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.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Happy Human Rights Day!

Happy Human Rights Day! Dar Si Hmad has joined the #16DaysofActivism Campaign against Gender-Based Violence. The sixteen days end today, 10 December, on the 67th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United Nations marks the anniversary each year. This year, special attention is being paid to the four freedoms:

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December. It commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, the Assembly passed resolution 423 (V), inviting all States and interested organizations to observe 10 December of each year as Human Rights Day.
This year's Human Rights Day is devoted to the launch of a year-long campaign for the 50th anniversary of the two International Covenants on Human Rights: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966.
The two Covenants, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, form the International Bill of Human Rights, setting out the civil, political, cultural, economic, and social rights that are the birth right of all human beings.
"Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always." aims to promote and raise awareness of the two Covenants on their 50th anniversary. The year-long campaign revolves around the theme of rights and freedoms -- freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear -- which underpin the International Bill of Human Rights are as relevant today as they were when the Covenants were adopted 50 years ago. For more this year's theme and the year-long campaign, see the website of the UN Human Rights office.
To connect the issues of violence against women, education, and empowerment we've been focusing on for the past two weeks, visiting researcher Becca Farnum wrote a piece for her university blog

Dar Si Hmad receives a shout-out in the piece in a special section on "Leveraging the environment": 
The environment has regularly been used as a tool of violence. Such violence disproportionately harms women and children. Approached creatively, though, the natural environment can be a partner against violence. This has been recognized through increasing attention to environmental rights and by various educational initiatives around the world.
Environmental education can challenge gender norms and promote equitable development. Dar Si Hmad, whose fog harvesting project was highlighted in a recent article for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, leverages their environmental knowledge against the violence of educational inequality.
Dar Si Hmad’s Water School encourages Berber girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Local ecosystems are used to engage children in transformational learning. Older girls taking their high school exams are supported by the E-Learning program. WASH (water for sanitation and hygiene) workshops provide educational opportunities for village women. Capacity-building trainings focused on environmental and economic opportunities challenge traditional gender norms while promoting sustainability and recognizing local realities.
To read more about the links between environmental sustainability, education, gender equity, and human rights, read Becca's full piece online

This post is part of Dar Si Hmad’s 2015 #16Days Campaign to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Calling for Change, Texting for Transformation: Amazigh Women and ICT Literacy

Dar Si Hmad’s flagship project harvests fog from the Anti-Atlas Mountains in southwest Morocco and pipes it to Amazigh (Berber, the indigenous people) villages in Aït Baamrane. Rural women in these villages have, for generations, held power as water guardians. Fetching water can be a burden – during dry months, women may start walking before 4am to get to wells before the water table is too low. But controlling the household water supply is also a source of power.

In five villages, Berber households now have taps in their homes supplying reliable access to potable water. Women and children no longer need to walk to collect more. But thanks to the community consultations that Dar Si Hmad conducted before the fog project was implemented, women remain in charge of the water system.

Berber women in Dar Si Hmad's partner villages have
received literacy and ICT training to help support the fog project
Creatively, Dar Si Hmad has implemented a participatory management system focused on mobile phones. Women can send simple SMS messages (texts) to a central ‘fog phone’. If water is not running, appears cloudy, or there is a maintenance problem, women will be responsible for reporting.

Implementing the mobile reporting system required investing in ICT and literacy training. Leslie Dodson began collaborating with Dar Si Hmad in 2012 when their development projects served as case studies for her PhD dissertation at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s ATLAS Institute. Leslie’s work helped Dar Si Hmad place the ICT program in a wider context.

Conventional wisdom assumes that women with mobile phones can text. This is not necessarily the case. Though many women in the Bled (Moroccan country) do have mobile phones, the vast majority of them are not literate. They rely heavily on voice services – but calls are much more expensive than texts. Too, many women are not numerate. Functions that rely on counting and number sequences are confusing. And finally, mobiles do not obscure gender issues. Cultural restrictions on communication between men and women extent to social media and phones.

