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, March 25, 2016

Streaming the Water School: A Peek Into Dar Si Hmad’s Water School

“Wejdeen (ready)?” Abdelrahman asked, glancing back at us through the rear-view mirror.  We secured the last of the materials and nodded in response. Dar Si Hmad’s dedicated driver, technician, and all-around go-to guy revved the engine of the white Range Rover. And we were off. Off to the first Water School session of the year. Within ten minutes, we had left Sidi Ifni city-limits and found ourselves whipping through the countryside dotted with spindly argan trees and rows of cacti. The Rover trundled around sharp curves in the road, dipping down into rocky ravines and crossing precarious bridges over desiccated streambeds. Each bend and turn revealed spectacular vistas of the rolling, green peaks of the Anti-Atlas Mountains. At a small sign reading "Projet de brouillard", signifying the location of the Fog-Harvesting Project, we turned left. The paved two-lane highway was abruptly replaced by a dusty dirt road, and Abdelrahman expertly shifted to four-wheel drive. Bouncing and bumping down the path that led to the small community of Tnin Amelou, we arrived at the gated entrance of the schoolyard. Sitting in the shade cast by the stark, two-room school were 40 children waiting in anticipation for the first Water School lesson.

Dar Si Hmad's new video series "Streaming the Water School" shares vignettes highlighting different elements of the Water School. The first installment, "Where It Happens," captures the remote location of the villages of Tnin Amelou and Id Aachour in Aït Baamrane, the classrooms where students learn about the unique ecology of their communities, and the schoolyard where the children take what they have learned outside to explore the natural realities of their world. The rural villages of Aït Baamrane just 30 kilometers southeast of Sidi Ifni are poised at the intersections of the Sahara, the Atlas Mountains, and the Atlantic Ocean. Its distinctive geography contributes to beautiful landscapes and a rich cultural heritage, but also limited economic opportunities, poor educational infrastructure, encroaching desertification, and increasing drought cycles. 

To combat these challenges, Dar Si Hmad's Water School leverages the local environment as a learning tool to engage students ages 7-14 with hands-on activities to encourage sustainable management of natural resources and ensure the region's socio-ecological vitality. The Water School responds directly to the environmental needs of Aït Baamrane's next generation, providing them with access to a greater quality of education today and equipping them with the skills their communities will need tomorrow.

Each of our seven Water School lessons encourages students to celebrate water in their communities and to implement sustainable water management practices by providing hands-on, engaging activities that teach them the science and ecology of water.  In the first lesson on “The Water Cycle,” students gained a deeper understanding of the water cycle and the distribution of water in their communities by creating their own stories on the journey of a water droplet.  To celebrate World Wildlife Day in the second session on “Animal Biology,” students made animal masks and understood how the future of wildlife rests in their hands.  In the upcoming “Plant Life” lesson, students will learn to identify different plants in their communities and understand how humans and plants are connected through water.  

Next month, students will apply what they learned about plants to build a community garden near their school.  Through the “Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) session,” they will use microscopes to see the differences between clean and dirty water and implement good hygiene practices in their daily lives.  They will also be participating in a village cleanup and learning about how they can use their family’s grey water for different purposes in the “Pollution, Recycling, and Conservation” lesson at the end of April.  The last session in May, “Protecting Aquatic Ecosystems,” will introduce students to the different marine life throughout Morocco as well as reinforce the concepts of sustainability and conservation to preserve the biodiversity within their communities and Morocco.

Since water is a precious and newly accessible commodity in these communities, the curriculum encourages children to explore water conservation and to better understand the fog harvesting technology their villages are benefitting from.  Educating youth on the importance of proper management of water and natural resources is critical to ensuring the region’s socio-ecological vitality and working towards a more sustainable Morocco.  

