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, January 14, 2019

Reflecting On My Internship Experience: Ambar Khawaja

Written by DSH Intern: Ambar Khawaja

Ambar during her trip to the desert
I have just finished my time as an intern at Dar Si Hmad, so I wanted to reflect on the four months I spent here. I am so privileged to have had the opportunity to work with some amazing people on some amazing projects, and I will remember being here as a formative experience in my life.
Through Dar Si Hmad, I worked on two main projects, GRACE and planning the EFS 10th anniversary celebration. Both have helped me develop my professional and interpersonal skills. I learned how to be an effective teacher and manage a classroom, while still providing fun and exciting content to make my students interested in the material. I also grew from learning how to continue when things aren’t going my way.
With GRACE, I started off with around 40 girls, but due to some scheduling conflicts, about 10 girls had to drop out, leaving me with only thirty students. While slightly disheartening, I was reminded that it isn’t about the quantity but rather about the impact. With EFS, I developed the capacity to think about many different aspects of one project, particularly from the logistical side.
Ambar and some of her students (Grace beneficiaries) 
What really felt like the most insightful aspect of working here was simply being around the daily activities of a well-functioning NGO. I was surrounded by different ways of thinking, and I got to understand how gears are constantly turning even in the absence of active projects. I feel equipped with these new skills, and I am excited to see how they fare for the rest of my gap year and once I start school.
I recently walked past the hotel I stayed in during my first night in Morocco. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “wow, this doesn’t feel so daunting anymore”. Looking back at myself being terrified, too nervous to walk more than 5 feet to a restaurant, and staying hidden in the hotel, I can safely say I have grown a lot. To be completely honest, it makes me laugh. Who was she? I don’t know her anymore.
A picture from her trip to Essaouira
I remember a list of goals I wrote down before coming here, one of which included being able to hold a basic conversation with another person only in Darija, which is the colloquial Arabic spoken here. I am pleasantly surprised with my ability to communicate in Darija now and have learned quite a bit through my language classes with my tremendously helpful teacher, Lahcen. I love being able to come home and talk to my host mother about my day with her being able to understand me (for the most part).
While I am definitely going to miss being at Dar Si Hmad, I know I will be staying in touch with the organization and hope to visit it again in the future. My heart feels happy knowing that I have done good work here, and it has motivated me to continue working on what I hope to accomplish in the future.
Ambar with Dar Si Hmad Staff at her last day of the internship