Dar Si Hmad’s ICT training used what women in the villages already had: simple, often broken and secondhand, phones with relatively broad coverage and available power. The program sought to expand the use of mobile phones for communication while paying attention to the challenges of moving from oral communication to texting in a non-text based society. The program also needed to avoid a formal educational approach, given the realities of shame and fear that schooling sadly brings to many illiterate women.

Among the program’s many barriers were language. Most Amazigh households speak Tachelhit, one of numerous Berber dialects. Some also use Darija, the Moroccan Arabic dialect that includes French and Spanish words but has no standard written form. Morocco’s two official written and spoken languages are Modern Standard Arabic (quite different than Darija!) and French. But there are three alphabets: the Arabic script, which is written right to left; the Latin script, written left to right; and Tifinagh script, which is less common and glyph-based. And there are two numbering systems: Arabic (1, 2, 3, 4…) and Arabic-Indic (١,٢,٣,٤…).

With this mix of languages, it is unsurprising that rural women face challenges with mobile literacy. Their use of phones is quite basic. Because calls are so much more costly than texts, illiterate women pay a ‘tech tax’. Communication is more expensive for them than for those who can text. Phones’ full features are not available to them and they miss out on a variety of services.

But these women have high visual literacy. Pattern recognition and memorization help the women with keypad sequences and contact identification. Using this, Dar Si Hmad put together a program of informal education to expand Berber women’s ICT capabilities. Women are highly motivated to learn the Latin alphabet; phones put that alphabet at women’s fingertips. Literacy training alongside mobile reporting on the home water system has created an avenue for women to learn in culturally appropriate contexts.

Mariam Bahmane, a Dar Si Hmad volunteer who supported the ICT trainings, reports:
“We visited fifty-one families and sat with every single woman either in their houses or the school village or under an Argan tree for eight days. Since the large majority of the women in these villages are low literate and monolingual, we had all of our trainings in Berber and ran pre-training classes on Latin alphabets and numbers. We then proceeded with our ICT and plumbing trainings. We trained the women in how to use a phone, send a text message to report on different water problems to Dar Si Hmad and fix the common indoor plumbing problems. It was magical to see the skilful and cracked hands of these women adjust their glasses (for the few women who owned a pair), hold a phone with one hand and a paper or a wrench in another.
“These women did not need much to defy the obstacles that existed between them and learning.”

The fogwater information network was carefully designed to accommodate mixed literacy levels, genders, and devices. Common messages about the water system are sent with symbols rather than detailed sentences.
Dar Si Hmad's "fog phone" is set to receive updates about the
water system from Berber women in rural villages. Common
issues are simplified to make the program accessible to women
with low literacy and numeracy so they can continue to hold
their privileged ancestral role as water guardians.

Women’s increased literacy and numeracy has proven useful for far more than monitoring the fog system. Enhanced ICT skills enhance opportunities and grow confidence. Dar Si Hmad continues to invest in capacity-building trainings with the women. The organization will use lessons learned from the first ICT trainings to implement similar programming with future partner villages as the fog harvesting program expands.

This post is part of Dar Si Hmad’s 2015 #16Days Campaign to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Girls’ E-Learning: Exams, Education, and Empowerment

This year, the theme of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is education. In their theme announcement, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership highlighted that “Education is a public good and fundamental human right recognized in Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and upheld in various international and regional human rights conventions and treaties. Nonetheless, the right to education is subject to political, economic, and social shifts and upheavals, leaving certain groups (especially women, girls, people with disabilities, LGBTQI people, migrants, and indigenous people) particularly vulnerable and liable to being denied this crucial right.”

High school dropout rates in Morocco are alarmingly high. In rural southwest Morocco, girls and women face a variety of cultural, economic, and political barriers to education. On Day 14 of the 16 Days of Activism, Dar Si Hmad reflects on those obstacles and how our E-Learning program is helping Berber girls overcome them.

Dar Si Hmad’s fog harvesting project pipes potable water collected from fog to five Berber villages in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. The remote, impoverished region of Aït Baamrane has limited access to information and educational infrastructure. Girls from these villages travel to the small nearby town of Mesti in order to pursue secondary education. These young women are often the first people in their families to learn how to read and write, let alone attend higher education. Morocco’s multilingual nature creates yet another barrier, as exams and official business are conducted in Arabic or French but children in rural communities grow up speaking Tachelhit, the indigenous language of the Amazigh (Berber) people. Traditional gender norms do not emphasize the importance of education, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, for women. These challenges reduce the success rate for Berber girls taking their national high school exams.