On Tuesday, we celebrated World Water Day. This year's theme was "Water and Jobs". In Tuesday's blog post, we highlighted Zaina and Hussein, two Aït Baamrane natives who are employed by Dar Si Hmad's fog project. Abdelrahman, our fabulous driver, and Fatiha, our fantastic Water School teacher featured in this post about World Wildlife Day, are two others whose jobs are directly related to the water sector. But for Dar Si Hmad, every day is Water Day, and all of us depend on healthy ecosystems! Our Water School is about working with young people to understand the links between the natural environment, society, and ourselves. Learn more by following us on YouTube to catch more installments of our “Streaming the Water School” series. You can read more about our fog-harvesting project in this recent article in The New Yorker and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr to hear the latest from Dar Si Hmad. We hope you'll join us in promoting sustainable livelihoods, community resilience, youth empowerment, and environmental justice in Southwest Morocco.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Dar Si Hmad celebrates World Meteorological Day

A pupil explains precipitation at Dar Si Hmad's Water School
Thilj!” the children shrieked the word for “snow” in Moroccan Arabic in response to a picture of snow-capped mountains of the High Atlas. Fatiha, the teacher of the Dar Si Hmad’s Water School, nodded approvingly and directed their eyes to the white powder held in their outstretched hands. She poured water over the powder, and the children’s eyes widened as they watched it expand into cool, fluffy “snow”. They began throwing the flakes in the air and sprinkling it over their heads, filling the classroom-turned-snowglobe with laughter and white powder. In the first lesson of Dar Si Hmad’s Water School, children learned about different types of precipitation and weather. Fake snow provided a simulation of the appearance and texture of one of water’s frozen forms. Many of the children have never left their villages in the arid region of Aït Baamrane so this was the first time playing with the fun white powder and identifying where snow can be found around Morocco.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2e/Atlas_Mountains_snow_cover.jpgMorocco may not be the first place one thinks of when it comes to snow, let alone skiing. Yet contrary to popular belief, Morocco does receive a significant amount of annual snowfall along certain stretches of the Atlas mountains. The High Atlas is the largest mountain range in North Africa, with Mount Toubkal towering as the tallest peak at 4,165 meters above sea level. That range is capped with snow year-round. Perched within at 2,600 meters above sea level is Oukaimeden, a small village 80 kilometers from Marrakech and Morocco’s premier skiing resort. The Middle Atlas to the north also experiences snowfall in the winter months. The small town of Ifrane positioned at 1,665 meters serves as the prime ski spot in the region.

Dar Si Hmad's President Aissa Derhem at our Fog Site
The villages of Aït Baamrane, where Dar Si Hmad’s Fog-Harvesting Project and the Water School take place, are nestled in the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Southwest Morocco. This mountainous desert region serves as a distinct contrast from its Middle and High Atlas counterparts. The stratocumulus clouds floating above the Atlantic coast, locally known as tagut, behave like fog once they reach the Anti-Atlas. This dense fog makes it possible to collect water with the fog nets, which Dar Si Hmad then pipes directly into the homes of five rural villages of Aït Baamrane. As announced on Monday’s International Day of Forests, Dar Si Hmad is currently in the process of beginning a reforestation project to be supplied with fog water to restore the region’s forests. Using fog water to rehabilitate forests depleted by agriculture and human development will create positive cycles preserving local ecosystems and contributing to the social and ecological vitality of the region’s plants, animals, and humans for generations.

Since 1950, World Meteorological Day has been celebrated annually on March 23 and is sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization, a specialized UN agency for meteorology, operational hydrology, and geophysical sciences. This day also recognizes the improvement of weather forecasting, early-warning systems, and disaster preparedness, saving thousands of lives around the world. 2015 witnessed a slew of unsettling climatic conditions: skyrocketing temperatures, devastating droughts, abnormally high amounts of rainfall, and unusual cyclone activity in the tropics. These record-setting trends are projected to persist for years to come, foreshadowing a “Hotter, Drier, and Wetter Future”. The 2016 theme of World Meteorological Day highlights these climate change challenges and the road to more climate-resilient societies. “The future is happening now,” says World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas. “The alarming rate of change we are now witnessing in our climate as a result of greenhouse gas emissions is unprecedented in modern records.” 

