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.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Reflections from the Field

This summer, I had the opportunity to join Dar Si Hmad’s work on water and sanitation in the Ait Baamrane region in Southwest Morocco.  As an Environmental Engineering student, I gained valuable technical experience, but further, I grew greatly in my understanding of key elements in sustainable development.  I was tasked with designing a pilot Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan) project at the fog net project.  EcoSan centers on the principle that waste streams can be resources if we handle them properly.  Many development agencies are adopting EcoSan for their sanitation projects, particularly in places with no human waste management and a need for soil improvements.  In short, the toilet designed here would separate the feces and urine, allow the feces to compost, and produce two valuable resources – compost and nutrient-rich urine fertilizer (both free of pathogens).  This concept excites many of us, with its environmental sustainability and sanitation improvements.  However, expanding this project to the nearby communities will pose a great obstacle.  We had the opportunity to conduct surveys with some locals, and the attitude was a resounding “ew”.  With that being said, Dar Si Hmad’s commitment to education and environmental stewardship provides a valuable resource for promoting technology.  I hope that the pilot EcoSan project can be used as a demonstration for us and for the community.  As I’ve learned throughout my education, learning by doing is powerful.

 This summer with Dar Si Hmad was full of education!  Dar Si Hmad staff is rich in knowledge of where they work.  Their dedication to one people and place, along with their diverse skill sets, has allowed them to gain deep understanding of the culture and the needs of the people.  As an engineer, it was valuable and humbling to see this.  I cannot just come into a new place with a new technology and expect to make a difference; I must humble myself to learn about who I’m working with.  I also had the opportunity to be a part of the Water School, where I saw more of Dar Si Hmad’s heart for education.  Watching the children experience many firsts, such as looking in a microscope, speaking in front of the class, and going to the ocean, was incomparable to anything I’ve experienced in education.  I saw the power it has to bring life and excitement to everyone. 

I want to close with a personal lesson from this experience: addressing cultural barriers.  I was by any standard an outsider during my stay in Morocco, but the warm-heartedness of the people there slowly broke down unnecessary barriers I had put around myself.  I was blessed with amazing friends in Dar Si Hmad who taught me about their culture and themselves, and provided necessary friendship while there.  I formed meaningful connections with people across huge language barriers.  I witnessed first-hand the miracle of human connection.  As I stepped out of my own comfort zone and into the lives of those around me, I found understanding and humility as a key to peace between people and shared joy among people.

--Jeanette Neethling, Summer 2014