Girls in southwest Morocco receive expert tutoring via ICT
through Dar Si Hmad's Girls' E-Learning Program.
The remote location of their school makes educational
opportunities hard to come by and increases exam difficulty.
Dar Si Hmad’s E-Learning Program combats these barriers by connecting girls in rural boarding schools with certified instructors whose support helps them properly follow the curriculum and prepare for exams. In collaboration with the Provincial Delegation of the Ministry of Education in Sidi Ifni, Dar Si Hmad is using information and communication technology (ICT) platforms to provide rural girls with mentorship, training, and exam practice. Subjects covered include mathematics, philosophy, Arabic, French, and English.

Exams in Morocco are mandatory for high school seniors and juniors. They are cumulative, summing up all of the lessons over the entire year, and take a great deal of preparation. In urban cities in Morocco, students generally take extra classes to study for major tests. This is not a financial or logistical option for girls in remote villages. Electronic access to mock exams helps to shrink the gap between rural and urban resources. Tutors who can provide support and coach girls on techniques for coping with exam stress and fright are a valuable and otherwise unavailable resource.

Girls have to pass these exams in order to go on to university. Without adequate support, the male-female and rural-urban educational divides in Morocco will never be overcome. Increasing access to education for girls is a powerful way to improve lives, advance gender equality, and strengthen communities. Girls’ lives are changed as they successfully finish high school with a wide range of skills, empowered to seek further opportunities. These girls are in turn changing their own villages and Moroccan culture, leveraging female education for community growth.

Dar Si Hmad is now expanding the project to reach more students in more villages. Supporting the Girls’ E-Learning Program gives a first generation Berber girl the chance to expand her horizons. For more information or to partner with Dar Si Hmad in this work, please see the Girls E-Learning homepage.

This post is part of Dar Si Hmad’s 2015 #16Days Campaign to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Her name is Fatima. She is a singer. And he is "one of us"

More than a year ago, a former member of Dar Si Hmad’s staff posted a piece on this blog about a La’abat performance group we hosted at a public event. Today, we reflect on her thoughts from that evening and the role of music and culture in preventing violence against women and changing society.

Dar Si Hmad’s full name is “Dar Si Hmad for Development, Culture and Education”. As an organization, we strive to promote traditional and emerging cultures in southwest Morocco, sharing local customs through positive cross-cultural exchange. Fatima’s La’abat group demonstrates why culture is so closely tied to development, livelihoods, and sustainability for us. 

La’abat refers to a group of more than three women invited to weddings and ceremonies to dance and sing, performing traditional songs during the special event. Fatima’s La’abat group came to Dar Si Hmad to share their art with American students from Quinnipiac University while the group was here with our Ethnographic Field School. As part of the Ethnographic Field School, Dar Si Hmad exposes students to local culture, arts, and tradition. Performance can be a powerful ‘contact zone’ where more than one culture meet.

Fatima Matousse, the Dar Si Hmad staff member who invited Fatima’s La’abat group, knew what to expect. She had grown up attending similar performances, and she fully expected the students to have a powerful evening of learning. What she perhaps did not expect was to have a powerful evening of insight herself – not about local Moroccan customs, but rather about the unique gendered dynamics that arts and culture make possible. 

"On the evening of the event, Fatima arrived, accompanied by five women and a male, their driver, who sat patiently in the room as they performed. I did not appreciate his presence and thought of him as an outsider, a distant figure in these women’s world. The women began to apply their make-up and get ready for the show. Fatima asked me to close the door and I asked every male in the room to leave, including the strange man that accompanied the group. Fatima told me, and I could hear the voices of the other women in the background, that he is allowed to stay, that he is 'one of us.' What a strange surprise. It was then when I began to change my preconceptions of the man.