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

UIRMAL 2018: A Gateway For Other Interesting Opportunities

                    Written by RISE Alumnus & DSH grantee: Ayoub Nachat


Ayoub in the last day of the conference
Before I talk about my experience with Model Arab League, a short self-introduction would be helpful. My name is Ayoub Nachat, I am 24 years old, and I am a master's student majoring in Applied Linguistics and Language Studies at Ibn Zohr University.  I am an alumnus of the RISE program 2017/2018 edition. The Rise program was very rich and interesting in terms of knowledge and the different opportunities it brought me and other alumni. 
I found the application form for the conference on Dar Si Hmad's Rise Alumni group. It was a five-page application form where I had to introduce myself, my background, my previous experiences with Model United Nations (MUN) and write four essays on different topics. I already had previous experiences with MUNs before as a delegate and a chair as well, but Model Arab League (MAL) was an opportunity for me to go through an interesting new experience. As I expected, this opportunity caused me to notice many differences between MAL and MUN. 
Ayoub during the training
After filling out the application form online, I passed the first round and I was contacted by Dar Si Hmad's staff to sit for an interview. The interview was smooth and to the point. I was asked by the interviewer, many questions along the lines of: “introduce yourself, why do you think we should select you to be part of the conference?”, and “talk about your previous experiences in MUNs?” She has also explained to me everything that has to do with logistics and what is expected from me as a delegate at the conference. 
Days later, I received an acceptance email that said I was selected to be the head delegate of the delegation sponsored by Dar Si Hmad and Fulbrighter Anna to represent Ibn Zohr University in UIRIMAL in Rabat. One week later, we started the training sessions regarding MAL's procedures and topics. The trainings were rich, inclusive, and to the point as well, but it would have been better if our university had signed us to participate to have a longer period of training since the other delegations from other countries had started training months before. However, I am still thankful to Dar Si Hmad and Anna who signed us, sponsored us and trained us in a very limited time period.
Ayoub during his visit to the parliament
On November 1st, the delegation that consisted of 4 people, University Advisor Anna Cizek, Imane Arjdal, Intissar Blila, and I, left for Rabat. After we arrived the next day, we checked into the Université International de Rabat (UIR) dorms. Later, we went to meet the other delegates in order to go to the Moroccan parliament for a cultural visit. That was a very interesting experience for both Moroccan and other delegates from different countries since we all had the chance to learn many things about the political system of Morocco and how parliament works. 
I also had the chance to serve as a translator for the guide in the parliament who was explaining everything about the parliament institution, and that was very special and meant a lot to me. Later in the evening, the opening ceremony of the UIRMAL conference started, and different speeches were delivered by the organizers of the event. 
From left to right: Intissar, Anna and Ayoub
The next morning, we started the committee debates and discussions, and I was very eager to participate as much as possible and defend the stand of the country I was representing, which was Saudi Arabia. I always try to seize such opportunities to develop both my personal and professional skills. I also made many friendships and met new people, and I would like to advise the readers to grow their networks as much as possible in such events. You will meet new people who can really inspire you and make you see the world from another perspective. 
This conference was different from other MUN experiences I’ve had before. The procedures made me feel a little bit disconnected, but I worked hard to overcome that challenge by getting into debates and lobbying with other delegates. Additionally, I had to prepare for many different and complicated topics in a short amount of time and, luckily, I managed to do that in the free time during the conference. 
Ayoub with other participants at the conference
Besides the difficulties I faced, I really loved being a delegate in UIRIMAL. First, I had the chance to meet new young, ambitious, and very nice people. Since I arrived to the university, I never felt alone. In fact, at this moment while I am writing this blog, a young guy I met at this event just sent me a message.  Another advantage of this conference that I enjoyed was the academic training. It was not easy to participate in all the debates and discussions through speaking in public, working with others, and negotiating ideas, but I had to really challenge myself to do that and improve both my personal and professional skills.
Participating in Model Arab league was a pleasure and a great experience that has taught me a lot and I am willing to make this experience a gateway for other interesting opportunities, both for me and students in my community.

