Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Marshall and Rhodes: Building Relationships

This holiday season, many people seem to be welcoming the end of the year more than the beginning of a new one.

After all, 2016 took David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Anton Yelchin, and Prince. As if that weren't enough, Ron Glass - the much loved Shepherd Book from Joss Whedon's "Firefly" - passed away the day after Thanksgiving.

Then, of course, there's the outcome of certain votes in the UK and the US - to say nothing of various political upheaval and pain in other parts of the world.

As a viral Tweet so eloquently asked: "Has anyone tried unplugging 2016, waiting for ten seconds, and turning it on again?"

We're struggling, friends. We're struggling. And many of us are rather worried 2017 is set to be worse.

But it's Christmas. And Christmas means hope.

The world, at times, seems a mess. As a species, we're awfully good at screwing up. And yet...we're also the species that birthed Shakespeare, that landed on the moon, that cries when a kitten is hurt. We are capable of being open-handed, heart-warming, awe-inspiring. We just have to remember it.

In a time when insularity seems to be synonymous with security in many people's minds, relationships are more important than ever.

My current work as a PhD Scholar at King's College London is the product of one such relationship - one between the UK and the US that goes back to the world's struggle to recover from World War II (another set of years that likely felt broken and, at times, hopeless). In 1953, the Marshall Aid Commemoration Act was passed, establishing a scholarship for young Americans to pursue postgraduate study in the United Kingdom. Today's Marshall Scholarship community includes Supreme Court Justices, a Nobel Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winners, Oscar nominees, and NASA's youngest astronaut.

Beyond - and more important than - the prestige, the Marshall Scholarship is about making the world a bigger yet tighter community. It is about Americans meeting other people, seeing new sights, comprehending the complexity of our world. It is about relationships.

2016 seems broken? A few good things have happened lately that are going to help fix it.

This Monday, Alok Sharma (the United Kingdom's Foreign Office Minister) announced a 25% increase in the number of Marshall Scholarships offered for 2017. In September, I'm getting forty (rather than the usual thirty-ish) new friends as the Marshall Scholar Class of 2017 begins their tenure. I am hopeful that this increased number of Scholarships will help bolster the Commission's ongoing efforts to empower underrepresented communities, widening participation and improving diversity in academia and politics.

On that note: a few weeks ago, the Rhodes Trust announced its expansion to underrepresented countries in the Middle East. My beloved friend and AMENDS Colleague, Hashem Abu Sham'a, has been named Palestine's first Rhodes Scholar. Hashem will join the University of Oxford in September 2017 to continue his battle for peace and justice in the world.

And there, my friends, you have it. 2016 wasn't all bad. So long as we can continue to invest in relationships and value collaboration, focusing on our shared humanity and seeking new things to discover and create, I have faith in us.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Response to the ‘domestic violence makeover’ on Moroccan TV

Last week, Moroccan TV channel 2M made international headlines after airing a segment teaching women how to cover up the bruises left by domestic violence. After reading my piece on gender-based violence that appeared last year in The Conversation, the comments editor of i News emailed me asking for a statement. Hardly an expert myself, I asked some of the young people I work with at Dar Si Hmad, my Moroccan research partner, to reflect on the issue of violence against women, how they have experienced sexual harassment, and what they think the media should be doing. Check out their responses in an op-ed published on i News and read the longer version below. Thanks to Jade Lansing, Dar Si Hmad's former Ethnographic Field School Manager, and Souad Kadi, Project Coordinator, for their help in compiling this piece!

Sabhiyat, a daily programme on Moroccan national channel 2M, recently featured a segment teaching women how to disguise domestic abuse injuries. “Unfortunately, this is how things are,” the host mentions before outlining tips for how foundation can hide bruises. The segment ends dismissively, telling viewers “We hope these beauty tips will help you carry on with your daily life” – as though domestic violence can and should be easily ignored by its victims.
As has been well documented, violence against women is not a new issue in Morocco. 55% of its married women experience domestic violence. A few years ago, Amina Filali killed herself after being forced to marry her rapist. The United Nations and Human Rights Watch remain concerned by the limited legal protections available to victims. See more about this and preventive actions in a piece that appeared last year via The Conversation.
Given the statistics, this news segment sadly was not news. What was shocking, however, was its open acknowledgement of the problem even as it flagrantly dismissed it. The presenter apparently “considers this taunting experienced by women as normal” (see The Concerned Moroccan Citizens campaign). Rather than supporting abuse victims, this kind of reporting legitimises the violence and all but removes blame from the abusers.
Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture is a local non-governmental organisation working in Southwest Morocco. Our work includes women’s empowerment and capacity building, girls’ science education, and intercultural exchange through study abroad. In the wake of the 2M segment, we asked some of our young partners to respond. Here’s what they have to say:

