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, April 22, 2016

Trees for the Earth: Earth Day 2016

April 22nd is a very special day in Southwest Morocco for Dar Si Hmad. Happy Earth Day! International Mother Earth Day has been celebrated by the Earth Day Network since 1970. In 2009, the Day was made official by the United Nations. April 22nd is a commemoration of our planet that aims to “build a healthy, sustainable environment, address climate change and protect the Earth for future generations.” This year’s theme is “Trees for the Earth”, encouraging people all over the world to plant a total of 7.5 billion trees over the next five years.

Earth Day has a special meaning for us at Dar Si Hmad. So much of our programming is centrally focused on sustainability and requires a healthy environment. Our flagship fog-harvesting project is possible thanks only to the ecological conditions that roll dense fog into the Aït Baamrane Mountains. The Water School, a direct spin-off from the fog-harvesting system, revolves around environmental learning. Partner universities from around the world visit our Ethnographic Field School because of the uniqueness of our fog system. And everything else - from our vocational training programs in urban Agadir to our participation in international conferences - is possible thanks only to the planet that sustains human life.

Our 2016 Water School is directly addressing this year’s “Trees for the Earth” theme. The Water School is a two-month program for the young children of the beneficiary families of the Fog Harvesting Project. It provides them with fun and interactive lessons on environmental conservation, protection and sustainability. Since the children live in landlocked rural communities in the mountains of Aït Baamrane, they will soon inherit the unfavorable conditions that make accessing basic resources like water a challenge. As the next generation of inhabitants in this region, it is important to teach them how they can make the most of their surrounding communities by teaching them environmental science. 

A few weeks ago, the students of the Water School created a community garden at their school. With the help of their infectiously enthusiastic teacher, Fatiha, Water School students found their 'green thumbs' and planted trees as a part of their lesson on the environment. They rolled up their sleeves and were not afraid to get their hands a little muddy to create a green space for all of their community to enjoy. During the following week, the Water School student built up on their original community garden idea by beautifying the space to make it more appealing for garden goers. As a part of a lesson on recycling and sustainability, students painted old tires which would be used to adorn the base of trees planted in the previous week. Through the physical act of planting trees in a garden and then making that garden colorful and beautiful through artistic tires, these young students were able to develop a connection with their surroundings and the Earth. From a young age, they are actively creating environmentally sustainable places that engage the community and the planet. Their work has created homes for plants and animals as well as a beautiful space for the neighborhood.

Exactly a month ago on March 22nd, the international community celebrated World Water Day. That day and today, we celebrate the success of our fog-harvesting project. The innovative technology was recently featured in New Yorker magazine.

Dar Si Hmad's Director Jamila Bargach speaks at the
Inauguration of our Fog-Harvesting Project. We recently
celebrated the one-year anniversary of providing potable
water to homes in Southwest Morocco!
The fog project is a cornerstone of Dar Si Hmad’s programming and represents the organization's creativity in working with the natural environment to benefit surrounding communities. Having reached it first year of water supply, the Fog Harvesting Project has significantly improved the livelihoods of the people in the landlocked mountainous area of Aït Baamrane by collecting potable water in nets from passing fog clouds. Women in particular have saved time that would otherwise be used gathering water from distant wells, and have used that time to build their communities and themselves. This project has been a way for us to provide a vital natural resource to individuals in a way that does not come at the expense of the environment.

Dar Si Hmad's Ethnographic Field School program hosts visiting international researchers and student groups to discover the culture, history and environment of Morocco. Visitors from around the world travel to Southwest Morocco to see for themselves the incredibly biodiversity and natural beauty of the region. Studying and working alongside local communities, Ethnographic Field School participants learn how sustainable livelihoods and environmentally led empowerment are central to holistic development.

An EFS participant from Georgetown University’s Center 
for Contemporary Arab Studies samples some 
of the cold freshwater streaming from the 
High Altas Mountains at Paradise Valley.
Last May, some EFS participants trekked to the Paradise Valley (located twenty kilometres northwest of Agadir) to take in the views of the stunning oasis of freshwater streams coming from the High Atlas Mountains. Moroccans and foreigners alike travel to Paradise Valley each day to marvel at how an otherwise barren and arid area flourishes into a sea of green forest filled with a variety of flora and fauna. Valley goers can take a dip in the many gorges that form along the stream of water. More adventurous souls will brave a 30 jump off a cliff into a deep pool of water. Whatever you choose to do in Paradise Valley, it is a reminder of the great ecology and biodiversity that the Souss-Massa region has to offer.