Ayoub in the MAL conference

Thursday, November 29, 2018

UIRMAL 2018: A Fulfilling Process And Experience


Written by RISE Alumna & DSH grantee: Intissar Blila

Intissar in the Moroccan Parliement
“Great things never come from comfort zones”; this is what I told myself recently in order to challenge myself to get out of my shell and do things I have never done before.
Before I start telling you about my part of the story, let me introduce myself. I am Intissar Blila, a 21-year-old student attending Ibn Zohr University, studying faculty of juridical, economic and social sciences. I participated in the program for personal and professional development called “RISE & THRIVE” during the period from November 2015 until June 2016. Rise was an enriching experience which allowed me to make new friendships and learn a lot of things in each module we went through.
Friday, October the 5th, I received an email for an application from Dar Si Hmad stating that they would sponsor their Rise Program alumni to attend an international conference. I opened the email and read it and luckily I was eligible for the opportunity, but once I saw the four essays we were asked to write, I felt bad. It was the kind of feeling you get when deep inside you know you can do something but at the same time there is something that stops you.
Intissar during the training with her fellow Risers
A few hours later, I reread the application form again and asked myself, “why not, Intissar? Why would you let this opportunity slip through your fingers again?” At that moment I told myself that “this is a new challenge that you need to take up”.  After three tiring days of reading, gathering information and writing, I finally submitted the application form. I could not believe that I finally did it! 
Days later, I received an email which told me that I passed the first application phase and that I was accepted and needed to come to Dar Si Hmad for an interview. The interview was also scheduled on a Friday! I still remember how stressed I was while walking to the Dar Si Hmad office. On that day I got the chance to meet Anna Cizek, an amazing woman who marked this whole experience. She asked me different questions concerning my essays and gave me more details about the conference.
Finally, I received another email where I was informed that I was one of the three people whom Dar Si Hmad would sponsor to represent Ibn Zohr University at the Arab Model League Conference, organised at the International University of Rabat. Weeks before heading to Rabat, we had many training sessions with our university advisor and Dar Si Hmad Intern, Anna, who helped us broaden our understanding of parliamentary procedure and the Model Arab League in general, in addition to the country which we were going to represent, which was Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, Anna helped us boost our self-confidence with different exercises. It was in these sessions that I met Ayoub and Imane, the two other lucky chosen students!
Intissar during the MAL conference
Once we got to Rabat, we were warmly welcomed by the organisers of the conference. On the first day, we visited the Moroccan parliament, and for the two other days, they were busy and full of hard work in the committee sessions. It was difficult and challenging at the very beginning but was still a fulfilling process and experience.
I cannot put into words or describe the significant impact this experience had on me. Not only did it show me that when I really want something I will surely do it, but it also gave me the opportunity to live unforgettable moments and meet amazing people I could not have met otherwise. 
From left to right : Anna, Imane, Intissar and Ayoub

UIRMAL 2018: A Challenge That I Was Able To Overcome

Written by RISE Alumna & DSH grantee:
Imane Arjdal 
Imane at Model Arab League conference
Participating in an international conference has always been a goal for me. My involvement in Model Arab League (MAL) is a story of personal interest, institutional support, and faculty-advisor mentoring and training. Model Arab League is a multi-regional competition where students from across the world learn about and compete as representatives for member states of the Arab League. Through Dar Si Hmad, I was able to reach this goal.
My name is Imane Arjdal, and I’m 20 years old. I am in my second year at Ecole Supérieure de Technologie, majoring in business management. I am also a former RISER from Rise 2018, the contemporary issues, critical thinking, and creative expression program. 
Imane during the training led by Anna
When I first got the email from Dar Si Hmad informing me that they wanted to sponsor RISE alumni to attend this conference, I felt hesitant to apply because I thought I didn’t have any experience in politics or defending country policies, but after more thinking and encouragement from a friend, I finally decided to apply. The process of applying was difficult, but it was an opportunity for me to increase my knowledge about different subjects and to enhance my skills in public speaking and diplomacy. I wrote four different essays for the application related to my chosen council, which was Arab Social Affairs.
I got accepted to attend the MAL after a highly-competitive application and an intensive interview, so I considered this conference as a challenge that helped me step out of my comfort zone and learn more. Before attending the conference, Dar Si Hmad provided us with a training held by their intern Anna Cizek, who was also our instructor and Ibn Zohr University advisor. She taught us everything about the MAL, starting from what it is, to parliamentary procedures, and how to talk and debate in the council sessions. Since it was my first time doing Model Arab League, the sessions were extremely helpful. After two weeks of training, the time had come for us to travel to the International University of Rabat (UIR). My feelings were scattered, jumping from stress to excitement.
Imane and her faculty advisor Anna and colleagues Ayoub and Intissar
After a long night on the bus from Agadir to Rabat, we finally made it to the university, which became very fascinating to me. The participants came from a variety of universities from all over the world, including Georgia State University, NYU Abu Dhabi, AALIM center, Wilmington College, UIR, and Ibn Zohr University, which was represented by our team.
The first day of the conference was the most interesting because we got to visit the Moroccan parliament and network with the other participants for the first time. In the evening, we attended the UIRMAL opening ceremony and listened to a lecture about “challenges, transition, and promise for sustainable development in the Arab world “discussed by the UNIC Rabat director. Afterwards, many other professors gave speeches, one of which was a welcoming speech held by Dr. Aaron Ashby, the director of the UIRMAL conference.
A visit by some of the participants to the Moroccan Parliament 
Model Arab League had more than four sessions a day that were two hours each. Going through my first session was really hard due to me being unfamiliar with the procedures. In the sessions, we got to debate, discuss and come up with new policies for our council’s agenda points as representatives of Model Arab League countries.
I represented the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a challenging country that I had so much fun representing in the end. As the sessions advanced, I became more and more efficient at debating and discussing new policies about the issue in front of us. With the encouragement of my faculty advisor, Anna Cizek, and the chair of our council, Carissa, supporting me from afar during the sessions, my confidence increased.
Imane during the conference
Being a part of Model Arab League’s second edition was a life-changing experience. From applying to debating, discussing my ideas, and helping write position papers as a sponsor, everything felt like a challenge that I was able to overcome. Not only was this experience an opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone, debate, and talk in front of people, but it was also an opportunity to learn and increase my knowledge on political developments throughout the Arab world, diplomacy, and parliamentary procedure.
I developed important skills like critical thinking and how to assume leadership in a group, not to mention that I met amazing people from different nationalities and I have got to learn more about their life, culture, language, and perspectives.
Model Arab League was an unforgettable experience. I returned to Agadir with both new experiences and new friends. I want to thank Dar Si Hmad for sponsoring me to attend this conference that I will be forever grateful for, and I hope to work with them again in the future.
Imane with fellow participants at the Social Affairs Council

