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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Introducing the Environmental Youth Ambassadors!!

We've been hinting at our new program in the past few blog posts. Today, we're happy to formally announce the Environmental Youth Ambassadors!

Our EYAs are seven RISE participants who have taken on an opportunity to work with Dar Si Hmad on environmental education and media. The EYAs joined our Water School to help teach young children in the ecologically fragile communities of Aït Baamrane the importance of conservation, resource management, and environmental protection. Following their experiences in the bled, the Environmental Youth Ambassadors are running a series of events in and around Agadir to engage their communities in environmental action.

In their own words, "Environmental Youth Ambassadors (EYA) is an environmental education and advocacy program established by Dar Si Hmd (DSH). The aim of this project is to allow young Moroccans to use visual storytelling and environmental journalism to advocate for environmental issues in southwest Morocco on a local and international scale, which do not receive significant attention or publicity. Particularly as the COP22 conference to be held in Marrakech in November 2016 approaches, this kind of conscientious, locally-driven initiative will be a powerful contribution to the dialogues and pledges surrounding COP22, showcasing the vibrant efforts of youth from all corners of Morocco who are raising awareness about and combating climate change."

Meet our seven Environmental Youth Ambassadors:

abdelAbdelhaq is a twenty-years old undergraduate student majoring in Management at Ibn Zohr University with interests in information technology. His environmental experience began in childhood while volunteering in beach clean-ups activities and was selected to represent his high school in a regional meeting organised by Surfrider Foundation discussing environmental issues such as pollution and animals extinction. Abdelhaq speaks Arabic, French & English.

Oumhani is a twenty-one years old, third-year student majoring in Environment, Energy, and Process Engineering at Ecole Nationale des Sciences Appliqués (ENSA) in Agadir. Passionate about environment and sustainability, she is an active member of Process Club where she worked on many projects and event related to the field. Oumhani speaks Arabic, English and French.

Salma was born in Safi but merrily lived her 20 years in 7 different regions all over Morocco, having the chance to appreciate the cultural, linguistic and natural diversity of the country. Salma is a nature enthusiast and always eager to invite the community to preserve the gifts of mother Nature through simple but impactful actions. She is passionate about languages and taught herself Korean, Spanish and German, and currently pursuing her studies at Ecole Nationale de Commerce et de Gestion (ENCG) in Agadir.

rkiaRkia was born in a town named Addar – Sidi M’Bark in Sidi Ifni. She graduated from Ibn Zohr University with a Bachelor’s degree in English Studies (Linguistics) in 2015. Rkia loves learning different languages and cultures as she speaks Tachelhit, Arabic, French and English and currently learning Italian and Spanish. She is fascinated by environment protection as “Our Mother Earth keeps serving us and it’s time to be keen, contribute, participate and make a positive change in our community”.

Mohamed is a twenty-one-year-old Agadir native pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Economics & Management at Ibn Zohr University. He is an alumnus Dar Si Hmad’s U.S.-MEPI RISE program and a member of RISE’s Journalism Club. Mohamed is passionate about environment, social work and art. He love playing chess, reading about scientific and philosophical subjects, photography, traveling and recently started playing Capoeira.

Mohamed is a twenty-years-old student from Tinghir, High Atlas Mountains-Morocco.  he is majoring in English Linguistics at Ibn Zohr University. He has had a passion for the environment and an interest in voluntary activities from a young age. This has led him to explore and volunteer in many environmental and social activities interacting mainly with little children; Mohamed believes in sustainable education and empowerment of the next generation, which is very essential in helping to build a sustainable future for all.
Born and raised in a small village near Ouled Teima region, Mahdi was the first one of his family to graduate from high school and go to college. Passionate about social activism and nonprofits, he led a registered local NGO is his home village and was an active member of several youth-led initiatives in Morocco. Mahdi was a 2015 U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Student Leader at Benedictine University (USA),  and currently studying at Ecole Nationale de Commerce et de Gestion (ENCG) in Agadir.

One of our graphic designers, Mahdi has visually summed up the EYAs:

The Moroccan Arabic word for yes is "eya". Our Environmental Youth Ambassadors say "yes" to environmental action in Morocco and around the world. We invite you to join them in their adventures leading up to COP22. Check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And be sure to follow their blog for environmental news, opionions, poetry, and more: https://eyadarsihmad.wordpress.com/blog/.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Desertification Day

Today marks the World Day to Combat Desertification. The 2016 theme focuses on inclusive participation to prevent land degradation. A global observance event is being held in Beijing, China to "Protect Earth, Restore Land, and Engage People". The United Nations and others are gathering to celebrate “The Belt and Road,” a project that promotes green and low-carbon infrastructure construction in cooperation with countries connected by the historic Silk Road. Around the world, researchers, farmers, policymakers, and communities are coming together to work against the destruction wreaked on ecosystems by human-induced soil degradation and land mismanagement.