Morocco’s geographical and meteorological diversity make it the perfect place to celebrate World Meteorological Day. Morocco has recently taken a stand and voiced its obligations in alleviating and adapting to climate change, with King Mohammed VI announcing at the opening of COP21 that “the objective of securing 42% of the country’s energy mix from renewable resources by 2020 has recently increased to 52% by 2030.” The 2015 COP21 climate conference was a defining moment in climate change history, with the world unanimously adopting Paris Agreement. This agreement served as the first universal, legally-binding global climate deal that is scheduled to be officially implemented in 2020. With 195 countries agreeing to proactively address the present threat of climate change, each country is expected to undertake steps to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Morocco will be hosting the annual COP22 Conference in Marrakech on 7-8 November 2016. In June, Morocco’s National Center for Studies and Research on Water and Energy (CNEREE) of Cadi Ayyad University is organizing an international conference on Water, Energy and Climate Change. WECC 2016 and COP22 will bring together policymakers, activists, researchers, engineers, practitioners, and community members to develop innovative solutions, share best practices, and commit to climate action. Dar Si Hmad will be attending both as part of its ongoing commitment to sustainable livelihoods and community resilience in Southwest Morocco and around the world.

From the weather station monitoring our fog project in the Anti-Atlas Mountains to our library in Sidi Ifni boasting historical monographs on climate science, from our research offices in Agadir to the classrooms of our Water School...happy World Meteorology Day from Dar Si Hmad! Join us to explore creative, sustainable solutions to our future. It will be hotter, drier, and wetter. But with the growing expertise of Moroccan youth and innovations like our fog harvesting project, the future is also full of potential and hope!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Water, Jobs, and Fog: Happy World Water Day from Dar Si Hmad

It's World Water Day! We at Dar Si Hmad love water. Our flagship fog harvesting project is all about water - accessing it, caring for it, learning from it, using it sustainably. The new forestry project we announced yesterday will rely on fog water to rejuvenate a sustainable ecosystem in Southwest Morocco. Our Water School engages children in the bled (Moroccan countryside) in participatory learning around water science and conservation.

Unfortunately, the news from Morocco around water isn't all good. Frequent droughts induced by climate change, land and soil degradation, and mismanagement of natural resources have created a critical water situation in Morocco. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs has projected that by 2025, Morocco’s water availability will drop below the absolute scarcity threshold of 500 cubic meters per person per year. With drought striking every three years, a severe constraint has been placed on the expansion of its agricultural production, which makes up 19 percent of Morocco’s GDP.  

Morocco has recently invested in dams, water supply capacity, and expansive irrigation systems that ensure water security for urban and agricultural demands. Although this focus on supply has been largely successful, there remains a serious need for policies that drive sustainability, such as water conservation and protection, the management of water demand, functioning sanitation systems, and equitable service development for rural communities. The increasing demand for fresh water has superseded the dwindling reserves of this precious resource that is being consumed faster than it can be replaced. Morocco’s water management strategies must address the limited infrastructure programs and the persistent gaps in service access, particularly between urban and rural areas. There remains a need for programs that promote economic security, social equality, environmental sustainability, and the direct participation of local communities. 

Among some of the innovative projects dedicated to solving Morocco’s water issues is Dar Si Hmad’s Fog Harvesting Project, based in five highland villages in the Aït Baamrane region of southwest Morocco just 30 kilometers away from Sidi Ifni. Due to its unique geography situated at the convergence of the Anti-Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert, and the Atlantic Ocean, these remote villages are particularly vulnerable to climate change and suffer from increasing drought cycles, structural poverty, and state neglect. During periods of little rainfall, water would have to be delivered to cisterns by water trucks, which was costly and time consuming.  Women and girls experienced the brunt of these burdens as they spent up to four hours per day fetching poor-quality water from open wells. This daily chore often prevented girls from attending school. 

The Fog Harvesting Project uses existing natural resources of the region to help alleviate the constant water stress. The mountains of the Anti-Atlas where the isolated villages are located experience a unique combination of cold currents and atmospheric pressure originating from the Canary Islands, creating stratocumulus clouds that swath these mountains in thick fog. The project harnesses this abundance of fog, previously considered “dead water” and therefore “useless”, and allows it to condense on fine mesh panels so that it can be transformed into fresh water. The pure water is subsequently mineralized with groundwater that is then piped straight to the taps of people’s homes. There are currently twenty fog nets that provide twelve cubic meters of water per day, nearly tripling the water availability to 30 liters per person per day in the five beneficiary villages.  

Informing the rationale of the Fog Harvesting Project is the concept of integrated water resources management (IWRM), which promotes the coordinated development and management of water resources to both advocate for social and economic welfare and advance environmental sustainability. Educating and empowering the local population to learn about and actively participate in this project are essential to its success and sustainability so that the ecological and socioeconomic vitality of the community is ensured.  

