A brief intro by Violeta Ruano, Desert Voicebox Project Manager
Beccy Allen is a long-term friend of Sandblast, and an even longer-term friend of the Saharawis. She has travelled to the occupied territories of Western Sahara to learn and inform about the situation there, has been a key part of numerous human rights campaigns in support of the Saharawi struggle, and been a few times to the Saharawi refugee camps, always involved with the community in diverse ways. In 2017, she decided to spend 6 months in the camps to teach English to the kids of our nascent project Desert Voicebox (Stave House in the Sahara back then), among other things, and she has remained in the hearts of all the projects' participants ever since (quite literally, since she has returned to run workshops and assessments a few times already!). Kind, high-spirited and proactive, Beccy is definitely one of our best ambassadors! Here she shares briefly her experience, but if you want to learn more about her journey you can always check her personal blog here. Happy reading (and please share)!
I'd wanted to volunteer abroad for a long time, but my interests and skills didn't seem to align to point me in an obvious direction. I started getting involved in Western Sahara solidarity and suddenly, I realised I'd inadvertently been preparing for volunteering with Desert Voicebox for a long time. My desire to be on the African continent; my interest to immerse myself in an Islamic culture; my Spanish speaking. Finally, it all made sense. And with the chance to take a one-year sabbatical from my job in the UK, I headed off for a six-month stay in the Saharawi Refugee Camps for an opportunity to put my project management and creative education experience to good use. I was welcomed into a family and a community and soon became part of things - taking my turn to do daily chores and earning my keep as well as building new family and friendship ties that will last a lifetime. The whole experience was a hugely challenging but ultimately rewarding one, which threw me out of my comfort zone and got me problem-solving and adapting like never before. I became a teacher, and the love the children showed me and seeing them flourish in English and music made each and every day a joy. Working alongside some brilliant Saharawi women who have learnt new skills through the programme and are applying them to help build the potential of the children in the camps left me humbled. I am proud to have played a small role in the development of Desert Voicebox. Providing creative education to the Saharawi children is imperative and inspiring in equal measure. With the help of more volunteers the programme can continue to go from strength to strength and enable more Saharawi children to thrive.
A brief intro by Violeta Ruano, Desert Voicebox Project Manager
Last summer we were delighted to welcome Jack Morgan Jones to the team of Desert Voicebox (formerly Stave House in the Sahara) volunteers. He spent almost two months in the Saharawi refugee camps in August and September helping the local teachers to build their new team (they had gone from two to four teachers), manage the launching of the new Desert Voicebox teaching centre, and create a working system of weekly lesson planning and staff meetings. His contribution was vital for the new stage of the project!
Throughout this academic year, the teachers have been implementing everything they learnt from Jack on a weekly basis, carefully planning their teaching and learning to successfully communicate with each other and with the international management team. Even now with the pandemic, and although face-to-face teaching is not happening, the four of them keep meeting once a week to reflect on their (online) work and to make sure that everything and everyone is progressing as they should, just as they learnt from Jack!
Here's Jack's reflection on what it meant for him to volunteer with the project, and share some unforgettable weeks living as a desert refugee. Please read and enjoy, and to hear him speaking you can have a look below at the video he recorded at the time.
“¡Hola!” – a Sahrawi kid said to me – bouncing off the sandy gravel having just performed a quite spectacular bicycle kick with a football.
My plane had landed on an August night in Tindouf a couple of days before. I was picked up from the airport by a musician called Mahfoud, who drove me through the dark desert to Boujdour, a nearby Sahrawi refugee camp. Once there, I joined my host family, Tekwen, and her two wonderful children, Seku and Zahara.
As a volunteer with Sandblast, I was there to help the Stave House Project prepare for the new school year, and prepare a new blue building in the grounds of the Lal Andala primary school, complete with blackboards, green carpet, and air-conditioning, so that the English language and music programme could be taught to the children.
The Sahrawis use song and story-telling to hand down their traditions, and Sandblast know how to run English language and music programmes that can make an intelligent and meaningful impact. As a man of many languages and one, I always found language learning both difficult and enthralling, and so it was something special to see just how enthusiastic Sahrawi children are to not only learn outside their native language of Hassaniya, but beyond their second language of Spanish too.
Aside from pushing forwards the construction of the school building, I worked with four fantastic teachers: the scholarly Neneha, the hilarious Nicole, the doubly hilarious Fatimatu, and the caring Tekwen. We spent hours in a library that had old books glued to the ceiling and the walls, and worked together on teamwork strategies, teaching methodologies, and our daily English language lessons. The four of them were united not only in their love for teaching, but also in their drive to improve themselves as teachers and leaders in their community.