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Learning Across Continents: Promoting American Values

Written by Fulbright ETA  & DSH Intern:
Anna Cizek

Anna at the Arab League Conference in Rabat 
As a new member of Dar Si Hmad’s team, I see that an introduction is in hand. My name is Anna Cizek, and I am from Chicago, Illinois. Although, I have spent the majority of the past five years traveling abroad or studying in Macon, Georgia. In 2017, I came to Morocco for the first time. Despite the fact that there was more snow in Ifrane than I had ever seen in Chicago, I yearned for the opportunity to come back once my five-month study abroad had finished.
I am in Morocco today, because those ambitions came to light, and in the spring of 2018, I was awarded a Fulbright Grant. Having lived in Morocco for a total of eight months thus far, I feel confident in my assessment that it is truly an amazing country. The hospitality I have experienced, although commonplace amongst Middle Eastern and North African countries, is truly something unique in the world. I cannot express how grateful I am to be in a country with kind and welcoming people. I have always found it imperative to be grateful for opportunities.
Anna while she was visiting Marrakech
Considering that the hard-earned money of American taxpayers and donors has funded my Grant in Morocco, I feel obliged to take my responsibility seriously as a representative of the United States. As a result, I will give further insight into one initiative I have led to put those finances to good use while simultaneously promoting American values.
Recently, I had the ability to take one of my biggest opportunities full circle. Throughout University, I was fortunate to have professors invest their time and energy into my professional development through extra-curricular activities. One of these clubs was Model Arab League. As a youth leadership development program, Model Arab League aims to equip students to be successful speakers, debaters, and writers while collaborating in an international context.
During my first conference in 2016, I represented the policies and perspectives of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I went on to represent other Arab countries, organize a conference through the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, and finally take three of my Moroccan students to their first conference.
Anna with our Risers in Rabat Model Arab League
As I am currently on a flight to Jordan, I recognize the doors that can open with both hard work and attuned mentorship. I am very grateful to have been given instruction on both of these fronts over the years. American culture encourages and rewards those who work hard in pursuit of their goals. However, the American Dream is not a universal concept, so in many countries, hope and ambition fall short. Unfortunately, this resonates with my students, as few of them optimistically perceive their futures to be full of possibilities.
The Rabat Model Arab League opened my eyes to the challenges facing young Moroccan students. Originally, I thought my attendance as a faculty advisor would entail instructing and encouraging my students. However, it is possible that I learned even more than the three of them that weekend. During the four-day conference, I was able to compare and contrast my Moroccan students with American students the same age and adapt my teaching accordingly.
My students were three of six Moroccans at the conference of nearly fifty people. The fact that the conference was held in Rabat sheds light upon that stark contrast. When my students (aka RISE Program Alumni) told me that teachers rarely spend time with them outside of class, I could not help but think of the numerous teachers who have invited me into their homes, and invested time in me over the years. Taking my students to their first Model Arab League conference was the least I could do to share the opportunities I have been fortunate to receive.
Anna and our RISE Alumni