"The women did not wait for us to sit down for the performance; it did not seem they needed an audience to mark the start of their instruments and voices. Though we, the audience, were scattered throughout the room, the moment the women began to play, their magic-like music charmed us all. Their unique Amazigh (Berber) music filled the air with positive, healing energy. I watched everyone in the room dancing with joy.

"The American students danced to these Berber rhythms. The students were interested to learn more about their history as a group and the meanings of their songs. After the performance, Fatima, her group and our students engaged in a cross-cultural encounter where each was curious to learn about the other. The women felt they could not communicate because they could not understand or converse in English and forgot that the American students also could not converse in Berber. They were equal and agreeable on this, so they announced that their communication is best through music."

A traditional La'abat group shares with Quinnipac students
during their trip to Dar Si Hmad's Ethnographic Field School

Beyond the importance of the cross-cultural exchange that happened that evening, the La’abat group’s visit to Dar Si Hmad drove home a reality: that performance space proffers a place for standard gendered roles to be questioned, critiqued, and challenged.

"Since childhood, I have been attending La'abat music performances and I speak honestly when I say that they are pure and genuine stars. They have always charmed me with their pride, special charisma and unending courage. They joke and the presence of males does not bother them, an unusual behavior for females within a male domain: the public space. Female performers in Morocco cross the lines of gendered space. Their speech and laughter trespass the boundary that their patriarchal society has imprisoned them in." 

The music of La’abat, and the women who create it, opens our ears and minds to new ways of thinking. The relationships formed through performance, between singer and audience member, driver and performer, Berber and American, male and female, are unique.

As we learned from Souad’s profile earlier in this #16Days Campaign, too often media representations of cultural reflect and reproduce sexist inequalities and promote violence against women. And too often, men are seen as enemies rather than allies in our work against gender-based violence. But as Fatima’s La’abat group demonstrates, cultural expressions can also play a crucial role in pushing against those assumptions, and men can be partners. Music, art, and dance are powerful avenues of expression that we can leverage to change society for the better. And it will take all of us, men and women alike, to make that change happen. It is these realities that inspire Dar Si Hmad’s work in promoting and sharing local culture with people from all walks of life. 

This post is part of Dar Si Hmad’s 2015 #16Days Campaign to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Dar Si Hmad Volunteer Profile: Arielle Moss

Yesterday for Dar Si Hmad’s #16Days Campaign, we talked about International Volunteer Day. Volunteering and civic engagement are critical to the work that Dar Si Hmad does, and to the prevention of violence against women and the creation of a just society around the world. Today, we highlight Arielle Moss, one of Dar Si Hmad’s current volunteers and a passionate advocate against gender-based violence.

Arielle Moss interns for Dar Si Hmad
during her time as a Fulbright
English Teaching Assistant
Arielle first came to Morocco in June 2013, when she spent two months at Moulay Ismail University in Meknes shadowing doctors at Clinique de Meknes and studying Arabic. Her time in Morocco was part of a study abroad program through Indiana University in America, where she was attending university. After receiving bachelor’s degrees in biology and Arabic language and cultures, Arielle decided to move to Morocco for a longer period. Her extensive volunteer experience during university helped her to win a Fulbright award. She is now teaching in Agadir as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. In her free time, she interns at Dar Si Hmad, volunteering with a number of our programs. 

A lot of Arielle’s experience before coming to Dar Si Hmad focused on women’s empowerment and the prevention of violence against women. When we asked about her motivations for volunteering, Arielle told us this: 

During my freshman year at Indiana University, I wanted to find a way to get involved in the Bloomington community outside IU's manicured lawns and iconic Sample Gates. I began volunteering at the Middle Way House (MWH), a local shelter for women and children escaping situations of sexual and/or domestic violence.  I worked with these women by tutoring their children in MWH's after-school program and daycare center.  This formative experience revealed my passion for teaching as well as my interest in working towards raising awareness on sexual assault and domestic violence. 

Sexual assault on college campuses is rampant and is often either insufficiently addressed or ignored altogether by administrators.  One in five women is sexually assaulted at some point during her college career.  The stigma of sexual assault and the lethargy of university administrations often renders survivors silent and left with few resources to get the necessary resources, health assistance, and legal support they want and/or need. 