The Fog-Harvesting Project was officially inaugurated a year ago in honor of World Water Day. Each year on 22 March, the United Nations leads an annual celebration of water that raises awareness for water-related issues around the world. In 2015, the theme was "Water and Sustainable Development", perfectly capturing the holistic work our fog harvesting project does in providing potable water, empowering women and girls, and supporting sustainable livelihoods. 

The 2016 theme, “Water and Jobs”, sheds light on the nearly 1.5 billion people who work in water-related sectors and focuses specifically on millions of those workers who remain unrecognized or unprotected by basic labor laws. This global theme draws attention to how the quantity and quality of water available to communities can change workers’ livelihoods. By highlighting the relationship between water, appropriate labor laws, and human rights, the international community can work together towards globalized sustainable development and promoting the human right to water.  

In accordance with the “Water and Jobs” theme, Dar Si Hmad is using World Water Day to spotlight the many jobs our fog project creates, requires, and supports. In the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Southwest Morocco, dozens of women work to ensure the viability of the fog water system. Although the project has significantly alleviated the amount of time women and girls spend gathering water every day, gendered dimensions around water resources remain. Women's ancestral role as water guardians in their homes and communities was a source of power for them. To ensure that the provision of fog water did not have negative unintended consequences for rural women, Dar Si Hmad developed a system through which women maintain control over fog water via mobile phone management. Literacy, numeracy, and ICT trainings conducted by Dar Si Hmad staff and volunteers have helped Amazigh women monitor the fog water system and communicate any issues via SMS message. Through this system, women's water guardianship duties no longer take three to four hours each day. Expanded professional skills from the ICT trainings, along with WASH workshops and other community education initiatives, have given women enhanced job prospects. Capacity-building sessions have helped the women to consider their own educational or economic goals. Many are now exploring the creation of new argan co-operatives. 

The fog project also contributes directly to paid jobs for Moroccans and fair working conditions. In the Aït Baamrane region, Dar Si Hmad employs numerous villagers to help support the technical and social elements of the fog water system.

Born in the rural Aït Baamrane region of southwestern Morocco, Zaina Hamou Ali is a twenty year old with six years of primary schooling. Until the 2015 inauguration of Dar Si Hmad’s fog-collection project, she spent 3 hours per day walking to distant wells to collect water for her family’s household use. Zaina is strikingly astute, can forge working relationships between diverse women, and has a passion for engaging with researchers, international students, engineers and anyone else who visits her village. Her initiative and fearlessness are an asset to our team and represents the extraordinary untapped potential among women in the communities where Dar Si Hmad works. Today, Zaina works as our Community Liaison in the bled. Her work is vital to the success of our women's capacity-building sessions and the social elements of maintaining the fog water system.

Hussein Sussan was born and raised in the foot hills of Boutmezguida, in Morocco’s Anti-Atlas Mountains. He has participated, along with his Aït Baamrane community, in the creation of the fog project when construction began in 2011. Hussein has now taken on a formal job with us as our Fog Water Manager in Boutmezguida and at the site. In addition to managing technical elements of the fog project, Hussein regularly meets with fog village communities to discuss the project and participates in our Ethnographic Field School activities, sharing his love for fog and his homeland with visitors.

Water creates, sustains, and improves jobs. Meet the rest of our fog-inspired team here!

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Crossroads of Words: Morocco and World Poetry Day

Earlier today, we shared the progress of our fog harvesting project and a new initiative to use fog water for reforestation in Southwest Morocco.  Protecting and promoting ecosystems in this region of the world is a vital part of Dar Si Hmad's identity, given the area's amazing biodiversity and incredible position as an ecological crossroads. On today's International Day of Forests, Dar Si Hmad celebrates our Moroccan heritage - not only environmentally, but culturally. For 21 March is also recognized by the United Nations as World Poetry Day.

