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.

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