This staggering phenomenon hit close to home when one of my good friends was sexually assaulted at her university.  I knew I wanted to continue devoting my time to raising awareness on this pervasive issue.  At the end of my freshman year, I organized a student organization, the IU Middle Way House Chapter (IUMWH).  IUMWH serves as a channel between IU and MWH by connecting IU students to volunteering and fundraising opportunities for MWH.  IUMWH also works with other student organizations to raise awareness on sexual assault and domestic violence through events such as food/clothing drives, film screenings, panel discussions, etc.

 The summer before my junior year, I studied abroad in Meknes, Morocco.  In addition to my Arabic course, I also interned with Women's Voices Now, a nonprofit organization devoted to providing a creative platform to amplify the voices of Muslim women through writing, film, photography, and art.  I spent one month exploring women's associations around Meknes and interviewing and making video profiles on some of the incredible women I met. Two articles I wrote for Women’s Voice Now highlight the amazing people and projects I worked with. Check out my pieces on "Empowering Women, Empowering Families" and "A Voice in Meknes".

During my senior year, I ask began interning with IU's School of Informatics' ServeIT Program, a service-learning program that provides IT support and technology education for nonprofits around Bloomington.  As part ServeIT's community outreach team, I helped plan lessons and activities on simple coding, stop-motion animation, and e-textile fashion design.  Girls are discouraged from pursuing science and technology at a young age because techie toys and games tend to be marketed overwhelmingly towards boys. The lesson plans were designed to focus specifically on young girls and ultimately to spark their interest in technology and allow them to see that technology is accessible to them and their male counterparts.  

I also served as the social media intern at IU Women in Technology (IUWIT).  Because it is ingrained in girls from a very young age that they are not suited for STEM fields, there is unsurprisingly a shortage of women in these fields.  I wrote a weekly news digest that was sent to IU's 8 campuses around Indiana, managed IUWIT's Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook pages, and designed IUWIT's website.  I also started a social media series profiling techie women working at all of IU's 8 campuses.  This was a great opportunity to meet my fellow women in STEM and learning about the challenges they faced and overcame to get to where they are now.

This past summer before coming to Morocco, I was certified as an On-Scene Advocate (OSA) for MWH.  As an OSA, I was trained to provide a range of primary prevention and crisis intervention services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and rape.  Perhaps the most important dug of an OSA is to assure survivors that regardless of where they were or what they were doing, the assault was in no way their fault and that they are not alone.  From this point, an OSA can provide nonjudgemental emotional support and offer resources pertinent to each survivor's situation, such as finding a safe place to stay, addressing immediate medical concerns, accompanying the survivor to the hospital for a rape kit, or suggesting counseling and legal services.  After listening and supporting survivors while I was on OSA duty, I left Bloomington even more committed to getting involved in these issues and working to empower women.  

Working with DSH has been a continuation of my passion for gender equality because many of its projects intersect with various women's issues.  Making sure girls and women have equal access to quality education is imperative in empowering them and ultimately promoting gender equality.  I was fortunate to benefit from an incredible education, and this motivates me to help find ways for other girls and women to obtain an education and pursue their dreams.  

I hope to use my time in Morocco to work with DSH and its incredible staff by assisting in catalyzing social change and ensuring women from all walks of life have the opportunity to be all that they can be.

During her time at Women’s Voices Now in Meknes, Arielle interviewed a young woman about why the organization was important to her.  
“Women’s Voices Now allows Moroccan women to see they are not alone. Showing the success of just one woman says to others everywhere, ‘You can be better. You have all the potential inside you.’” 
Arielle caught that answer on camera. And the moment made her realize the power of her tiny camera to make not only her voice, but also the voices of women like hers heard around the world.

Arielle is now spending her time in Agadir both behind and in front of a camera, helping to document and promote the work of Dar Si Hmad in encouraging girls to continue their education, enhancing young women’s careers prospects, and building Berber women’s capacity for societal change.

