London-based Sandblast charity seeks to raise awareness of the Saharawi refugee plight in SW Algeria and build support for their self-determination cause. Through education, arts and skills development projects, Sandblast equips the refugees, especially youth and women, to become self-reliant and able to reach audiences more widely to tell their story, promote their culture and advocate for their rights. Our ongoing project is Desert Voicebox. It provides English and music education to over 60 Saharawi refugee children in a four years-long after school programme and trains local women to teach and run the programme.
“ What is it to be a refugee? Who are we? We know we are Saharawis, but only we know. The world does not know we exist. Being a refugee is like being outside this world" (Fatimetu Shagaf, born in the refugee camps, teaches Spanish to women )
The Saharawis originate from Western Sahara, an ex-Spanish colony, which is officially regarded as Africa's last colony. A majority were displaced to the extreme desert region of South West Algeria, in 1975, following Morocco’s military occupation of their homeland and the eruption of a 16 year long war..
According to the latest UNHCR 2018 report, over 170,000 Saharawis live in five large refugee camps, 80% being women and children. Aid dependent for over 45 years, they have endured harsh living and weather conditions and a lack of opportunities. Today, a third generation of Saharawi refugee children are growing up with few prospects for a better life.