Morocco's position as an environmental crossroads is echoed in its rich history of cultural exchange and cross-words. Poetry has long been the way in which humans have attempted to put in words the human condition, with all its happiness and sadness. As UNESCO's Director-General Irina Bokova says, today "recognizes in poetry its value as a symbol of the human spirit's creativity. By giving form and words to that which has none – such as the unfathomable beauty that surrounds us, the immense suffering and misery of the world – poetry contributes to the expansion of our common humanity, helping to increase its strength, solidarity and self-awareness".

Morocco’s relationship with poetry has been shaped and determined by its geographical position in northwest Africa as a crossroads between the European and African continents and the greater Arab World, spanning across the Maghreb (North Africa) and the Middle East. Much of the poetry that has manifested in Morocco has been created through the mixture of poetic styles that come through this vast region of the world. Historically, Morocco was the passageway into al-Andalus, the medieval Muslim territory that encompassed most of present-day Spain and Portugal from the 8th century to 15th century BC. One can say that Morocco is a semi-permeable membrane, in the sense that many cultural influences come and go through the country, yet its original national character remains and the state holds its own shape and identity even as it changes constantly through time. 

While there is an exhaustive list of poetic styles present in Morocco, we will highlight three ones that have withstood the test of time and remain a staple of Moroccan poetry and prose: muwashahat, traditional gnawa music, and contemporary poetic forms of expression in the Moroccan Arabic dialect, Darija, and French.

Muwashahat is a traditional poetic form written in classical Arabic which typically consists of five stanzas, alternating with a refrain and running rhyme. While in the Middle East the traditional muwashah form is respected, poets from North Africa are known to take more creative liberty when undertaking the arduous task of meticulously crafting verses replete with meaning. Many muwashahat are rendered into musical form and were popularized in the modern era when they were recited by some of the most famous Arab musician such as Fairouz, Katham as-Sahar, Lena Chamamyan.

A street musician in Marrakech playing the guembri
Photo credit Ahron de Leeuw
A traditional Amazigh (Berber) musical form, gnawa is one of the most ancient forms of musical expression present in Morocco. Gnawa is distinguished by its ritual chants that are communally repeated for minutes to hours on end. It has long been a tradition that communities would gather together to listen to the gnawa chants and accompany the mesmerizing rhythmic chants with musical instruments, including the guembri, a guitar-like stringed instrument. Today, gnawa as a genre of Moroccan music has been widely popularized by artists such as Mahmoud Guinia. But in its nascent stages, gnawa was a poetic form that was used to express the human condition and suffering.

Many contemporary poetic forms in Morocco are expressed by young and old poets alike in Modern Standard Arabic, the Moroccan Arabic dialect (Darija), and French. Famous Moroccan writers like Tahar Ben Jelloun and Fatima Merinissi have expressed themselves not only in prose but also through poetry. Many young Moroccans have used the liberty provided by their multilingual background to chose the way in which they will express their inner emotions poetically. Some poets write multilingual poems, switching between languages on paper as easily as they do in conversation. Other Moroccan poets write exclusively in Arabic, believing that the richness of the Arabic language creates an ability to express things that French cannot. Social, political and religious motivations also impact language choices in Moroccan literature.

This brief exploration of some of the poetic styles in Morocco from its history to the modern area only grazes the surface of Morocco's rich literary history. Arab and Amazigh (Berber) culture has traditionally been an oral culture, with stories and poetry being passed down from generation to generation.

In order to preserve and promote Morocco’s rich poetic and prosaic history, Dar Si Hmad has a variety of  programs supporting local culture and protecting heritage. A manuscript project collects and preserves texts from the Aït Baamrane region, many of which are hundreds of years old and in scripts only a handful of linguistic experts can decipher. Protecting these manuscripts involves collaboration with universities and research centres around the world along with Amazigh villagers in Southwest Morocco's mountains.

Fast forwarding through nearly one thousand years of written and oral traditions to the digital age, Agadir Rising, an online zine entirely created and produced by the RISE program’s Journalism Club, has created a platform through which current college students and recent graduates from the Agadir area express themselves creatively through through poetry and prose. One of our RISE participants, Abdullah, recently wrote a poem using the intricate poetic form, typical of many muwashahat poems, where the last letter or syllable of every line is uniform. Follow the journalism club on Facebook for updates and to see our young artists' work. 

