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.
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