Nadia, age 25
I have enormous concerns about this topic. We are in a country that considers girls the main problem causing sexual harassment. I will never forget my first time in a grand taxi (public transit cars) between Agadir and my hometown. I had just spent two weeks away from home for the first time in my life. I viewed the taxi driver as a father or brother, like anybody else doing his job and helping people get home safely. I knew something was wrong when I started getting weird vibes from his glances in the rear-view mirror. Immediately, I started to question myself. How could a man his age act this way with a teenage girl? Maybe I am his daughter or his sister’s age? I was afraid, uncomfortable, and shocked. I was also blaming myself for getting in an empty taxi and wondering if my hair or my outfit had encouraged this. He was smiling, and asking me questions. I was pretending to listen to music, but he wouldn't look away or stop talking to me. I put on my sunglasses to hide tears, and I wanted to scream. I was squeezing myself smaller in hopes he wouldn’t try to touch me. When we arrived in Agadir, other people got in, and I got out. I have never felt such feelings in my life. I was in his cage, and he enjoyed looking at me stressed. Through this experience I learned that while we still have stereotypes about girls in our societies, I will never trust bosses, taxi drivers, workers, or teachers, until we stop blaming the victim.

Zahra, age 21
Being beaten by your husband or anyone is inappropriate. What's worse is that the media makes it into a makeup tutorial, which makes it seem like this behavior permissible. We don’t just paint a wall covered in cracks, because no matter how many layers of paint you put on, the cracks will appear again sooner or later. Wives are not punching bags for husbands to take out their anger on. We have all experienced some sort of sexual harassment, but the bigger issue is that often nobody intervenes, because this has become so normal.
For instance, once I was riding a crowded bus, and I noticed that something strange was happening between a couple standing near me. The guy seemed like he was trying to do something, but the girl didn’t speak up. She looked so embarrassed. I made a fuss about it, and even when it seemed like he was going to hit me for saying something, NO ONE SAID ANYTHING. They just watched. There are places to go if these things happen to you, but unfortunately married women don’t go because they are afraid of shouha (shame). Of course norms, traditions, family views, illiteracy, play a big role in the spread of this phenomena.

Abdelkrim, age 26
As a young man I think domestic abuse is a gendered crime which is deeply rooted in the societal inequality between women and men. It takes place “because she is a woman” and happens disproportionately to women. I also think that women are more likely than men to experience multiple incidents of abuse. Domestic abuse exists as part of violence against women and girls, which also includes different forms of family violence such as forced marriage. This kind of abuse is very popular in Morocco, which is a shame for our society. I believe that the last show in 2M normalizes violence against women, and helps them cover it with makeup. Instead, it is very important to raise victims’ awareness and orientate them to get the help they need from authorities. However, I also see this show as a step forward, since it launches discussions worldwide about this issue and will certainly push the authorities to get the attention needed for the victims.

Jamila, age 20
The media creates a false image for women: either she is well educated and elegant or manageable and traditional. The media is not fair with these women. Instead of spreading their success and informing the audience of changing dynamics, it misshapes their real image into a false and bad one. It tells women they have to obey their husbands instead of defending their basic rights.

Salma, age 20
The fact that domestic violence is still an issue around the world, when we are getting ready for 2017, puts a great deal of responsibility on the media’s shoulders to spread anti-domestic violence messages. Unfortunately, the daily morning 2M TV program is portraying domestic violence as a given and morally accepted behaviour. It acts like a woman’s bruises are her responsibility to cover. In fact, the bruises are the alarming sign of the society’s failure to stand up for her.

Sara, age 26
We live in a patriarchal society that still believes that it is the wife’s responsibility to keep her family in harmony. We teach women they need to keep being patient or they will destroy her family. It is very weird to know that being beaten is a normal act. The weirdest thing is to cover up abuse instead of voicing your opinion and talking about your right of being respected.

Abdelhaq, age 23
‘Woman’ is a very priceless word for me. She’s my mother, my first love, the person I’ll do anything to keep alive. I won’t accept anyone saying things against or hurting her. Woman is my sister, my auntie, my friend, my everyone. Nobody has the right to touch a woman because of her gender or because the world gives her fewer chances. A woman is a human before she is a woman. She has rights we are obliged to peacefully respect. She has dreams of success and gifted hands, just like men do. As such, I totally respect and support her.

Souad, age 22
Seeing this show reminded of the conclusion I came to in my bachelor's thesis. I discovered that the media is a way of reinforcing dangerous stereotypes about women. I analyzed two Moroccan advertisements. In both, women are obedient, naive and almost always silent. These assumptions are transmitted between generations. If we don’t change something, the next generation will perceive women the same way their parents’ generation did.

Sara, age 20
I have never personally experienced violence, because I am lucky to come from a peaceful, honest home. We’re a patriarchal society, and violence is not only linked to husbands; it also comes from big brothers and uncles. Unfortunately, I have encountered sexual harassment, mostly verbal, and it’s upsetting to see that my favorite TV programs are giving make up tutorials on how to cover beatings. It’s really a shame to see how a serious issue has become so normal. Instead of covering it up, they should be talking about how to address the roots of this issue. Husbands need to control their anger and respect their wives.

Oumhani, age 21
Like many others, I encounter sexual harassment in the streets and it is mostly verbal. It is very offensive and insulting even when only verbal – and I wish the Moroccan government would criminalize that act. This should be a free country where men as well as women are free to wear whatever they want without being harassed. To help protect that freedom sexual harassment of any kind should be met with extreme sentences
The 2M TV segment is actually no surprise to me – the channel isn’t very good. Instead of wasting five minutes making a senseless beauty tutorial, they should have taken this dangerous matter into real consideration. They could have brought a legitimate coach, psychologist, or lawyer to teach us how to take action and not be afraid.
And however the bruises may look, women will always be strong and beautiful. No make-up necessary.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Bach Project

Guitar nerd?

