a school.