Building from her background in biology, Arielle is helping expand the curriculum of Dar Si Hmad’s Water School, an innovative program that uses curiosity about the natural world to provide quality education for children in the Bled (Moroccan countryside). Check out this video to see Arielle in action talking about why she loves the Water School:

The Water School combines a lot of Arielle's passions: encouraging women in science and technology, empowering young people, and building a society more committed to sustainability and equality. Arielle looks forward to February, when the 2016 Water School will kick off and she will spend some time in the Bled putting her planned curriculum into action.

In Agadir, Arielle also works with the RISE program, helping students build their skills and reflect on their career aspirations. Talking with participants before and after sessions, Arielle
Dar Si Hmad Intern speaks with RISE participants
while volunteering at the organization
serves as a powerful role model for how volunteering, civic engagement, and passion can be leveraged into life-changing opportunities.

Through her time volunteering at Dar Si Hmad, Arielle is using her passion and experience to continue working towards justice for women in southwest Morocco. We hope you will join her in volunteering for change. Together, we can make a better world for us all.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Dar Si Hmad encourages civic engagement on International Volunteer Day

Today is the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development, officially recognized by the United Nations since 1985 to promote the importance of volunteering and its role in socio-economic development.

This year’s theme is “The world is changing. Are you? Volunteer!” International Volunteer Day 2015 challenges everyone to take a personal role in implementing the newly launched Global Goals, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, by actively engaging in our world. Volunteering mobilizes communities and government to create safer streets, better public spaces, and a happier, healthier planet.

In his statement for International Volunteer Day, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stressed the potential of volunteering in bringing people together across cultures and countries: “Volunteerism is a global phenomenon that transcends boundaries, religions and cultural divides. Volunteers embody the fundamental values of commitment, inclusiveness, civic engagement and a sense of solidarity.” Secretary General Ki-Moon especially emphasized the potential of volunteerism to show solidarity and end poverty.

This December 5th, Dar Si Hmad marks International Volunteer Day by encouraging volunteerism in Morocco and taking a minute to thank the incredible team of volunteers that make our work possible.

Dar Si Hmad staff member Marouane
Smaili stresses the value and benefits
of community service to Agadir youth
Dar Si Hmad’s recent workshop on international educational exchange programs highlighted the importance of volunteering. Through volunteering, youth learn more about themselves and the world and set themselves apart from their peers. Civic engagement is a required component of many exchange programs, including the MEPI Student Leaders opportunity.

Dar Si Hmad’s RISE program is including a unit of civic engagement in its professional development training for urban youth in southwest Morocco. RISE participants will join Dar Si Hmad staff in several hours of community service, getting their hands dirty to give back to their communities while simultaneously building their skills and capacities.

Volunteers like Amine are contributing
to communities in southwest Morocco
Dar Si Hmad’s internship program provides young people with an organized volunteering opportunity. Last year, Mohamed Amine Bouhamtaine served as a Communications Intern in our Agadir office. Born in Agadir, Amine studied computer science and networks at the Higher School of Technology of Agadir and graduated in 2014 at the top of his class. Amine is interested in the new technology, including the creation and development of software and web applications, programming languages, 2D/3D video games, information security, and server technologies. His work with Dar Si Hmad gave him the chance to use his passions to make Agadir a better place as well as learning more about the rural communities surrounding his birth city.

Agadir youth engage in their communities in a variety of ways. At a recent workshop, RISE participants interviewed each other about what activities they were most proud of. During the feedback session, one young woman highlighted a project undertaken by her new friend. He has coordinated a series of volunteers to travel to the Bled (countryside) to provide resources and support in some of Morocco’s poorest areas. After describing the project, she ended by saying “I am so proud of my friend” and stressing how happy she was that his work is pushing against the economic and opportunity disparities between rural communities and urban centers in southwest Morocco.

Agadir youth reflect on their volunteering commitments and share their
motivations for civic engagement during a recent Dar Si Hmad workshop

These kinds of projects demonstrate the potential of volunteering to make strides toward ending poverty. The United Nations Volunteer Programme is also stressing the role of volunteering and community engagement in ending violence against women. In Uganda, UN Volunteers are supporting the Ministry of Health through a “Let Girls Be Girls” campaign raising awareness about the need for improved education and access to healthcare. The movement is decreasing the rate of teen pregnancy in the country. Volunteer efforts are advocating for girls to stay in school longer and highlighting the community benefits from females’ education. These efforts mirror much of Dar Si Hmad’s work through our Girls’ E-Learning and Water School programs and are powerful examples of how volunteers, communities, governments, and international agencies can partner to end violence against women, reduce poverty, and promote sustainable development.