Interested in the philosophy of harmony?

Fascinated by history?

Love The Beatles and Abbey Road?

Enjoy seeing unusual instruments?

Like pretty music?

Want to spread more love in the world?

If you answered 'yes' to any of the above, I encourage you to check out (and, if you're able, donate to) a very cool project. World-renowned classical guitarist Michael Poll has been working on an incredibly academic yet beautiful project reinvigorating some music written by Bach for the lute with a seven-string guitar. Which he'll be recording in Abbey Road.

As a bonus, I appear in the audience in one of Michael's selected promo pics. ;)

Check it out:

Monday, November 21, 2016

Teaching, teaching, and teaching, oh my!

In the course of two days last week, I taught literature to nine-year-olds; maths to thirteen-year-olds; agricultural water policy to undergrads; and hydro-diplomacy to master’s students. It was quite the whirlwind!

I’m teaching with The Brilliant Club this term. They needed coverage of some subjects I don’t usually teach, and I guess they’re feeling confident with me…here comes Becca leading a mathematical physics course for Years 8 and 9 on ‘Would the stars float in the bath?’ The first day we played with density; today we worked on significant units, conversions, formulas, and finding the gradient of a chart. Meanwhile the younger students are exploring what creation myths tell us about the relationship between humans and nature. It’s been really great to relive my maths and science days from high school…but I’m definitely enjoying the social-natural stories as well.

Other than the load of teaching, my foot is properly on the mend and I’m feeling much more energetic. So it’s now time for a desperate attempt to get back into actual levels of PhD productivity. So much transcribing and typing to do!! :)

Monday, November 14, 2016

À Bientôt, Maroc!

Ta ta for now, Morocco...once again, it's been a delight!

I've spent the last week at COP22 observing Dar Si Hmad's incredible environmental diplomacy. They've been showcasing fog technology, environmental education, and climate change adaptation. I've been helping to staff the booth and work with our incredible Environmental Youth Ambassadors - urban students who are producing multi-media, multi-lingual content about environmental issues in Southwest Morocco.

After waving at camels and goats, being sprayed by young students pretending to be 'fog' with our interactive teaching net, and meeting some friends from around the world also here for COP, it's time to head back to London.

While I don't recommend being on crutches for 2 months, it does make security queues at the airport much faster to navigate! Let's hear it for a quick and easy immigration experience...

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

After the Election, A Letter to You

To the 59,165,778 persons who voted for Donald Trump: you are loved. I am sorry that your views, opinions, and struggles are being demonised by the media and many individuals. I am sorry that we have created a world in which Trump feels like a solution to your struggles. I hope that you are willing to work alongside those with whom you disagree to make life better. I will stand with you. I will fight for you.

To the 59,333,856 persons who voted for Hillary Clinton: you are loved. I am sorry that your candidate was not elected and you are frustrated by the result. I hope that you will channel your hurt and anger into continued action for justice, equality, and understanding rather than attacks on those who voted differently than you. I will stand with you. I will fight for you.

To the many persons who voted for another candidate or did not or could not vote: you are loved. I am sorry that you are poorly represented by a two-party system that continues to make the voting process a difficult one. I hope that you will find ways to make your voice heard in the coming years. I will stand with you. I will fight for you.

To the persons of colour, LBGTQ individuals, Muslims, immigrants, women, and others who are terrified about the prospect of losing their rights, dignity, and freedom: you are loved. I am sorry that the future is a frightening one for you. I hope that you will take comfort in the knowledge that many people are concerned and will not be silent. I will stand with you. I will fight for you.

To the millions of persons around the world who had no say in this election but whose lives will be dramatically impacted by the result: you are loved. I am sorry that a decision made without you can hurt you so much. I am sorry that my country so often fails to be what it can and should be. I hope that you will not be harmed by this vote. I will stand with you. I will fight for you.

To you: you are loved. I will stand with you. I will fight for you.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Hello from COP22!

After a week of being ill, I went to Norwich one more time to participate in a workshop on Evidence-Based Practice in Water Security. After an insane amount of travel, I have happily arrived back in Morocco. It's time for COP22!

Stealing from the Dar Si Hmad blog

Climate change is having huge impacts not only on ecosystems and economics but also on societies and communities in a broad variety of ways. In the Aït Baamrane region of Southwest Morocco, climate change alters rainfall patterns, influences crop yields, and reshapes ecosystems, especially forests. Forests are particularly important as the United Nations has found that around 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods – including some 70 million indigenous people. The impacts of climate change on agriculture, energy supply and water sources directly affect humans’ lives.

The residents of rural Aït Baamrane are struggling to adapt to global warming and climate change. Regional drought levels are rising as temperatures warm, leading to higher chances of experiencing extreme heat and an ecosystem unbalance. This makes it harder for women searching for water, as supply and sources are harder to predict.