To mark the day, Dar Si Hmad's new Environmental Youth Ambassadors are writing blogs and poems about Morocco's deserts and the global problem of desertification.

We are reposting one of their pieces here. Check out the EYA blog for the original post and more content from these local activists!!

From Environmental Youth Ambassador Salma Edrif:

More than 20 years after World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought was first proclaimed on January 30, 1995, deserts cover 63% of our planet.
However dry and dead they may appear, the African Sahara, Arab Desert, Great Sandy Desert, Thar Desert and even Antarctica Desert are homelands to biologically diverse ecosystems, a population of 2 million people and countless cultures that have made a home in the arid deserts.
In Morocco, 266 000 Km square is covered by desert. Through history, the desert has been Morocco’s gateway to the Sahara and the route of trade caravans linking the north of the continent with the south. It is the homeland of a 500 000 population and the beautiful Hassani culture.
Unfortunately, the surface of arid deserts is growing significantly, destroying countless ecosystems in the process. This is known as the desertification phenomenon.
According to the Princeton University Dictionary, desertification is defined as “the process of fertile land transforming into desert typically as a result of deforestation, drought or improper/inappropriate agriculture”.  
It is the expansion of biologically destroyed land at the expense of productive land, occuring mainly in dry lands when a land’s vegetation is destroyed and the land is no longer productive. Desertification is caused by several factors such as drought, climate change and especially the unhealthy overproduction and mismanagement of land. According to the United Nations, since 1990, about six million hectares of productive land have been lost around the world every year as the land becomes degraded and less fertile. An estimated 135 million people are at risk of being driven from their lands because of continuing desertification.
This phenomenon does not only affect land and ecosystems but also gives rise to social, economic and political tensions that can cause conflicts, further poverty and land degradation.
Therefore, practical and effective prevention measures against desertification are required in threatened areas. One such measure is Morocco’s National Charter for Environment and Sustainable Development, “Plan Maroc Vert”. The Charter was launched in 2010 and will form the framework for all future national environmental laws, guiding government officials on natural resources, the environment and sustainability.
In addition to law enforcement, effective solutions include preventing soil erosion through rational land management, planting and protecting windbreaks and shelterbelts of live plants, improving early warning systems and water resource management, and developing strategies that address poverty at its roots. This last is especially imporant because poverty forces people who depend on land for their livelihoods to overexploit the land for food, energy, housing and sources of income.
To help governements combat desertification, small individual actions such water conservation, planting trees and donating seeds to poor farmers families could be taken.
The wildness and desolation of natural deserts are the source of their charm and beauty; however, this charm is lost when human-induced deserts caused by overproduction and climate change destroy other ecosystems, and in the process, the life of millions.
Last but not least, don’t hesitate to learn more about UN’s theme for this year’s World’s Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Celebrating our Planet's Oceans

Happy World Oceans Day! Today marks the annual celebration of our blue planet as we work towards a cleaner, more sustainable future. Three quarters of Earth’s surface is covered by oceans, containing 97 percent of the Earth’s water that over three billion people depend on for their livelihoods. Oceans are the life source of Earth, connecting people across the world, regulating climate, producing 80% of our oxygen (trees generate 20%), providing a home for wildlife, and feeding millions of people. This year’s theme “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet” promotes the prevention of plastic polluting our oceans. 