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

How GRACE came to be

Written by DSH Intern: Ambar Khawaja
First session of GRACE Program
If I could think of one reason why I am where I am today, it would be the multitude of strong female role models and mentors in my life. It has always been difficult to find representation of women that is versatile, powerful, and inspiring, but I am privileged to have seen and experienced women from all walks of life, each changing the world in their own way.
When I was musing over the kind of work I wanted to do during my gap year, I created a list of criteria my work had to meet in order for me to feel fulfilled. The key words were empowering, creative, and difficult yet possible. I chose empowering because I believe that women deserve to have choices in their lives, and what they choose should be up to them. I chose creative because this adjective encompasses all things the imagination can think of, and without imagination, the world would be stagnant. Lastly, the phrase, “difficult yet possible” was coined because I wanted to step far outside my comfort zone and try things that I had never done before. The work I wanted to do had to be feasible and able to be effectively implemented into whatever community I chose to work in. 
Ambar while she is teaching one of her classes
My original plan was to teach yoga and women’s empowerment to girls, but after talking with Jamila, the executive director of Dar Si Hmad, we realized this was not going to be possible. The language barrier between the girls and I was too difficult, so we decided to modify the program. We agreed upon teaching English because it was both achievable and something the girls needed but lacked outside of their schooling.
With help from Soufian, DSH project manager, and Hafida, DSH communication manager, we worked together pitch the idea to the school, develop a 2-month lesson plan for teaching the girls, and generate an acronym that reflected our vision. This is how GRACE (Girls Read And Communicate in English) was created.
Ambar and Hafida at the school supervisor's office
I have one group on Wednesdays and another on Fridays, totalling around 40 girls, and my classes last an hour and a half. It felt like a positive sign that we launched the first session only a few days after the international day of the girl. The first two classes mostly consisted of me adjusting to the different attitudes of the students and getting comfortable and confident teaching in front of the groups. Hafida was by my side for the first two classes, communicating the important information to the girls in Darija, but now I’m teaching solo for the rest of my sessions.
It has been quite the learning curve experience but hearing from the girls’ English teacher that they really enjoyed it and that more wanted to join made me feel like I was making an authentically positive impact, rather than falsely being helpful with good intentions. I really have never met such eager students who want to learn and answer questions like these girls.


Ambar and the english teacher
Ms Asmaa Ait Youssef
 In the second session, there were a few girls who had accidentally entered the classroom without realizing I was going to be teaching. They didn’t tell us until around halfway through the class, and when we asked them if they wanted to leave, they declined. They wanted to stay and do the activities with the rest of the class and when they had to leave early because of their schedules, they still wanted to show me their work before they left. My heart was overflowing, and I couldn’t stop smiling because I realized I had finally met all my criteria for meaningful work during my gap year.
I am very excited to see where this project goes, and my hope is that after I leave Dar Si Hmad, GRACE will grow to reach more girls with the help of future interns. Other schools were interested in the program, but it cannot be expanded right now because of lack of time and resources (there is only one of me); however, I will continue to give my all to the amazing girls I have been given the privilege to work with and hope that at the end of my time here, they will be more confident in their English abilities. And who knows, maybe that confidence will spread to other areas of their lives.
A selfie with one of the classes

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Learning Across Continents: America sharing knowledge with Africa


Written by DSH Fellow Katie Tyler

Katie is a recent graduate from Princeton and a fellow of Labouisse Fellowship. She is working with Dar Si Hmad on the capacity building project for NGO's .