The world’s largest environmental “fog harvesting” system run by Dar Si Hmad is based in Aït Baamrane. It was created with the aim of helping communities thrive and provide them with potable water, creating a local solution to climate threats.

Dar Si Hmad doesn’t limit its work to providing people with clean water. Humans, after all, aren’t the only Life on Land! Projects like the Water School and Women’s Capacity-Building in the Anti-Atlas Mountains help people learn about their surrounding ecosystems, other species of fauna and flora, and the role they can play in climate stabilization.

Dar Si Hmad is a poignant example of how local systems can lead a revolution toward climate policy and what kinds of solutions can be delivered to communities. Dar Si Hmad is helping achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals working to transform the world and create a better place by:
  • Ensuring the sustainable supply of clean water for the Aït Baamrane region;
  • Improving the lives of local communities; and
  • Creating and stimulating sustainable livelihood opportunities.

The climate is changing. Dar Si Hmad doesn’t wait to adapt, it innovates first. The group’s recent United Nations Momentum for Change Award has recognized the great success of the work being done.

In just a few days, Dar Si Hmad will join forces with other NGOs, activists, journalists, policymakers, and diplomats to fight climate change at COP 22 in Marrakech. We hope you’ll join us, either at our booth in the Green Zone or online. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to learn more about how we are making a difference and how you can join us to protect life on land for all.

Hello from Marrakech, and happy Climate Action!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Norwich once again

While I do not spend all of my time in Norwich, it continues to be my favourite English city...and it's fantastic to get back for various things.

This trip focused on the University of East Anglia's Water Security Research Centre, where I am a Visiting Fellow. I attended a seminar by Jamie Linton, a great mind in human-water interactions. He presented on the politics and social relations surrounding a dam in the Eastern Pyrenes of France. Fun stuff - and very different than what I usually do!

This afternoon, I got to know this year's cohort of postgraduate students a bit better through a three-hour seminar exploring the hydro spiral and how we understand models. I do believe a good time was had by all.

The Hydrosocial Spiral: Exploring Human-Water Interactions through Participatory Modelling
Abstract: “All models are wrong, but some are useful” (George E. P. Box). In 1934, the National Resources Board of the United States of America published the first visually descriptive hydrologic cycle diagram. Like water itself, this simple graphic has evolved in some ways and remained stagnant in others throughout the past eighty years. Multiple edits have been made, graphics have become more realistic, and many agencies and organisations have developed their own diagrams. Yet the majority of hydro cycle diagrams continue to ignore or understate the role of humans in the hydrologic system and the vast diversity of watersheds. For some time now, social scientists of water have been offering critiques of the ‘classic’ hydro cycle, with scholarship emerging around the ‘hydrosocial cycle’ and increased consideration of water’s interplay with other systems through the food-water-energy nexus, the planetary boundaries framework, and others. Building from these critiques and advances in our thinking on the teaching and modelling of water’s movement in the anthropocene, a Working Group at the University of East Anglia has created a participatory tool for exploring the historical, political, economic, cultural, and natural processes of water. The “hydrosocial spiral” is a dynamic visual graphic for use by researchers, teachers, managers, and activists allowing for a variety of conceptions of and communications around water. This seminar will review the extant literature on hydrosocial interactions, describe the creation and implementation of the hydrosocial spiral, and engage participants in creating their own version of a hydrosocial model.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

"Cous Cous the Elephant": An Intrepid Explorers Talk

I gave a rather irreverent (fun, joke-filled, completely informal) talk at King's College London last week about research methods and experiences for the Intrepid Explorers Seminar Series. Title and abstract are below.

"Cous Cous the Elephant: Espionage, Diplomacy, and Cultural (Mis)Understanding in the Middle East"
Becca is a doctoral researcher at King’s College London investigating environmental peacebuilding in the Middle East and North Africa. She partners with local activists in the region to explore how nature can be used to bring conflicting communities together. Over the course of her research, she has spent a year in countries like Morocco, Lebanon, and Kuwait engaging with fog-harvesting, conservation scuba diving, and war journalism. This talk will reflect on how the presence of a researcher creates moments of cultural learning, miscommunication, and change for everyone involved in a project. Come along for stories of mistaken identities, farcical shop vendors, and lifelong friendships.

A number of folks asked if the talk might be recorded - so here's a quick, entirely home-shot/unedited version!

A disclaimer: I talk about my wonderful research partners in this presentation. I do so openly and informally - and very much as a reflection of my time and experiences with them, not as an authoritative statement from the organisations. It’s an uncensored look at my thinking and research logic - please take it in the spirit intended!

The photos don't come through all that well in the recording. The presentation can be downloaded from: http://tinyurl.com/hzq5fuc

Enjoy if you like James Bond-puns and my rambling. ;) 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Home sweet Edinburgh

After far, far too long a time, I spent this weekend back in Edinburgh. Heather, one of my best mates from Law School days, flew in from Canada for a holiday. She stayed with me in London for a couple nights and then we trained up to Scotland Saturday morning. 

There really is nothing like the daily view of that beautiful hill with a castle on top...