Plastic pollution poses a significant threat to oceans and marine life because it degrades very slowly and remains in waterways for years.  Plastic is often ingested by aquatic animals that mistake it for food, which poses serious health consequences for these critters and for humans.  Kilometers of discarded fishing net and plastic debris snare and drown thousands of sea creatures per year, and countless dead birds have been found with plastic in their stomachs.  The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) determined that 100,000 marine mammals and millions of birds and fish have been killed by plastic debris each year.  NOAA also reported that 8 million tons of plastics are dumped in oceans each year – the shocking equivalent to five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.  This figure is anticipated to double by 2025.  Our oceans, plants, and wildlife are choking on plastic.
  Morocco boasts the pristine Atlantic and Mediterranean coast. The last session of Dar Si Hmad’s Water School was devoted to teaching the children about “Aquatic Ecosystems”.  The children learned about the animals and plants around the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea hugging Morocco’s coastlines by creating their own “ocean” with blue jello and gummy fish.  The shock on the students’ faces when shown pictures of water pollution in Morocco’s water systems and harrowing scenes of dead sea animals ensnared in plastic nets led them to make posters on how important it is to prevent pollution, which they hung proudly around the classroom.  In previous years, Dar Si Hmad took the Water School students on a trip to Lexira Beach, an hour away from their villages in Ait Baamrane.  For many children, this was the first time they had seen the ocean.
For World Water Day on March 22, Dar Si Hmad asked RISE participants to submit photography, written pieces, or art on what water means to them.  Mohammed Ouabbou, a recent RISE Graduate and newly named Environmental Youth Ambassador, captured the water pollution around his community in Agadir in photos - and wrote an impassioned statement about the importance of communities fighting pollution together.
Across the world, mankind is threatened by several dangers. Pollution is at the top of this danger. The images below taken at the source of the Oued Souss River show a perfect example of pollution. It exposes dirty surfaces and water spots contaminated not only by sewage water from factories but also sewage water from homes that often contain toxic substances, such as hydrochloric acid, bleach and detergent. In addition to these materials, plastic bags are thrown into toilettes and nature. Since these products are not biodegradable, it will not degrade for another several centuries.
The consequences of this form of pollution are numerous and disastrous. For example, the chemical products that fill the river have led to the disappearance of several animal species like birds and fishes, the former of which fishermen plant themselves in their bad quality in fishing spots close to the source of the river.  Despite this, pollution is not an inevitable destiny. There are solutions to end this catastrophe. Companies, schools, the Internet and different mass media outlets play an important role in raising awareness citizens and industries, and another role in pressuring the government to end the laws that prohibit and prevent having such behaviors mentioned above. Lastly, the fight against pollution is impossible if one does not have the will to do so.
Abdellah Boutaramat, a fellow RISEr, drew a poignant cartoon entitled “Water…the Hero!” to signify the role water plays in upholding all living things on Earth. In his artist's statement, Abdellah says:
No one can deny the importance of water being a fundamental condition for all living beings on this planet. However, several aspects of pollution and waste return to the irrationality of its usage that permanently threaten the lives of millions of beings.
The design attempts to put on the same scene the fundamental place occupied by water (the drop of water that all the planet carries on its shoulders) and the crisis affecting water resources, provoked by pollution factors shown on the drawing by ‘the greenhouse effect.’ In addition, the cartoon attempts to shed light on the suffering of the drop of water that can no longer support the heaviness of the burden especially after sustained a significant ‘weight loss’ (waste).

The Environmental Youth Ambassadors will be organizing events that gather their community to care for their environment and to create solutions to pressing issues like ocean pollution. Stay tuned for EYA activities leading up to Morocco's hosting COP22 climate change negotiations in November on the EYA blog.

Oceans - their currents, their temperatures, their chemistry, and wildlife - make Earth habitable for humans. It is absolutely imperative that we take responsibility for caring for our oceans like they care for us. To survive and thrive, we must unite to mobilize toward the sustainable management of our world’s oceans. Our team at Dar Si Hmad, the Water School, RISE, and the Environmental Youth Ambassadors wish you a Happy World Oceans Day!

Monday, June 6, 2016

RISE & THRIVE Graduation

Eight months ago, Dar Si Hmad opened applications for its youth empowerment RISE & THRIVE programs. Students based at regional universities like Ibn Zohr and young professionals based in Agadir were invited to apply for a year-long professional development initiative. RISE provides young Moroccans with the professional competencies to enhance their employability and entrepreneurship potential. Youth from the local vocational school, Centre de Formation par Apprentissage (CFA), were engaged with a partner project, THRIVE.

On Tuesday 10 November 2015, RISE participants attended their Integration Day. The same week, CFA students met THRIVE mentors and began their program.

During the next seven months, over 200 Agadir youth dedicated substantial time to building their computing, public speaking, financial, teambuilding, entrepreneurial, management, and language skills. Weekly sessions with training experts, extracurricular projects, and monthly Common Core conferences have shaped these young people into powerful forces.

This Saturday, RISE & THRIVE students gathered to celebrate the completion of the program.

M Hamid Sougri, Direction of the Centre de Formation par Apprentissage, and his daughter, a PhD researcher of English and American Culture, attended the Dar Si Hmad Graduation Ceremony to congratulate CFA students on their successful completion of the THRIVE program.

