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