Happily, a bunch of the 2016 Marshall Scholars independently decided to also head up for the weekend - so I got to push a bunch of new friends toward my favourite haunts! I say "push" because I didn't quite make it to everything with them...the aforementioned hill and its siblings are fabulous to look at but less delightful to climb on crutches. (Heather was not impressed with my timing on this injury, I can tell you.)

Saturday night we had a group dinner at The Elephant House - the birthplace of "Harry Potter" that also happens to have amazing salsa and hot chocolate. (Really, I was just eating my way through nostalgia...)

Sunday morning, I went to church...only to arrive just early enough to get roped into singing with the choir! Once more for kicks, I suppose. It was lovely to catch up with everyone. 

And now I'm back on the Tube headed home, ready for another "normal" week of baby duty, geography seminar, and giving a talk at King's. In between exhaustedly crashing in bed. Because as I said - hills on crutches are exhausting. ;) (Those of you following the progress of the foot - I am making definite progress and should be off crutches in 2-3 weeks.)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

COP22 - less than a month to go!

So what the heck is COP22, anyway? I'm headed back to Morocco in a few weeks to join research partner Dar Si Hmad in Marrakech for a giant climate change convention. Check out the blog post, copied below, about the UNFCCC to learn more about what's going on.

Today marks twenty-five days until the twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In other words: in just under a month, Morocco will be kicking off the world's biggest meeting about climate change!

The UN Climate Change Convention is an international plan for action against climate change. The treaty was launched at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. 196 countries have signed the agreement and pledged their support. Each year, representatives of these countries meet at a Conference of the Parties to review progress and decide on next steps. These annual meetings have been held since 1995, when the first Conference of the Parties was held in Berlin. Last December, COP21 was held in Paris.

November 7-18, the city of Marrakech will host foreign heads of state, international diplomats, scientists, lawyers, researchers, journalists, and activists for COP22. In addition to the legal and policy meetings, environmental groups and activists will gather to share ideas and programs that help combat climate change and its impacts.

Dar Si Hmad for Development, Culture and Education is proud to be taking part of COP22 as a civil society partner. We will have a booth in the Green Zone and will be presenting our award-winning fog-harvesting project at a sponsored side event on November 7.

As part of our lead-up to Marrakech, Dar Si Hmad will be running a social media campaign focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs are a UN-led call to action for countries, corporations, groups, and individuals. The goals focus on ending poverty, protecting the planet, and creating peace and prosperity for everyone.


The goals are:
  1. No Poverty - End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. Zero Hunger - End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. Good Health and Well-Being - Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  4. Quality Education - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  5. Gender Equality - Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation - Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy - Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure - Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  10. Reduced Inequalities - Reduce income inequality within and among countries
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Climate Action - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts by regulating emissions and promoting develoments in renewable energy
  14. Life Below Water - Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  15. Life on Land - Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions - Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  17. Partnerships for the Goals - Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
While COP22 is generally focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, climate change affects all parts of life. Successfully working against negative environmental damage requires integrating action and tackling poverty, hunger, inequality, and injustice to ensure sustainability for humans and ecosystems.

The UNFCCC acknolwedges that certain areas are more vulnerable to climate change. This includes arid or semi-arid zones and developing countries with fragile mountainous ecosystems. Aït Baamrane, where Dar Si Hmad works, is one such place, subject to extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, desertification, and other negative environmental impacts. We are proud to be hosting COP22 in a country that knows the risks and problems of climate change, and we are proud to be actively working to ensure that our most vulnerable populations - rural communities, indigenous peoples, women, and children - do not face the costs of climate change alone. As we journey to Marrakech for COP22, we invite you to join us. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to learn more about the Sustainable Development Goals, COP22, and our work to combat climate change in Morocco and around the world.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Return of The Brilliant Club

What better way to spend a Sunday than in teacher training?!
A new university teaching term means another term working with The Brilliant Club delivering uni-style tutorials in schools. This term is especially fun: I'm working with Key Stage 2 students, i.e. ten-year-olds. 
The Brilliant Club has us create our own courses based on our PhD work for older students, but for younger ones, we work from a pre-designed curriculum we can adapt a bit to suit our interests and expertise. 
I get to have fun with "The Deep, Dark Woods", an exploration of nature and literature. We will be looking at excerpts from things like "The Gruffalo" and "Harry Potter". I'm quite tickled, all in all. 
Yesterday I also went along to an elective exploring a new course created by the Engineering Outreach programme at University College London. The course is "How Many Engineers Does It Take to Make an Ice Cream?" and examines the various processes in mass production. The final assignment requires students to design a new ice cream - and the winning flavour is going to be made by Unilever for their class to try! I'm not sure whether I'll deliver that course this term (though I may, as it looks like they're short a tutor), but it was fun and gave me some teaching ideas for the Bright Futures programme at Holt Hall either way. 
This will be my first term working long-haul in the classroom with students this young - usually with the kiddos I either am outside at a camp or do one-time events! It will be interesting to see how I fit into this new style. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Norwich Day

I said to heck with my broken foot today and had an expedition to Norwich. The primary purpose was meeting the new Water Security students - as a Visiting Fellow at UEA, I'll be doing a few seminars and supporting them in various projects. I went for a full day of meetings with the Holt Hall crew, though, and was happily able to gorge on various Norwich-based restaurants and goodies. 
Friends with cars are helpful things - I managed to get rides from and to the rail station from folks I was meeting with, making my total walking for the day perhaps less than if I'd stayed at home getting up and down the stairs for meals!
All in all, a very lovely day - though I am definitely exhausted.
Happy Wednesday to all!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Wooohoooooo, Dar Si Hmad!!!!