It was challenging; it should be expected of the Sahara desert during the summer. The midday sun was so oppressive I that soon realised that naps were an essential means of escaping the heat. Tekwen would sleep too, as would Zahara, who, when completely covered in a thin blanket, looked like a kayak – with her mummified globe head the bow, and her veiled vertical feet the stern.
In other ways, the time I spent in the camps with my Sahrawi host family was the least difficult thing I have ever done. After traipsing to the mosque for prayer, Zahara might return to play with her yogurt pots, and Seku might come back to hunt for a khanfsa’, a giant and helpless type of beetle that would scuttle away from us like crazy.
In the mornings, I got my running shoes and went running over the Sahara’s distended dunes.
During the afternoon, I chased the children, barefoot over the far too hot for me sand.
At night, I slept under the stars with Tweken and Seku and Zahara.
This repeated throughout September, and I am forever grateful to Sandblast for that.
A brief intro by Danielle Smith, Sandblast founder
Last year, Andrada and Florin, two people who have become like family to me, took a huge leap of faith and volunteered their time to go to the Sahara to run a music workshop, for the Saharawi refugee children, in our Desert Voicebox project. It was an experience of firsts for them. It was the first time they set afoot the African continent, it was the first time they travelled to a desert region and it was definitely the first time they ever tried camel meat. I am truly happy I was able to share this journey with them and the many enjoyable moments we had living together in tent, for ten days, in the middle of the desert.
The music workshop was also a first for our project. Its resounding success proved to be a turning point, highlighting how these kinds of encounters enrich and expand the horizons of everyone involved. During their time there, Andrada and Florin taught the children a Romanian folk song, which they loved and, in turn, the children taught them the beautiful Saharawi song 'Asahara ma tinbaa' (The Sahara is not for same). Once again, music revealed its power to cross all frontiers and showed us the road to building bridges of enduring friendship and respect.
Below is Andrada's account of her experience, in her own words. Please read and enjoy and view the slideshow of their time in the camps.
My name is Andrada Maria Pascu and I am a Romanian piano and singing tutor, based in London for 11 years. I have been working with all levels, teaching from total beginners to University students.
In February 2019, my husband and I were invited by Sandblast to join forces and run a -7 day workshop in the Saharawi refugee camps, based in Algeria. We are both musicians and run AB Music Academy, in London, which we founded in 2012. Considering this invitation both a challenge and an adventure, we rapidly agreed, not knowing that it would be an experience that would have a life impact on us.
Arriving in the Saharawi camp of Boujdour, near Tindouf, we met the wonderful family, which would host us for the entire period of our stay. The lessons we learnt from them were that we can share from the smallest part and there is no me, or you, there is just us. The unbelievable sense of community was shocking, in the beginning, as we never thought something like that would exist: It didn't take us a long time to feel we were part of it and we that we could build something together.
Despite having worked with pupils from all kinds of backgrounds, teaching the children from the camps was a lesson for us as well. Usually, their timetable included 45 minutes of music 3 times per week, but because we were staying only 7 days, their lessons were arranged to run as an intensive music course of 2hrs every day. When asked if they would like to do an extra day on their day off, they all jumped and shouted yes. Considering that we are talking about children from 9-11, an age where they easily get bored and want to go out to play, these children didn’t even like to have their well deserved 5 minutes break.
We couldn’t help making a comparison with the Western society, where it is so hard to keep the students engaged and entertained and where parents often consider a 1h lesson too long for them. The children from the camps worked hard, like little sponges, and absorbed all the information, even though it was delivered in the foreign language and not in Hassaniya, their spoken Arabic.
In those 7 days, we taught music using the Stave House method, which we were introduced to and trained in before going to Africa. It is very enjoyable and easy to deliver no matter what the language and the skill level and it gives music teachers the opportunity to develop their creativity and imagination. Our mission was to consolidate Level 2 Stave House and to do activities with the children to ensure they grasped how to put into practice what they were learning theoretically.
It was heartbreaking to see these children with lots of aspirations and dreams and realising that after they finish school, most of them would have no future. This is why we decided to continue helping and supporting in whatever way we can with our knowledge, and by spreading the word about their existence and their situation.
Our trip to Sahara made us appreciate more what we have: our families, our freedom, and every little small detail which we take for granted - like water- which for us has no value, but they appreciate each drop.
Starting from then, we have been trying to be more responsible with what surrounds us, with our planet and our lives and do not let small details pass us by. We are happy and grateful to have had the chance to learn this lesson and to be able to bring joy and happiness to the children through what we know best: music!
They can create simple stave patterns and rhythms for one another to play and are getting quicker and quicker when reading music. We're really pleased with their progress and hope those following the Facebook and Twitter updates are impressed with each individual child's music reading skills. They can also sing a song in English about the rhythms and the family of different notes so they can tell you about Father Crotchet, the Quaver Twins and Mother Minim – all of which means we're having fun in English along the way!"