Volunteering makes a difference. Volunteerism positively impacts the volunteer, their community, and our planet. On this International Volunteer Day, Dar Si Hmad salutes volunteers around the globe and encourages you to join them and us in building a better world.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Student exchange: Education, peace, and empowerment

Dar Si Hmad has been running a #16Days Campaign in conjunction with the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. We’ve highlighted various programs emphasizing women’s and girls’ empowerment. Dar Si Hmad’s educational programs are particularly relevant, as this year’s theme from the global campaign coordinators asks us to “Make Education Safe for All!”. Along with the United Nations and the 16 Days Campaign, Dar Si Hmad believes that we can move “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World”.

For urban youth in Agadir, international educational opportunities are fairly limited. Studying abroad is an attractive idea, but financial, linguistic, and logistical (including the challenge of acquiring visas and passports) barriers are high. Sponsored exchange programs are important avenues that can help support driven students in their dream of enhancing their educational experiences and sharing their perspectives with young people in other parts of the world.

Yesterday, Dar Si Hmad held an application support workshop open to everyone interested in international exchange programs. The workshop boosted Agadir youths’ awareness of these opportunities and gave them individualized help in compiling CVs and writing personal statements.

Dar Si Hmad’s Office Manager Maourane Smaili has been granted a Fulbright Scholarship for study in the United States next year. Marouane kicked off the workshop with an overview of some available opportunities and some reflections on his own experience applying for the Fulbright. Marina's talk focused on the importance of civic engagement, leadership, and community service, three things that our MEPI-funded RISE Program is focusing on in its efforts to enhance the capacity of Agadir youth.

We were lucky to have with us two alumni of international exchange programs. Participants from the MEPI Student Leaders Program and the Swedish Institute’s Young Leaders Visitors Programme shared stories about their time in America and Sweden and tips about the interview process.

All three of our exchange program-accepted speakers were men - demonstrating that we have some work to do in better equipping young women to take on these travel and study opportunities! Ensuring that just as many women participate in these programs as men is vital to building better understandings of Moroccan culture and diversity for communities abroad as well as enhancing gender parity around the globe.

Becca Farnum is a visiting researcher from King’s College London. She took time out from collecting data for her PhD to talk with the students about what goes into a good personal statement. Becca encouraged the students to think about what sets them apart from their peers. Personal statements should be exactly that - personal! Dar Si Hmad staff members' top tips focused on using stories to creatively highlight your skills and passions in a personal statement.

Dar Si Hmad highlighted the following programs that students like our RISE Participants are or will soon be eligible for and should consider applying to:
Students can find more information about these programs via the links above and through Dar Si Hmad's presentation from the workshop, available here. The presentation also includes tips for how to write a good personal statement.

After the presentation, participants split into small groups to brainstorm and/or edit their personal statements. The personal statement is one of the most important parts of an application for exchange programs and offers a great chance for students to reflect on the work they have done and why it matters to them.

Dar Si Hmad staff Jade Lansing and Marouane Smaili
sit down with Agadir youth to offer focused support on their
personal statements, a vital part of exchange program applications

Student exchange programs are a powerful way to empower young people and build global peace and understanding. We talked earlier in this campaign about Dar Si Hmad’s Ethnographic Field School and its role in breaking down violent stereotypes and misconceptions about Morocco. But for true cross-cultural exchange to take place, the relationship has to go both ways. International exchange programs allow Moroccan youth to go abroad, making them ambassadors for their communities on the global stage. Dar Si Hmad believes this work is critical to both individual youths’ empowerment and to sustainable futures.

Education builds peace. Cross-cultural exchange builds peace. Learning together and engaging with each other are vital to building a more peaceful and just world. Good luck to all of those applying for these programs – Dar Si Hmad is proud to be able to offer support to those from the Agadir region!