In our offices in Agadir, Dar Si Hmad regularly hosts visiting artists and poets for special events and meetings with our Ethnographic Field School groups. Previous partnerships have included 100 Thousand Poets for Change, a US-based project using poetry to promote peace, sustainability, and socio-political change. California poets Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion came to Morocco for the first time in 2014 to visit Dar Si Hmad and share poetry in four languages. 

This World Poetry Day, Dar Si Hmad salutes Abdullah, Fatima, and every other poet around the world who has used words to express and share their experiences of the world. There is a power in poetry. We are proud to learn from and help remember that power.

Foggy Forests: Dar Si Hmad celebrates World Forestry Day

What has fog got to do with forests? Quite a lot, actually – both historically around the world and today in Southwest Morocco.

21 March has been celebrated as World Forestry Day since 1971 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Four years ago, the day was adopted globally by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Day of Forests. The day encourages action and education around all types of forests. We all depend on forests for food and oxygen. Globally, some 1.6 billion people directly depend on forested areas for their livelihoods, medicine, fuel and food. Sustainable care for our trees is crucial to global justice, the elimination of poverty, and food security – today and tomorrow.

Forests account for one third of our planet’s land area. Unfortunately, that number is shrinking. Intentional deforestation for timber and farmland reduces forested areas; desertification and climate change further threaten beautiful and vital ecosystems. These problems are circular: trees play an important role in the planet’s carbon system, using carbon in their photosynthesis and releasing the oxygen we need to breathe. Cutting down trees increases carbon emissions and makes climate change worse. Increased drought and severe weather events then contribute to more forest destruction.

Happily, there are steps we can take to protect our forests, our planet, and ourselves. The theme of the 2016 International Day of Forests is Forests and Water. “In this first year of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the International Day of Forests focuses on their role in supporting water systems…Investing in forests is an insurance policy for the planet.” 
                  -United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Dar Si Hmad is currently embarking on a project to use our fog project to invest in forests.

Forested areas have been tied to fog harvesting since the practice was first used. In her book, La capitatión del agua de la niebla en la isla de Tenerife (Caja Canarias: Santa Cruz de Tenerife, 2003), Dar Si Hmad’s research partner Vicky Marzol shows
The Canary Island Cloud Forest
Photo credit Luc Viatour via Wiki Commons
that the original inhabitants of the Canary Islands collected fog water under large trees. The world’s first known fog collectors dug holes where there was a great amount of foliage; fog droplets would condense on tree leaves and fall into the holes.

In the Aït Baamrane region of Southwest Morocco, Dar Si Hmad and our partner villages run the largest fog harvesting system in North Africa. The mountainous desert landscape does not allow for the kind of collection Canary Islanders can do in their cloud forests. Instead, we use specially designed nets to capture fog. A carefully maintained system stores and distributes the fog water to five rural Amazigh villages. The families in our fog community now have running water in their homes for the first time.

Since we began our feasibility study for the fog project more than a decade ago, significant advancements have been made in the technology around fog harvesting. With partners like Vicky and Germany’s Wasserstiftung, Dar Si Hmad is now putting in more efficient nets that are able to collect more water per square meter of net.

Thanks to regular community education and generations of local knowledge, our fog villages use water very sustainably. This means that our increased yield can contribute not only to water for more villages but also to expanding programs. We are now in the process of conducting a feasibility study and seeking funding for a reforestation project – to be fed with fog water. Using fog water to support reforestation will sustain a holistic, healthy ecosystem to the benefit of plant, animal and human life in the region in a way that is ecologically friendly and socially responsible.

Forests are vital to water for human life. The UN’s choice of theme this year helps raise awareness about how forests are key to the planet’s supply of freshwater. Trees act as natural water filters. Forested watersheds and wetlands supply 75% of our global supply of accessible freshwater. Nearly one-third of our largest cities rely on forested areas for drinking water.

But water is also vital to forests! The interconnected of natural systems creates constant feedback loops. We rely on forests and water. With projects like Dar Si Hmad’s new ‘fog forest’, we can give back to the ecosystems that sustain human society – and make sure that future generations are able to thrive.

Happy International Day of Forests from Dar Si Hmad...plant a tree today!

