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:

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:

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:

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:

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.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

RGS Annual Conference 2016

This week has been rather incredible. Ten months ago, I began dreaming about having all three of my research partners from Morocco, Kuwait, and Lebanon show up in London at the same time to speak on a conference panel about environmental peacebuilding. This week, it happened at the Royal Geographical Society with IBG's Annual Conference.

Our session explored "Environmental Peacebuilding: The Peace-Environment-Conflict Nexus (2): Nature as Diplomat: Emerging Theories and Practices of Environmental Peacebuilding" (an overly long title because it was the second of a 2-part session).

From the conference programme overview:
“Environmental peacebuilding” is an emerging concept recognising the potential of the natural environment to play a role in post-conflict rebuilding and peaceful relations between communities in conflict. This session will examine the logic of the environmental peacebuilding rationale and the links between peace, the natural environment, and conflict. The focus will be on critically considering when and where peacebuilding does and should happen, the unique position occupied by nature in these processes, and the need to examine both the negative and positive consequences of environmental concerns. Examining theoretical debates and including practitioner and activist voices, the session will consider whether environmental scarcity inevitably leads to conflict; what the goal of environmental peacebuilding is and should be; how the natural environment might be understood as a tool, actor, and/or stakeholder in peacebuilding processes; and how various actors at multiple scales might learn from successful examples of environmental peacebuilding?
Nature as Diplomat: A Regional Ethnography of Environmental Peacebuilding in the Middle East and North Africa
Rebecca Farnum (King's College London, UK)
In modern international relations, the environment is frequently framed as a threat or factor in conflict. Historically, though, nature has also been a platform for cooperation and dialogue between nations and communities. This potential is beginning to be explicitly considered through growing academic and policy discourses on 'environmental peacebuilding', 'environmental peacemaking', and 'environmental diplomacy'. Advocates for environmental peacebuilding believe that environmental resources can and should be used as a mechanism in bringing groups together. Shared protection schemes for threatened but vital resources, agreements over drilling regulations in transboundary water sources, and maintaining parks near borders can open the door to cooperation. Peoples and governments in conflict who have a difficult time sitting down to discuss historically sensitive issues may be able to engage each other over shared environmental needs. If approached correctly, this environmental cooperation can lead to stronger relationships and pave the way for further peace initiatives. Environmental peacebuilding is a fairly new concept, not well developed in the literature, but it is growing in prominence. United Nations projects around the world are beginning to consider the role of natural resources in peacebuilding. Various organisations, both international and local, are beginning to use and develop the rationale of environmental peacebuilding many of their programmes. This paper introduces the preliminary results of a topical regional ethnography of environmental peacebuilding in the Middle East and North Africa in order to further theorisation around the concept. It will focus on questions of scale, agency, and purpose in environmental peacebuilding in order to understand whether and how nature plays a unique role in peacebuilding policy and practice. 
Field Diplomacy: Environmental Innovation, Collaboration, and Development
Jade Lansing (Dar Si Hmad, Morocco)
While scarce natural resources can be a catalyst for animosity and violence, they also provide common ground for creative solutions. This paper explores the utility of the natural environment as a landscape for innovation, collaboration, and development, deconstructing the myriad ways the environment participates in human relations. It seeks to expand environmental peacebuilding narratives and policy recommendations beyond the narrow framework of conflict, to include poverty, marginalization, xenophobia, and inequality, conditions likewise intimately connected to how natural resources are managed and distributed. Highlighting the case of an Ethnographic Field School in rural Southwest Morocco, the paper reflects on the central role the environment has played in facilitating intercultural exchange, fueling collaborative innovation, and promoting equitable development. The school, run by local NGO Dar Si Hmad, was established in 2010 to support their participatory fog-harvesting initiative, which uses advanced technology to collect water from fog and pipe it to rural villages previously without access to potable water. Through the Field School, international students, researchers, and 'experts' visit the region, adding value to the fog-harvesting project by contributing funding and international visibility as well as new skills and technology. Simultaneously, beneficiary villagers and the bled (countryside) itself offer visitors field experience, cutting-edge research opportunities, and invaluable cross-cultural understanding. Though inequalities are not wiped away by participation in the initiative, the project's physical location lends some balance to power relations, radically altering the distribution of social capital among stakeholders. Environmental peacebuilding has proven salient here, despite the absence of conflict, as cultural education and collaborative natural resource management continue to lay the groundwork for durable peace, intercultural understanding, and symbiotic growth. 
Guardians of the Sea: A Team's Journey towards Environmental Peacebuilding
Dari Al Huwail (Kuwait Dive Team)
Thirty years ago, a group of young Kuwaiti friends began using their love for scuba diving to help protect the Gulf's marine environment. After the 1990-1991 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and subsequent Gulf War, their work became post-conflict rebuilding and restoration.
25 years later, the Kuwait Dive Team has become one of Kuwait's major environmental volunteering organisations. And their work, like the environment they work with, has moved beyond their country's borders. To share successful examples of environmental voluntary organizations around the globe and build a network of collaboration, the Kuwait Dive Team launched the Global Environmental Guardians Network (GEGN) in the United States with a vision to foster collaboration and cooperation between environmental organizations and teams that carry out serious eco-missions targeting challenging environmental issues. More locally, the Team has organized multiple forums for organizations in the Middle East region with the aims to create a roadmap and brainstorm solutions with other like-minded organisations for tough environmental issues around the globe. During this presentation, members of the Kuwait Dive Team will share the Team's work, mission, and projects that impact environmental peacebuilding, as well as their motivations for engaging in international relations around the environment and the lessons they have learned from their 'diving diplomacy'.

MAPping the Road to Peace through Environmental Journalism: The Media Association for Peace
Vanessa Bassil (Media Association for Peace, Lebanon)
The Media Association for Peace (MAP) is a non-partisan, non-governmental, youth-led organisation in Lebanon. The organisation is dedicated to furthering the role of media and journalism in peace, conflict, and social change, building from the concept of peace journalism, "when editors and reporters make choices – of what stories to report, and how to report them – that create opportunities for society at large to consider and value non-violent responses to conflict" (Lynch & McGoldrick 2005). This paper presents the results of MAP's pilot project on "Media, Peace and Environment". The project aims to reach positive peace by addressing the indirect violence found in societal structures, particularly as they play out in and with the natural environment. Through a series of trainings, public discussions, and international conferences, the pilot programme has furthered theoretical and activist perspectives on the concept of 'environmental peacebuilding'. Building academic literature in Arabic about environmental peacebuilding has opened the evolving discourse to new input and made the topic more accessible. MAP's efforts in training media students, young media professionals, and journalists on the theory and practice of peace journalism through constructive conflict coverage and solutions-oriented reporting on human rights, development, and environmental issues will be evaluated and presented as a case study to inform further work in environmental peacebuilding in Lebanon and beyond.
I was definitely sniffling a little as I saw all three of them on a panel together:

I was able to support many of the groups with at least partial flight expenses and a waiving of their conference fees, thanks to some RGS Research Groups and King's College London mini-grants.
Dar Si Hmad from Morocco was also represented on a session around water, gender, and violence, with Souad sharing the work they're doing with women's empowerment surrounding the fog project.

And then DSH's Water School and the Kuwait Dive Team's Beach Clean-Up were highlighted as positive case studies for environmental education.
All in all, a rather fantastic week. We're now having fun touring around London together - with a few special guests in the form of young children. ;)