Absolutely thrilled, proud, excited for my Moroccan research partner:


Thirteen game-changing initiatives from around the world were announced today as winners of the UNFCCC’s Momentum for Change climate change award.
Winning activities include:
  • A Google-led project that could catalyse the rooftop solar market for millions of people across the United States
  • An ingenious net that harvests fog from the air to provide drinking water for people on the edge of Morocco’s Sahara Desert
  • North America’s first revenue-neutral tax that puts a price on carbon pollution
  • A project that has established the first women-specific standard to measure and monetize women’s empowerment benefits of climate action
Other winners include the EU’s largest crowdfunding platform for community solar projects and a project in Malaysia initiated by Ericsson that uses sensors to provide near real-time information to restore dwindling mangrove plantations.

Further winners are a company that provides solar systems to homes and businesses in rural Tanzania through an innovative financial package and a Swedish city that became the first in the world to issue green bonds, enabling it to borrow money for investments that benefit the environment.

The Momentum for Change initiative is spearheaded by the UN Climate Change secretariat to shine a light on some of the most innovative, scalable and replicable examples of what people are doing to address climate change. Today’s announcement is part of wider efforts to mobilize action and ambition as national governments work toward implementing the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The Momentum for Change Lighthouse Activities underline how climate action and sustainable development is building at all levels of society from country-wide initiatives to ones in communities, by companies and within cities world-wide,” UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said. “By showcasing these remarkable examples of creativity and transformational change, along with the extraordinary people behind them, we can inspire everyone to be an accelerator towards the kind of future we all want and need.”

Each of the 13 winning activities touches on one of Momentum for Change’s three focus areas: Women for Results, Financing for Climate Friendly Investment and ICT Solutions. All 13 will be showcased at a series of special events during the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco (7 November to 18 November 2016).

The 2016 Lighthouse Activities were selected by an international advisory panel as part of the secretariat’s Momentum for Change initiative, which operates in partnership with the World Economic Forum Global Project on Climate Change and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative.

Read more: http://darsihmadorg.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/dar-si-hmad-fog-harvesting-project-wins.html

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Encounter with the NHS

I have had my first personal run-in with the British A&E - Accident & Emergency, the UK's ER.

Friday night, I somehow managed to slip down the stairs coming down from the loft to put Iorwerth to bed. I slammed my left foot so hard into the wall that my little toe was cut nearly to the bone.

Blood, a very alert five-year-old, and a bit of concerned investigation later, Eamonn drove me to Ealing Hospital to get it checked out.

The nurse practitioner took one look at my toe, cocked his head to one side, and said "huh. What are we gonna do with that?"

Not the easiest of locations to patch up - there's no real way to get in their for stitches, it's a place that is constantly pulled on whenever walking happens, etc.

In the end I got glued and steri-stripped up and told to keep the bandages present and dry for five days.

So, here's me on a weekend confined to bed with my foot up catching up on lots of rest and writing.

We aren't sure whether the toe is also broken - from the swelling and external bruising, it seems quite possible something is also wrong internally. But again, there's really nothing they can do except bandage and keep off it, so we didn't even bother with an x-ray.

In positive news, I was in and out of the hospital in just an hour on a Friday night, and the process was friendly and easy. Go, NHS!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

International Day of Peace

For years at Michigan State University, I worked with the Shalom Center for Justice and Peace in downtown Lansing to celebrate the 21st of September and International Day of Peace through an interfaith celebration of unity. This year, I was thrilled to work with a young Moroccan to reflect on how my very cool research partner enables sustainable peace through environmental justice and gender equity. You can find the original post on Dar Si Hmad's blog: http://darsihmadorg.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/international-day-of-peace.html

Thanks to guest author and Environmental Youth Ambassador Mohamed Moumin for this piece!

International Day of Peace

Spotlight on the Role of Dar Si Hmad’s Programs in Promoting Peace

Peace is not merely the absence of war but is a state of mind, a way of being and a way of living. Peace means establishing an active culture in the world with collective social, political and economic harmony.

Every year on September 21, the United Nations leads an International Day of Peace. The Day was declared by the United Nations (UN) in 1981. Since then it is observed annually by many nations, political groups, military groups, and peoples. International Day of Peace is a globally-shared date for all humanity to take the lead in activities that contribute to the creation of a more peaceful, compassionate, knowledgeable and unified world.

To preserve a positive human heritage, we invite you to join us in celebrating the International Day of Peace and take a close look at how Dar Si Hmad is promoting peace with innovative ideas.

Sustainable development and livelihoods are at the heart of Dar Si Hmad’s mandate. Training and empowering young people are a powerful way to do this. During the 2015-2016 school year, Dar Si Hmad’s leading RISE & THRIVE program successfully enabled 69 university students and 120 trainees from the CFA vocational school with professional competencies to enhance employability and entrepreneurship. These programs offer tailored workshops led by professionals supported by multi-media and online learning platforms. The primary objective of the project is the nurturing of self-growth and community solidarity, vital to raising a generation that promotes peace and defends sustainability.