This post is part of Dar Si Hmad’s 2015 #16Days Campaign to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Microscopes and mathematics in the mountains: Dar Si Hmad’s Mobile Water School encourages girls in STEM

Yesterday on Dar Si Hmad’s #16Days Campaign, we heard about the importance of co-educational projects from staff member Souad Kadi. The RISE & THRIVE Project Liaison believes that engaging boys and girls in the same class “where they can work on things and play and share and learn things together” encourages young people to see each other’s capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. “When a boy sees a girl [who is smart like him], they are equal.”

Dar Si Hmad is doing exactly that in the Bled, the Moroccan countryside. Our flagship fog harvesting project ensures that villages in the Aït Baamrane region have constant access to potable water. To ensure that the fog project achieves maximum potential, Dar Si Hmad engages our partner communities in a variety of environmental and economic capacity-building projects. In the villages, these have included WASH (water for sanitation and hygiene) workshops and the exploration of women’s argan cooperatives. Dar Si Hmad also works with the Provincial Delegation of the Ministry of Education in Sidi Ifni to include the villages’ young residents in the fog project.

Quality education from an early age is a vital step in empowerment, development, and building health communities. Unfortunately, communities in southwestern Morocco are challenged by poor educational systems and limited natural resources. Given the low quality of rural schools, they are not generally regarded as valuable. Children in the villages lack opportunities to learn by doing, develop communication skills, meet new people, interact with each other, and encounter diverse topics. The Aït Baamrane region is an ecologically fragile zone. Eroded topsoil and increasing drought cycles limit potable water’s availability. While the fog project is successfully tackling this last problem, overlapping educational, environmental, and economic marginalisation further burden already vulnerable communities.

Students study their surrounding ecosystems and engage with
nature for creative problem-solving in Dar Si Hmad's Water School
Dar Si Hmad’s Mobile Water School combats these challenges and empowers Aït Baamrane’s next generation through custom-created hands-on, locally relevant curriculum. The Water School explores water, sustainability, conservation, and environmental challenges to engage children aged 7-13 in the rural villages in experiential, life-changing learning. Activities combine art, engineering, science, and mathematics to learn about the societal and natural realities of the world, expanding young people’s capacities for and understandings of global change.

Through the Mobile Water School, children learn how to employ scientific lenses to investigate the natural world. They also investigate themselves, claiming personal and community responsibility for sustainable environmental and social change. The curriculum builds children’s employability skills from an early age, emphasising public speaking, self-confidence, leadership, and team building.

The Water School gives rural students the chance to
look under a microscope for the first time in their lives
The Mobile Water School places a particular emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for girls. Sexist stereotypes across the world discourage women from working in STEM fields. These messages start very early. Dar Si Hmad’s Water School consciously pushes against them, working with girls before they have internalized the message that they cannot be just as good at engineering as boys. Through the Water School, young Berber girls learn how to operate a microscope, identify different species of insect and plant, and communicate the hydro cycle.

During the Water School, children of both genders deconstruct sexism by building bridges…both physical and emotional. Building model bridges and relationships together helps the children learn to value everyone’s perspectives, skills, and experiences, regardless of their gender. Being taught by instructors from a variety of religions, genders, ethnicities, and disciplinary backgrounds provides students with powerful role models and assures them they can do whatever they want to with their lives.

This year's 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign focuses on education - a fundamental human right recognized in Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many international treaties. But it is a right that is too frequently not accomplished in reality, especially for girls. Providing equal opportunities for young people of all genders and backgrounds is vital to breaking the sexist assumptions that prop up unjust systems and create space where violence against women can occur. Dar Si Hmad’s Water School uses the environment as an avenue for economic and educational empowerment. Community learning and emphasizing STEM for girls improves children’s lives both materially and metaphysically, builds community resilience, and enhances global sustainability.

Dar Si Hmad would love to partner with you on this important project. By supporting the Mobile Water School, you give a young Berber child the chance to explore her world and learn how she can make it a better place. Please consider joining us. For more information and to donate, visit http://www.darsihmad.org/water-school/.

This post is part of Dar Si Hmad’s 2015 #16Days Campaign to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.