Dar Si Hmad Intern Katie Tyler
A little more than five years ago, I found out that I had received the opportunity of a lifetime. Thanks to the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), I had been awarded a scholarship to study Arabic in Marrakech. I had never lived outside of the U.S. before, and I was excited for the chance to be immersed in studying a foreign language. At the end of my six-week experience, I was able to speak Modern Standard Arabic a little better, but I wanted to continue improving my language skills.
When I entered college the following year, I knew that I wanted to continue studying Arabic and different cultures of the Middle East and North Africa. Becoming a Near Eastern Studies (more commonly known as Middle Eastern Studies) major at Princeton University was an obvious choice for my course of study.
During my third year of college, I spent a year writing an independent research paper the reconstruction of Agadir after the 1960 earthquake. Reading books about Moroccan history and newspaper archives from Agadir reminded me of how much I missed living in Morocco. Based on my experiences interning at a youth homeless shelter in Newark, New Jersey, I also knew that I wanted to gain more experience in working with nonprofit organizations that fight poverty. 
A mosque in Agadir (Taken by Katie)
I was lucky enough to attend a university that is able to support my career aspirations to work in sustainable development abroad. I am able to work in Agadir with Dar Si Hmad thanks to the Labouisse Fellowship, named after Princeton alum Henry R. Labouisse, who was most notably awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his work as the president of UNICEF. The Labouisse Fellowship provides graduating Princeton seniors with the funding to pursue a yearlong project in international development in partnership with a local nonprofit organization.
Henry R. Labouisse
I reached out to the former NSLI-Y program coordinator for advice on finding a partnership with a Moroccan organization, and she enthusiastically recommended Dar Si Hmad. When I researched Dar Si Hmad’s work to provide water to rural communities and empower young people, I did not hesitate to get in touch. I worked with Jamila Bargarch, Dar Si Hmad’s Executive Director, and Maisie Breit, the former EFS Manager, to devise a plan for how I would use the Labouisse Fellowship to support some of the organization’s new projects during my time in Morocco.  After spending so many hours reading and writing about Agadir it felt surreal to be moving to the city for an entire year in late June.

One of the main projects that I am working on here at Dar Si Hmad is the new capacity building project. I am working closely with Jamila and Hafida Mazoud, DSH’s Communications Officer, to design and implement an eight-month-long training series for a group of small associations in Agadir, Tiznit and Sidi Ifni regions. Our beneficiaries are working with a diverse range of issues, such as literacy in refugee communities, women’s empowerment through income-generating initiatives, the preservation of cultural manuscripts, and the use of solar energy in villages. In the training, we will cover topics such as administration, financial management, and program management.
Our Intern Katie and
Communication officer Hafida
The goal of this project is to equip local leaders with stronger management skills so that they can expand their organizations’ reach and social impact more effectively. Each participant will develop and implement a new project or campaign by the program’s conclusion in June. We intend to equip participants with the tools to materialize their visions to change their communities. We are also committed to incorporating principles of environmental sustainability and gender inclusion throughout the project. I am especially hopeful that this capacity building workshop will continue to benefit communities in southern Morocco long after my fellowship concludes.      
In addition to my work on the capacity building project, I am assisting Jamila with research on Dar Si Hmad’s ongoing fog project. Outside of the office, I enjoy trying delicious new pastries from the bakeries around Agadir and going to BodyPump classes. I am improving my Darija, and I have recently started learning Tachelhit with Lahcen, a teacher who partners with Dar Si Hmad. I wrote my undergraduate thesis about how Tuareg communities attained mass literacy in the Tifinagh script, so I always try to read the Tachelhit signs written in the Tifinagh script around the city. 
If you see me in the DSH office, I am always excited to hear new recommendations on books about Morocco, as I am trying to learn as much as I can during my stay here! 
 Katie at the office