Dar Si Hmad Director Jamila Bargach welcomed attendees to Saturday’s Graduation Ceremony and congratulated the students on their hard work.

Each graduate was awarded a RISE & THRIVE Diploma certifying their participation in the program and a thumb drive with helpful resources.

Representative RISE & THRIVE students addressed the audience, sharing their experiences and future goals. Hanane Kimmat reflected on how THRIVE helped her grow. THRIVE participant Abdullah Farnina shared how, before working with Dar Si Hmad, he would not have been able to speak on stage. Abdelhaq Ait Boulhous gave a powerful speech about the power of words.

Participant Mahdi Lafram, who shared his experiences with the US MEPI Student Leaders Program early in the RISE calendar, introduced Dar Si Hmad’s new Environmental Youth Ambassadors initiative. Thanks to a partnership with the US Embassy in Morocco, six RISE Participants are joining Dar Si Hmad for an environmental journalism initiative.

During the last module of their RISE & THRIVE program, participants were challenged to work in small teams to develop business proposals. Winning projects, one each from the RISE and THRIVE cohorts, were awarded $500 for the implementation of their projects. On Saturday, Dar Si Hmad, with the support of US-MEPI, supported two local start-ups. A summer camp for young entrepreneurs and a communications agency are now being created in Agadir.

The ceremony ended with a violin performance by Fulbright English Teaching Assistant and Dar Si Hmad Intern Arielle Moss. Students who have had Arielle as a mentor clapped and cheered as her beautiful music celebrated the friendships that have grown over the past eight months.

After the awards, friends and supporters gathered around a delicious buffet.

From all of us at Dar Si Hmad, mabrook (congratulations) to our graduates, and thank you for an amazing eight months!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Go Wild for Life!!

Each year on 5 June, the United Nations Environment Programme leads World Environment Day, a global celebration recognized by the UN since 1972.

WED focuses on the 'people's day' of caring for the Earth. It is about figuring out what we can do as individuals and communities to take care of the Earth and be agents of change.

Every year, a different country hosts the official celebrations. This year, Angola calls us to "Go Wild for Life". The global theme was chosen because:
The booming illegal trade in wildlife products is eroding Earth’s precious biodiversity, robbing us of our natural heritage and driving whole species to the brink of extinction. The killing and smuggling is also undermining economies and ecoystems, fuelling organized crime, and feeding corruption and insecurity across the globe.
Wildlife crime endangers iconic elephants, rhinos, tigers, gorillas and sea turtles. In 2011, a subspecies of Javan rhino went extinct in Vietnam, while the last western black rhinos vanished from Cameroon the same year. Great apes have disappeared from Gambia, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo, and other countries could quickly follow. Lesser-known victims include helmeted hornbills and pangolins as well as wild orchids and timbers like Rosewood – flowers and timber are also considered wildlife!
Huge efforts to counter the illicit trade - including stronger policies, awareness campaigns and investments in community conservation and law enforcement - have scored some great successes. However, many species remain at risk and it will take a dedicated and sustained effort by each and every one of us to turn the tide.
How can we do it? More people need to understand the damage this illicit business is doing to our environment, livelihoods, communities and security. We must change our habits and behaviour so that demand for illegal wildlife products falls. More awareness and action pushes governments and international bodies to introduce and enforce tougher laws and combat those still willing to break them.
This year’s theme for WED – Go Wild for Life – encourages you to celebrate all those species under threat and take action of your own to help safeguard them for future generations. This can be about animals or plants that are threatened within your local area as well as at the national or global level - many local extinctions will eventually add up to a global extinction! Whoever you are, and wherever you live, show zero-tolerance for the illegal trade in wildlife in word and deed, and make a difference.

As we highlighted on Biological Diversity Day and World Wildlife Day, Morocco is blessed with beautiful and abundant animal and plantlife. Sadly, sometimes our 'exotic' ecosystems are threatened by tourists looking to take animals and related souvenirs home. Illegal trading is a problem in the country, especially in our tourist cities like Marrakech, Fez, Casablanca, and Rabat.

Dar Si Hmad echoes the words of UNEP Deputy Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw, who spoke in Nairobi yesterday. Ibrahim reminds us that we are all connected, that we are also animal life, that our own backyards are homes to other creatures, and that we can make a difference: 

On this World Environment Day - and the other 364 until the next one we need to take professional action to support the global momentum for change in areas like ending the illegal trade in wildlife, but we also need to take personal action to take care of our own backyard.
That's why, even with the best processes, protecting our environment demands the personal commitment of each one of us. There are already so many simple, everyday acts that could so easily improve our environment. Too many computers are left on standby, instead of being switched off; too many disposable coffee cups are used, instead of bringing a mug.
I am Ibrahim - I am an elephant and this is my backyard. Please - help me take care of it. Thank you!

