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.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Team Tagut: Exploring the Sociocultural Elements of Sustainable Water Technologies

For three weeks in July and August, a team of students – dubbed Team Tagut – from Worchester Polytechnic Institute (Massachusetts, USA) joined Dar Si Hmad in Agadir and Sidi Ifni. The team’s goal was to design an electronic game and textbook to teach students about the human elements of engineering for developing communities featuring our fog harvesting project.

Eid Al-Fitr on the beach of Agadir with Team Tagut
Faculty leader Rob Krueger explains: “The project we are working on here is an electronic textbook based broadly on the themes of gender, development, and water. The text book will have several components. First, it relates the story of a fog water harvesting project in Southern Morocco that was a decade in the making that involved villagers, men and women, an NGO, Dar Si Hmad, and many other actors to pull off, including a world leading researcher in fog water harvesting... This story is not a simple one involving fog nets, pipes, pumps, and other forms of infrastructure, it involves people's ways of life and how they could change as a result of the project. Second, it provides students the opportunity to inhabit a character that was involved in the project in the course of a role playing game. Our interviews, photos, and videos, are designed to inform a student of the different perspectives different actors have in these processes. Hopefully, it will teach compassion, too, especially between the western and Muslim world. The textbook also provides learning opportunities for simple programming (not my area!), computational methods, and reading data sets. Finally, the textbook will be presented in a way that it could be adopted to college students, high school students, and even grade school students who's teachers use "STEAM" methods of teaching (science, technology, engineering, ARTS, and Math). It's an ambitious project, to be sure. 
By bringing these components together I hope we can help educate more culturally and socially literate engineers, bring more underrepresented groups to STEM related fields, and teach students with a liberal arts orientation computational literacy. It was Werner Heisenberg or Albert Einstein who said that, "nature only responds to those questions we ask", well, if we have more liberal arts students who are STEM-literate and more STEM students who are culturally sensitive we might develop more human-environment centered outcomes from our infrastructure projects than merely technologically elegant ones.”

WPI students share breakfast with Marouane and Najib
After the first week,  WPI student Clara Merino reflects: The lack of roads and education are still a real issue in the bled. The schools are often far or not open due to the teacher not showing up. They are unreliable education systems. One of the younger daughters suffers from a heart condition. This makes it dangerous for her to attend the larger yet farther school. She has attempted to go to school which resulted in her passing out. Her school mates have carried her back to her house still unconscious. The other children in the family attend school. The husband pushes their education by holding them responsible for completing their homework. As he wishes his parents had pushed him to do. The parents of this family have such a drive for education. That it may be one of the top reasons why even the accessibility of water can not keep them in the bled. The wife herself wants to continue her education and learn English and French. But neither the wife nor the children will see their education flourish in a school that only offers four years of schooling at best.

Where does this leave me? I ask myself, sitting down with interview questions in my hand. These parents want nothing more than to give their children a future. One that their parents could not give them and that their village CANNOT give them. It makes you want to flag down the UN or someone to do something about this. But that got me thinking, what would have I done? At my age, my mom got married and moved to a completely new country. Where she did not know neither the language nor had any family connections. With only one thing on her mind, her children’s future, she persevered. Around my age, the wife of the family in the bled met her future husband and within 15 DAYS, they married. Now almost 14 years later, they are still working together to secure their children’s future. What will I do to secure mine and my children’s future?

Isabella Schiavone explains: “Whenever you talk to someone who has worked on Dar Si Hmad’s fog project, they tell you that there’s nothing more amazing than watching the fog come up the mountain. Part of me always assumed that the magnificence came because these people new the impact that the fog water system has. I thought that the fog coming in was amazing because the fog project was amazing. The fog meant that there would be water and that wasn’t just good. That was a miracle.
I didn’t expect to see any fog while we were here, certainly not any up near Mt. Boutmezguida. During the summer months there is rarely any fog that is able to get all the way up to the mountain before it burns off or the hot eastern winds blow it away. Last Thursday night it rained in Sidi Ifni and on Friday morning the city was covered in a thick cloud of fog. As we drove up to Timtda we were still clouded in this thick, heavy fog. It was cold, the fog clings to your skin and clothes and the wind from the west chills you thoroughly. And it is amazing.

The Aït Baamrane region is undeniably a desert. The plants have thick, waxy leaves to hold in the little water they get, the dirt is dusty and dry, and sometimes it seems impossible that there is so much life in these mountains. But standing there, cold and wet in the middle of the day in the desert is almost inexplicably wonderful. The plants seem to reach out for the fog’s nourishment. The animals perk up as if they can feel the water coming. And yes, it is even more amazing when you know that the fog is going to become clean, accessible water for people who need it. But there is something that is simply magical about something that is nothing more than a meteorological happenstance could sustain that much life.”

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