This past week, Dar Si Hmad relaunched RISE, which will focus on environmental issues for 2017. The program aims to equip young students with technical and planning skills along with experience in the practical implementation of environmental projects.

In the bled (Moroccan countryside), Dar Si Hmad’s E-Learning and Womens Empowerment programs have advanced the right to quality education and gender equality throughout the country. Girls in the E-Learning Program are equipped with valuable knowledge and skills vital to further education and personal empowerment. Women in rural regions are now able to apply knowledge and capacities they have developed toward economic and social progress, promoting for peace and sustainable development.

Looking internationally, Dar Si Hmad’s Ethnographic Field School creates a universal platform for socio-cultural exchange and dialogue that helps break down stereotypes between Moroccans and foreigners. Dar Si Hmad invites researchers and students from all over the world to be part of inspiring experiences facilitated by academic and cultural programs, service learning, homestays, and language classes.

Scientifically, Dar Si Hmad has focused its work on issues of global concern requiring multinational collaboration. Innovative research and experiments in freshwater resource management, climate change, renewable energy, environmental education, and capacity-building in technology are expanding the global pool of knowledge even as they are making positive impacts on local lives.

As we celebrate the International Day of Peace, we recognize that promoting peaceful practice is at the core of respecting human rights, basic freedoms and the values of tolerance and equity. Youth in particular are encouraged to initiate educational programs and promote the values of sustainable development for future generations so as to improve people’s lives for the better.

We believe that the achievement of sustainable peace is a collective responsibility and that “everyone has a stake and everyone has a contribution to make in order to achieve peace!”

Simple actions can be of a big change, and everyone can contribute to positive change by taking the lead of initiative!

Fetching the lines of this article was already your beginning.

See more about Dar Si Hmad’s Environmental Youth Ambassadors program and how they promote for peace in their inspired way: https://eyadarsihmad.wordpress.com/

Friday, September 16, 2016

Ozone Day

Time for another guest post from the Moroccan Environmental Youth Ambassadors! Happy International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer.

Check out the original in French: http://darsihmadorg.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/international-day-for-preservation-of.html

Dar Si Hmad is pleased to welcome guest contributor Oumhani Benhima, an Environmental Youth Ambassador. Oumhani wrote a piece showcasing the importance of the ozone layer to celebrate today's  International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer. Oumhani's French version, published below, was translated into English by former Fulbright English Teaching Assistant and Dar Si Hmad Intern Zeke Caceres. Thanks to Oumhani and Zeke!
Today, we celebrate the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer. Dar Si Hmad, in collaboration with the Environmental Youth Ambassadors, has taken up the challenge of climate change.

It is not by coincidence that the United Nations General Assembly has chosen September 16 for this day of action and raising awareness to the problems of the protection of the ozone layer. September 16 is the anniversary of the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987.

This year’s International Day for the Perseveration of the Ozone Layer is celebrated under the theme “Ozone Layer and Climate: Restored by a World United.”

Industrial gases used in refrigerators and aerosols (a type of chlorofluorocarbon or hydrochlorofluorocarbons) are responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer - an atmospheric 'blanket' necessary for life on Earth that allows for the filtration of ultraviolet rays. To protect the ozone layer, the international community has set targets for the progressive elimination of these chemical substances. Between 1988 and 2010, the international community has reduced the emission of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) by more than 80% under the Montreal Protocol. These efforts have allowed us to see an improvement in the state of the ozone layer, especially around the Antarctica. According to scientists, the hole currently there could return to its pre-1980 state after 2050.

The protection of the ozone layer also is linked to climate change, as the gas that destroys it is a strong greenhouse gas. Consequently, the important fight that has been undertaken against gas destructive to the ozone layer is also a beneficial action for the climate.

To fight against climate change, the COP (Conference of Parties) was created and set in place to frame the efforts of the participating countries. In November 2016, COP 22 will take place in Marrakech, Morocco. This  international reunion has already been announced as the “Conference of Action,” following the decisions taken by the previous edition of COP held in Paris.

One of the saddest realities of climate challenge is its unequal impact. Already marginalized groups bear the weight off the environmental degradation.

Acknowledging this fact, Dar Si Hmad has taken up the challenge of collecting potable fog water with its unique project in North Africa.

Some forty nets have been installed a an altitude of 1,225 meters at the peak of the Boutmezguida Mountain which overlooks five villages in the semi-arid region of Sidi Ifni. These nets capture droplets contained in the dense fog which surrounds the mountain. The drops are then treated, mixed with groundwater and transported via pipelines to the five villages below. This technique avoids a need for the inhabitants to journey several kilometers to get water.

In parallel with this project, Dar Si Hmad organizes the mobile Water School. The Water School was conceived with one main objective: to use the fog project as an entry to teaching through which children learn not only about water but also discover the natural world via scientific tools and see this world in a different way.