Update from Stave House in the Sahara!
For the last two weeks in October, one of our partner organisations, Olive Branch Arts, are in the Camps to run their new photography and music training programme ‘Sand and Vision’. They are working in Smara and aim to build the storytelling and creative composition skills of young participants so they can tell their stories in new ways. You can find out more information about their work here. One of their team, Matt King Smith, is a musician and he is gathering the sounds, music and voices of Saharawis of all ages and musical abilities to create some tracks documenting the team's time in the Camps. We are lucky to have Matt working with both our Stave House in the Sahara groups on two different days of workshops.
This week, Matt led our young people through a series of rhythm and soundscape exercises and will return next week to record some of the sounds and music the young people can make with their voices and bodies and the instruments we have in our classroom. Take a look at the videos below to see what they got up to. Olive Branch Arts' Creative Director (Dramatherapy), Becky Finlay Hall, brought us some letters from children in a school in London and we will be writing some responses to them as soon as we can. The team also brought us some gifts of classroom resources so we are incredibly grateful to Olive Branch Arts for all their support and wish them loads of luck with their project - very much looking forward to seeing and hearing the results!
Meanwhile, Beccy Allen has continued to teach English to the children on a daily basis. Their activities this week involve learning through action and using circle time to ask each other questions and slowly build to be able to talk about themselves and other people in more and more detail. We hope you like watching a little of what we do in action.
Beccy Allen, Stave House in the Sahara's volunteer English teacher, shares with us some thoughts about her experience teaching young Saharawi children so far... (versión en español más abajo)
"So, after the first three weeks of English teaching as part of Stave House in the Sahara, I can safely say that I am excited about the children's learning. These young people have opened my eyes wider than ever to how hungry young minds can be for education and creativity. They love the games we play and are eager to answer and are getting better and better at listening to one another. They are making leaps in what they can remember and say and are becoming thoughtful in the way they support others who maybe struggle with something we working on at any given time.
Working with them on English every day is brilliant as you can see the progress made in a week. After the long summer break they were at first struggling to recall a lot of what they had learned last year. After three weeks of immersion for an hour at a time, working with a teacher who can only help them learn through the target language itself alongside gesture, we have developed our own ways of communicating and understanding one another and everything from last year is coming flooding back to them. They are becoming fearless in taking on board new vocabulary rather than looking to someone to translate the words for them.
Our classes switch between moments of calm and moments of playful energy. The children are inquisitive and bold and don't shy away from answering even when they are unsure. We focus on listening to my voice and all the strange and wonderful new sounds of the English words they are learning. They repeat over and over but also learn to question each other, learning to talk about themselves and others. We listen to English music and look at photos of England, many aspects of which are totally alien to them. We laugh at the way I pronounce their names but that helps them know that I am learning just as they are.
Bring on the next couple of months!"
Morocco continues to appropriate Saharawi culture to dilute it in occupation. Translation into Hassanya of The Little Prince by Moroccan initiative
Original article in Spanish by Poemario por un Sahara Libre.
Morocco continues to appropriate Saharawi cultural symbols and elements in order to dilute Western Sahara into Morocco. The use of the Saharawi dress (melhfa and darraa) by Moroccan settlers is one of the many ways in which certain Saharawi cultural references are assumed as their own. This is how they are trying to assimilate as Moroccan many Saharawi characters and tales, such as in the case of the Shertat tales. They also try to seize historical Saharawi characters and, now, even the Hassanya language. It is a very dangerous work of cultural sabotage carried out by the Moroccan authorities, and that tries to distort the conflict by exercising a work of "cultural genocide".
"The Little Prince" translated into the Arabic dialect Hassaniya dialect of Western Sahara
EFE, 31st MAY, 2017
The famous work of Antoine de Saint-Exupery "The Little Prince" has been translated into the Arabic dialect Hassaniya, spoken in Western Sahara and Mauritania.
This is a Moroccan initiative, jointly carried out by the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), the Saint-Exupery Foundation and the Fosbucra Foundation, which promotes development projects in the part of the Sahara administered by Morocco, according to the CNDH today a statement.
The famous Saint-Exupery, one of the most translated books in the world (with 300 versions) will be distributed next week free of charge in Moroccan schools in all the Saharawi regions where Hassanya is spoken, including the Tarfaya region, outside the country of Western Sahara.
In fact, the distribution has been announced to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the voyage that Saint-Exupery made to Tarfaya (then called Cape Juby), where he resided for a few months as a delegate of the airline Aéropostale.
Original article in Spanish by Poemario por un Sahara Libre.
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