The trees in Paradise Valley and those planted by our young students in the Water School Community Garden are a critical part of our planet's health...and our own. "Trees for the Earth" are also trees for us. Dar Si Hmad is currently exploring a new forest in Southwest Morocco, fed by fogwater. Wherever in the world you are, we encourage you to plant a tree today and support reforestation efforts. When it comes to the environment, we are all equally responsible - and equally at risk. We all have a stake in working to preserve our planet for human and non-human life, for ourselves and generations to come. In a time when we are increasingly reminded of finite resources being used by seemingly infinite greed, we must be more conscious consumers of the environment and mindful about the way in which we interact with our natural surroundings. On this International Mother Earth Day, we encourage our readers to take a moment today - and every day - to do something good for our planet. Whatever you do, big or small, can make a difference. From Southwest Morocco, a very happy International Mother Earth Day to everyone.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Streaming the Water School: Girls in STEM

Last year as part of our #16Days Campaign marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we highlighted our work with young girls in the Aït Baamrane Mountains. Dar Si Hmad's Water School leverages environmental concerns to engage rural communities in experiential, life-changing learning. Children aged 7-13 in Southwest Morocco learn about the societal and natural realities of their world, expanding their capacities for and understandings of global change.

Our "Streaming the Water School" YouTube Series gives you a look into the educational program. The second installment, "Girls in STEM", highlights the School's impact on young women. Girls around the world are discouraged from pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields at a young age due to persistent sexist stereotypes that imply they are not as capable of science or engineering as their male counterparts. "Girls in STEM" features the young Amazigh girls participating in this spring's edition of the School, who sadly are particularly susceptible to systemic exclusion from STEM fields in rural Southwest Morocco. The Water School seeks to dismantle these internalized messages through lessons on environmental science, animal biology, and technology, which provide opportunities for the girls to explore STEM field. Girls learn how to identify the unique flora and fauna in their communities and Morocco, operate microscopes, and understand the importance of environmental conservation. 

With these activities, bridges are built between girls and boys through the mutual understanding that collaboration is the best way to create a sustainable future for generations to come.  The Water School is also led by Moroccan women who serve as inspirational role models for the girls and encourage them to achieve whatever they want in their lives.

Check out the most recent episode of "Streaming the Water School":

Promoting girls in STEM is just one of our many programs contributing to women's empowerment in Southwest Morocco. Dar Si Hmad has clearly established women’s empowerment as a driving force throughout our work in environmental development, education, and intercultural exchange. We recognize that women bear the brunt of poverty and resource scarcity, and our work focuses on training women of all backgrounds and skill levels to take on leadership and decision-making roles to ensure truly sustainable development. Simultaneously, research has shown that investments in women are much more likely to be reinvested in future generations and show tangible improvements in the quality of life for their children. Throughout our projects, Dar Si Hmad’s approach focuses on enhancing quality educational opportunities and sustainable practices for vulnerable populations, especially women and girls.

In celebration of our "'Streaming the Water School': Girls in STEM" episode, Dar Si Hmad has launched a new "Women's Empowerment" page. Visit the new space for an overview of the many ways we are promoting gender parity for women of all ages around Morocco and the world.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Happy World Health Day!

Today marks the 66th annual World Health Day - and the anniversary of the biggest international organization dedicated to issues of well-being.  WHO, the World Health Organization, has celebrated World Health Day every year since the birth of its Constitution on 7 April 1950.  This year's celebrations focus on rapidly increasing rates of diabetes around the world.  With the goals of “scaling up prevention, strengthening care, and enhancing surveillance,” the WHO is seeks to stop the relentless march of diabetes. Globally, diabetes is the eighth biggest killer in the world, affecting one in every eleven people today.

Diabetes is a largely treatable, non-communicable disease. People with diabetes struggle to produce or utilize insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the body’s sugar levels. It is vital to maintaining the energy we need to live.  If insulin isn't doing its job, a harmful build-up of sugar accumulates in the blood. This sugar build-up leads to diabetes.  