Dar Si Hmad, in partnership with the Regional Delegation of Education in Sidi Ifni, organizes activities and diverse courses in the rural schools of Aït Baamrane. The students learn to understand many aspects related to the theme of water, as well as the interdependence of ecosystems. The adopted approach aims to engage the students entirely: spirits, hearts and bodies.

Lastly, but certainly not least, the environmental program directed by ambitious youth, under the auspices of Dar Si Hmad, Environmental Youth Ambassadors (EYAs). Until now, the EYAs have contributed to the 2016 Water School, organized two community events with more than 60 young participants, and held events to raise awareness through visual narration and environmental journalism to advocate about environmental matters in southwest Morocco at a local and international scale that have not received attention or substantial publicity. Especially as the COP 22 Conference held in Marrakech in November 2016 approaches, this type of initiative will be a significant contribution to the dialogues and commitments of COP 22, showcasing the dynamic efforts of young Moroccans who raise awareness in the fight against climate change.

The protective ozone barrier makes live on our planet possible. It contributes in a large way to the fight against climate change. From the importance of this day of action and awareness which is an opportunity to exchange our experiences and results, let us take this opportunity to make people more conscious of this responsibility!

Simple daily acts can allow the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. By consuming energy and our daily daily purchases, we directly or indirectly provoke the emission of greenhouse gases. Therefore, let us protect our planet!

Let’s buy more sustainable products!
Let’s reduce our electric consumption!
Let’s sort out our waste!
And let’s change our transportation habits!

Monday, September 12, 2016


A couple of posts ago, I mentioned having all my research partners in London for the RGS-IBG Conference. Very happily, Souad and Jade from Dar Si Hmad were able to stay around and do some London exploration.

We had a marvellous week - including West End shows, park time with Rafael and Iorwerth, and meetings with various cool initiatives. 

And now...I am hiding from humanity for at least a week following ten weeks of hosting and travelling. ;)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

International Literacy Day in Morocco

This post was written by Environmental Youth Ambassador Abdelhaq Ait Boulhous in honor of International Literacy Day for the Dar Si Hmad blog. Check out some news from Morocco about empowerment through the written and read word!

At first glance, "literacy" would seem to be a term that everyone understands. But at the same time, literacy as a concept has proved to be both complex and dynamic, continuing to be interpreted and defined in a multiplicity of ways. And according to Merriam-Webster website, "Literacy" means to be able to read and write, and also the knowledge that relates to a specified subject.

Fifty years ago, UNESCO officially proclaimed 8 September as International Literacy Day to actively mobilize the international community and to promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities and societies.

Learning to read and write is a fundamental right, protected by international human rights law. Yet, 38% of African adults are illiterate – and two-thirds of these are women. Unequal access to education and low literacy means that women have trouble accessing careers and the public section, making them more likely to get married at an early age and have few avenues for future independence or personal growth. This, in turn, negatively impacts their children – Africa is the only continent where more than half of parents are not able to help their children with homework due to their own illiteracy.

There is a proverb that says “You educate a boy, you educate a man. You educate a girl, you educate a generation". Dar Si Hmad, an active NGO in Southwest Morocco dedicated to sustainable livelihoods and the empowerment of rural communities, recognizes the importance of literacy. It thus developed programs like the Girls’E-Learning project to help girls from rural villages study and prepare their exams. The Girls' E-Learning program uses technologies to help girls succeed, have access to a good education, and improve the region’s high school dropout rate. Participants have the chance to learn and receive lessons online, improving their literacy in the formal Arabic and French they will be tested on in exams.

Literacy for younger children is addressed through our “Water School”, targeted at primary schools. This program, full of lessons & workshops, makes students of the future understand their environment as a huge space of many objects. It modules include animal & plant biology, recycling, pollution, the water cycle, and sanitation. The program gives Dar Si Hmad the chance to discover and encourage talented kids who have skills like public speaking, theater, and painting. In a few months, the Water School Curriculum will be available for free online, part of the organization’s ongoing attempts to share resources and ideas.

Older adults in the bled (Moroccan countryside) are supported through trainings for women in Aït Baâmrane, Southwest Morocco. These literacy days help women with basic numeracy and literacy skills, enabling them to use their mobile phones to text – a much cheaper alternative to phone calls. The women are now exploring ways to use their enhanced skills for income-generating activities like an argan co-operative.

Bridging the urban center of Agadir where Dar Si Hmad’s main offices are and the bled where much of the programming take place is a new initiative I represent. In May 2016, Dar Si Hmad launched the Environmental Youth Ambassadors, an innovative program bringing 7 RISE program participants from different parts of Morocco to be involved in the NGO’s activities. Our work has focused on media and environmental literacy, using visual content & online campaigns as a way to communicate based on events and sensitization.

For all those who can read this – Happy International Literacy Day! Today, I encourage you to take the time to improve your own literacy. Those of us who have the tools to read and write can improve our subject-area literacy about environmental issues. Take a minute to learn about COP22, the international climate change negotiations happening in Morocco in November. Or explore and support our Water School and Women’s Empowerment programs.

And lastly, here’s to all of the projects around the world working to make sure a greater number of us can read, write, and enjoy the power of written communication by this time next year. I am excited by Dar Si Hmad’s work and I hope you’ll join us in working to improve the lives of our communities, in Morocco and around the world.