Friday, March 18, 2016

That's a wrap! Rounding out the RISE Profiles

A mix of “Joyeux Anniversaire”, “Happy Birthday”, and “Eid Milad Sayed” poured out from the RISErs as they stood beaming around a table lined with cake, cups, drinks, plates, and balloons. Opposite them were the shocked faces of two Dar Si Hmad staff members, two incredible women who have planned, facilitated, and coordinated programming for the RISErs every day for the last six months or so. Knowing how hard they work, the participants of our RISE program took it upon themselves to organize the whole celebration, staying far after the usual hours to wish their friends and facilitators a happy birthday. Smiling widely and clapping loudly as the song dragged into the final note, you could feel that this had become more than just a program. It had become a family.

They’re a diverse group, in backgrounds as well as passions, coming from all different walks of life: men, women, Amazigh, Arab, Moroccan, Malian, and so many more. Most hail from the location of the program itself in sunny Agadir, but others come from the bustling urban centers of the north and some from small eastern towns. What marks these RISErs is that they do more than just let their pasts define them; they are driven by the people who have built them up. When you talk to any of these passionate young people, they’ll tell you how they want to give back. Whether it’s designing an art program for the children in their town, creating culture centers for marginalized communities to express themselves, or striving to teach underprivileged students, each participant has a drive to create real change for the people around them. It is easy for a young successful person to look only forward, yet these participants have found a way of combining their futures with their pasts. Though the RISE program itself touches on community engagement, the RISErs focus on it in every aspect of their lives.

The only thing more inspiring and diverse than their backgrounds are their passions. They speak with drive and purpose, with forward cutting solutions to very real problems. Working on giving a voice to refugees through journalism, using their language skills to translate for immigrant communities, or developing graphic technologies in Morocco, each RISEr has their own unique passion. For us, the program itself doesn’t create the leaders of the future, it empowers them. These participants are already forward thinkers and creators, all they need is the support and knowledge to realize their dreams. Moreover, the RISE program is a place where raw passion can find an outlet. Many students come to the program with more questions than solutions, and through both conversation with their peers and lessons from the modules, they have started to find paths for their talents. This is one of the most beautiful and unexpected results that we’ve seen; that these participants have discovered so much about themselves and what they want to do with their lives through being a part of RISE. There is such talent in every last one of them, and they each bring their own perspective even when engaging in similar fields of study. They are the teachers, writers, graphic designers, journalists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and leaders of tomorrow - and today.

The goal of the RISE program is to develop soft skills often forgotten in a university setting. Technological competence, personal marketing, understanding the entrepreneurship field, these skills are essential to navigating the Moroccan employment market as a young person. Through numerous workshops and an array of other activities throughout each month-long module, the students have started taking these concepts to heart. But the impact of RISE is bigger than just skills. In all kinds of success, from Silicon Valley to the beatniks, what matters is the creation of a nurturing and supportive community. A web of connections and friends, ideas and passion, a group where the leaders of the future can build on their dreams. Creating a constructive community is hard, but it is so essential to the engines of change. Dancing and singing around that table, at an event planned completely on their own accord to show gratitude to two women who had given them so much, it was evident that the RISE participants had done just that. Watching them teach each other the macarena, laughing, smearing cake on each others’ faces, these young people had gained more than just skills in the RISE program. Over the past few months they have made a family, a community, and bonds that will last a lifetime.

We are proud of our RISErs, and we would like to thank Fatima, Youssef, Jamila, Youness, Fatima-Zahra, Abdellah, Sara, Abdullah, Zahra, Salma, Mohamed, and Rkia for sharing their hopes and dreams with us. Our series of RISE Profiles has come to an end. But the incredible young people we've been highlighting have more to say. Committed to developing themselves and their communities, our RISErs have launched their own Journalism Club. Follow their adventures, read their stories, and learn more about Morocco's young leaders by joining Agadir Rising online at agadirrising.blogspot.com. Let's RISE.

This piece was written by Dar Si Hmad Intern Jason Bono, a student at Seattle University. It will be Jason's last post from Morocco: like the RISE profiles, Jason's time with Dar Si Hmad is coming to an end this week. We would like to thank him for his incredible commitment and energy over the past two months. For more about Jason's experiences with us in Agadir, check out his "Day in the Life" and "Glance into the Water School" posts. And please join us in wishing him well as he travels back to the US!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

RISE Profile: Rkia Elarif

"I wanted to apply to RISE because needed something to do while I take some time off of school."