There are two main forms of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.  People with Type 1 cannot produce their own insulin and require insulin injections.  Usually diagnosed in children and young adults, Type 1 is responsible for only 5% of diabetes cases around the world.  Its cause remains unknown, but it is thought to be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors.   Type 2 diabetes is much more common. Those with Type 2 diabetes are able to produce insulin but cannot use it properly.  Type 2 is commonly associated with excess bodyweight and physical inactivity. Healthy eating and lifestyle habits can help prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes.

In 1980, the number of people with diabetes stood at 108 million, but in the last 25 years, this figure has skyrocketed to a startling 422 million and growing.  Diabetes was once considered a disease of the wealthy, with the highest rates found in affluent countries.  Within the past few decades, however, the burden of diabetes has shifted to low- and middle-income countries.  More than 80% of the 1.5 million deaths directly caused by diabetes occurred in low- and middle-income countries.  Sadly, diabetics in these countries who require healthcare, medicine, and information about their condition too frequently do not have the means to access it.  Only one-in-three low- and middle-income countries report that primary health-care facilities have even the most basic technologies and medications available for diabetics.  Throughout these countries, the lack of affordable insulin remains the chief obstacle to successful treatment and avoiding unnecessary complications and premature death.     

Diabetes is one of Morocco's biggest public health concerns.  The country has more than 1.7 million cases of diabetes - with 8% of the adult population directly suffering from the disease. The rise of diabetes in Morocco is partly associated with the shift from rural, traditional lifestyles, urban migration, and dietary changes. These transitions are accompanied by higher levels of stress and sedentary lifestyles, which increase the risk of obesity and heart disease.    

The treatment of diabetes is not only a serious public health issue, but also a sustainable development issue.  Although diabetes wreaks significant economic strain affecting the rich and poor worldwide, inconvenience, pain, anxiety, and a lower quality of life impose intangible and unquantifiable costs.  Diabetes causes more than half of the nontraumatic lower limb amputations and is one of the leading causes of visual impairment and blindness.  There is no way to calculate the financial and socioeconomic burden imposed by loss of vision or limb to diabetics and their family members.  “We can stop it, we know what needs to be done, but we cannot let it evolve like it does because it has a huge impact on people’s health, on families, and on society,” says Dr. Etienne Krug, the WHO expert leading efforts against diabetes.

On an individual level, the onset of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with simple lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a healthy diet, regular physical activity, and avoiding tobacco use.  A recent WHO report has stressed, however, that there is not a simple, catch-all solution to addressing the diabetes pandemic.  The solution relies the coordinated intervention plan that engages all sectors of society.  It has called on governments to place regulations on fat and sugar contents of food to ensure healthy options are more widely available and to prohibit the marketing of unhealthy food to children.  Policies that improve equitable access to proper medication and care, urban planning that encourages people to walk and cycle, public health education, and health-care providers can collectively curb the rise of diabetes and improve the lives of those living with the disease.

While not a primary healthcare provider, Dar Si Hmad plays in active role in issues of public health. Our RISE and THRIVE Programs boost education, aspiration, and activity levels for urban youth in Agadir.  In our Water School, rural children learn about the importance of active lifestyles and are taught using a variety of interactive games. And our flagship fog-harvesting project includes WASH programming improving water for sanitation and hygiene systems for communities in the rural southwest.

Thanks to our fog nets, potable water is now reliably pumped directly into the homes of five partner villages. But many of these houses still lack appropriate waste disposal and sanitation systems. One of Dar Si Hmad’s current projects is working to ensure that every household in the community has adequate access and knowledge of good hygiene practices.  

The Water School lesson at the end of April will be on WASH.  Children will learn about germs, contamination, and the importance of better hygiene and health practices.  They will use microscopes to examine the differences between clean and dirty water.  Using glitter to represent germs, students will learn about the importance of regular hand-washing.  Educating children on appropriate health principles will encourage them to transmit these practices to their families, enabling extended community members to benefit from basic health information.  

Working to improve hygiene routines and reduce health burdens, Dar Si Hmad promotes local livelihoods, socioeconomic sustainability, and empowerment in Southwest Morocco. From Morocco's 1.7 million diabetes-affected residents, the children of our Water School, the young leaders of RISE and THRIVE, and the committed staff in our Agadir offices - Happy World Health Day! May we all work toward a healthier world.