Thank you to everyone working to care for life around the world. Dar Si Hmad applauds and joins you in working to better care for our planet and ourselves. Happy World Environment Day!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

"Net Change" at WECC 2016

Dar Si Hmad's flagship fog harvesting program and its spinoff Water School, Women's Empowerment, Water for Sanitation and Hygiene, and Fog Forest projects were presented at the International Conference on Water, Energy, and Climate Change hosted by Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech 1-4 June.

Director Jamila Bargach and PhD Research Consultant Rebecca L. Farnum spoke about "Net Change: Harvesting Fog for Resilience in Southwest Morocco" on Wednesday.

A sample of their remarks is below. You can see the accompanying presentation online here.

Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture (DSH) runs one of the world’s largest fog collection systems. After a decade-long experimental phase, the project was officially inaugurated in 2015 and now pipes potable running water into the homes of five rural villages in the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Southwest Morocco. Incorporating from its outset user-centric planning and embracing the interrelation between justice, livelihoods, and sustainability, the fog project serves as a case study for the potential of holistic development.

One of the saddest realities of climate change is its unequal impact. Already marginalized communities “bear the brunt of environmental degradation” [1]. Vulnerable populations and fragile landscapes intersect to further jeopardize livelihoods. Recognizing this, Dar Si Hmad’s fog project is guided by principles of environmental justice, purposefully integrating gendered and pro-poor analyses to generate maximum impact. On their own, fog collection nets are an innovative technological solution to water stress and the environmental uncertainties wrought by climate change, an ancient idea revitalized for modern demands in fog dense areas [2]. By leveraging the trust built over the course of the project’s feasibility study, Dar Si Hmad has built a comprehensive development program delivering not only potable water but also literacy and numeracy support, capacity building, and STEM-based education to some of Morocco’s most at-risk villages.

Women hold an ancestral role as water guardians in much of the world. Building from ICCD models linking ICT, climate change, and development [3], Dar Si Hmad created a fog monitoring system valorizing this role. Literacy and numeracy trainings in partner villages enable women to govern household supply via SMS message. Expanded literacy capacities have proven useful for much more than capturing fog data, demonstrating the mutual benefits of engaging beneficiaries in the planning and implementation of development projects [4].

Prior to the fog water inauguration, women in partner villages spent up to four hours collecting water every day. Fog water is creating a de facto equality of time between the sexes. To ensure women are able to use the newfound time in ways that benefit them and mitigate the potential negative impacts of alterations to local gender norms, a series of capacity building trainings explored agricultural co-operatives as routes to economic empowerment. Sustainable, locally led businesses further boost resilience as communities have access to multiple income sources.

Complementing adult education is the Water School, a hands-on curriculum engaging area youth around issues of water, sustainability, and conservation. Activities combine art, engineering, science, and math to teach societal and natural realities, equipping rural youth to be makers rather than victims of global change.

Additional spin-off projects include WASH trainings improving community health; the installation of eco-friendly toilets reducing disease and helping retain girls in schools; and a fog water fed reforestation program engaging new stakeholders.

Successfully navigating the water, energy, and climate change nexus requires creative approaches to adaptation and development. Dar Si Hmad’s fog harvesting project is one such holistic project that might serve as a pedagogical blueprint for applied resilience projects.

  1. L Hansen and J Kerr, "The Justice of Water Conservation: NGOs and Civil Society", Proceedings of Environmental Justice and Global Citizenship, 2010
  2. Vicky Marzol, La capitatión del agua de la niebla en la isla de Tenerife, Caja Canarias: Santa Cruz de Tenerife, 2003
  3. R Heeks and AV Ospina, "ICTs, Climate Change and Development: Themes and Strategic Actions", Centre for Development Informatics, 2012
  4. Leslie Dodson, A Foggy Desert: Equitable Information Flow for a Fogwater System in Southwest Morocco, University of Colorado Boulder, 2014

Rebecca L. Farnum, a PhD researcher from King's College London, visited Dar Si Hmad in November and December to explore how our Ethnographic Field School and intercultural programmes engage nature in peacebuilding. Becca returned to Morocco especially for the conference. Though she presented in Marrakech, Becca will come down to Agadir this weekend to take part in our RISE Graduation Ceremony and visit the rest of our amazing team. Thanks for coming "home", Becca!