Twenty-one-year-old Rkia Elarif is a usually a student at Ibn Zohr University. RISE is helping the Lkahssas native decide where she wants to go next.

"Bringing in my CV and resume has been the most helpful session so far. I got great feedback on what to improve so I can be a good job candidate. I am learning professional skills and meeting motivated people who push me to pursue my goals."

Rkia Elarif.JPG

To meet other RISE participants and hear about their work building personal and professional capacities, make sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram and like our page on Facebook!  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

RISE Profile: Mohamed Moumin

A native of Ourzazate, nineteen-year-old Mohamed Moumin is currently studying English at Agadir's Ibn Zohr University.

New to the city, Mohamed says "I have been wanting to meet other people from Agadir, and RISE has been a great place to do that. I have been making so many friends here!"

Mohamed Moumin.JPG

"RISE has also let me discover skills that I never knew I had - I’m realizing I could be a stronger leader. I want to improve my English and work as a translator one day. I enjoy volunteer work and I would like to translate for immigrants or refugees. I also want to study abroad and use what I learned from these experiences and apply them to my community in Morocco."

Good luck, Mohamed!

To meet other RISE participants and hear about their work building personal and professional capacities, make sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram and like our page on Facebook!  

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Glance into the Water School: World Wildlife Day in the Bled

Last week, Dar Si Hmad celebrated World Wildlife Day at our Water School. In two remote classrooms in the Aït Baamrane region on March 4 and 5, rural schoolchildren engaged with lessons on animal biology. Packed into their small one-room schools, beaming and full of excitement, students gathered to learn about the wildlife of Morocco, the incredible biodiversity of our world, and the challenges the future poses.

Full from a home cooked meal and tired from preliminary games on the red dirt field outside the schoolhouse, the children now sat at their desks eyes full of anticipation. Calling up several students to hold four landscape pictures, Fatiha – our incredibly gifted instructor – showed the class the four distinct habitats for animals in Morocco. The whole class then matched, one by one, an animal with a region. 

Fatiha: "A dolphin?"
Students: "The Atlantic Ocean!"
"A hawk?"
"The Mountains!"
"A monkey?"
"The pine forests!"
"And the camel lives in the pine forest with the monkey, yak (right)?"
Giggles and shouts of "Ohoy (no), he lives in the Sahara!"
All together they pointed and grinned as each new animal was matched.

The sun now slowly tucking behind the red foothills enveloping the small rural community, a video of animal sounds from around the world played in the classroom. Feigned shrieks at the growl of a panther, bursting laughter at the barks of a hyena, awed silence amid the regal trumpeting of an elephant. The students listened in wonder as the presentation shifted to the biology of each animal, touching in detail not only the physical makeup of wildlife, but also the biological circles they live in. Students were taught about the intricate systems of the animal world, from the relationship between predator and prey to the life cycles of the animals themselves. Throughout, the children were reminded of the delicate balance in which wildlife exists, that all it takes is a small change to offset everything.

The 2016 theme of World Wildlife Day was “The future of wildlife is in our hands”, touching on not only the link between human life and animal life but also the generational impact of conservation. This cry isn’t just focused on creating real change now, but in starting long-term initiatives to protect the beautiful biodiversity of our planet. This starts with children. Especially in regions like Ait Baamrane, one of the most beautiful and ecologically fragile places in the world due to desertification and salination, future generations must understand the challenges that they will face. 

The last few slides in the Water School showed images of oil spills, sickening displays of overfishing, and meaningless poaching for the tusks of a gentle elephant. What stood out the most in these students was not their outrage or shock – both of which were present and justified – but rather their passion to make a change. With every new image was a new response, a new discussion, and all this from primary-aged schoolchildren. Standing outside that stark white building, red hills of dusty green argan trees and songs of soaring birds spreading out in every direction, the children held their earlier crafted animal masks and signs that read “Happy World Wildlife Day”. Grinning and giggling, they are the reminder of not only why we celebrate this day, but of why it is so important. The future of wildlife is in our hands and in the hands of our children.

This piece was written by Dar Si Hmad Intern Jason Bono, a student at Seattle University. For more about Jason's experiences in Morocco, check out his "Day in the Life" post.