Monday, December 18, 2017

C'est fini!

I've been radio silent for a while...apologies. I had this idea that maybe I should actually work a bit.

Turns out, that wasn't a horrible idea! 96669 words later, I have a doctoral thesis submitted to the Examinations Office and a viva this winter. :)

Rather than reading my thesis, I suggest everyone stick to the acknowledgements. They say pretty much everything the academic nonsense actually means:

I am and always will be
the optimist
the hoper of far-flung hopes
the dreamer of improbable dreams.                          -The Eleventh Doctor
This project is dedicated to all those who and all that which
draws hope close and makes dreams real.
To Elliot Stoller and Khaled Alshawi, who acted on an idea to bring change-makers together; Dari AlHuwail, who asked if I would come write about divers in Kuwait; Abdelkrim Boublouh, who told me I should check out a little Moroccan NGO; Yasmeen Makarem, who connected me with a woman named Vanessa; and the many amazing AMENDS Fellows, who unapologetically rock the boat:
May you keep healing our world.
To Matt Zierler, who pointed out that I was allowed to blend my environmental and Middle Eastern obsessions; Mark Axelrod, who skilfully guided that blending; Mark Zeitoun, who asked if I might volunteer at a conference; Alex Loftus, who lured me to King’s with Marxist water theory; and Naho Mirumachi, who encouraged as well as she critiqued and let go as often as she redirected:
May you never forget that what you do changes lives.
To the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the King’s College London Graduate School, School of Social Sciences and Public Policy Postgraduate Research Fund, Theme 13 Grant Scheme, and Department of Geography Small Grants Fund, which financed portions of this work and its dissemination:
May you continue to support communities as they explore.
To the indigenous women and foreign visitors of Dar Si Hmad, who share together in true collaboration; the Kuwaiti schoolchildren and international divers of the Environmental Voluntary Foundation, who clean beaches they did not make dirty: and the Lebanese journalists and Syrian refugees of the Media Association for Peace, who see creative solutions even in the dark:
May you always see I in Thou and Thou in I.
To Iorwerth and Rafael, who delighted more than they distracted and taught more with their laughter and tears than any book ever will:
May the Earth be good to you, and you to it.
And most especially, to the fog droplets in the Anti-Atlas that mystify; the cedar trees in the Chouf that inspire; and the sea turtles in the Gulf that entrance:
May this do some justice to your voices.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

ClimateKeys at Syracuse London

A huge thanks to Syracuse student Caroline Colvin for capturing what I was up to last night so well! Check out the original post and her other great reflections on studying abroad in London:

By the time 5:30pm rolled around Tuesday night, the 40 people chatting in Syracuse University London’s auditorium were doing so comfortably. Thanks to Cashew Catering, they were getting cosy with lentil chilli, slicking hummus and tapenade and yoghurt on artisan bread, savouring slow-roasted veggie salad and gently devouring every delectable, chewy brownie in sight.

These SU London students, faculty, staff and friends were gathered for ClimateKeys: A Musical Conversation about Environmental Justice. Similar to SU London’s free speech symposium, the evening was filled with discussion. But as the name would suggest, the event was dissimilar in that art reigned supreme as our medium of expression.

The night was kicked off by Jason, who introduced us to ClimateKeys and performed a piece about the power of music.

Next, we heard from Lola Perrin, who is also the founder of ClimateKeys. As a pianist and environmental advocate, Perrin is working at the intersection of creative expression and activism.

Shows in the 2017 ClimateKeys concert series have taken place elsewhere in the U.K., as well as in Canada, the U.S., Germany, Serbia, France, New Zealand, Turkey, Wales, Bosnia + Herzegovina, and Wales.

We then heard from concert guitarist Michael Poll and Rebecca Farnum, who is an expert in environmental and social justice as well as the Middle East.

We then were given binders to help lead our discussion. The couches we were sitting on were clustered by subject. The topics were war and conflict, technology and ethics, conservative voices (as in political diversity, not conservation), the media, non-human animals, food and agricultural systems, race and space, and global citizenship.

Inside each binder was a big question in our field of study that would get our wheels turning. There was also a sheet asking us to use David Schlosberg’s “three dimensions” from which we can analyze environmental justice issues. The questions we should ask are:

  • those of distribution, as in “Who gets what?”
  • those of participation, as in “Who makes decisions?”
  • and those of recognition, as in “Who counts?”

There were also relevant news stories in each binder that highlighted the timeliness of each topic.

After our discussion as groups, Terrin, Rebecca, Maggie, Iain and Francesco performed an experimental piece about the death of coral reefs. The experience was achieved through a trombone, a trumpet, a bass guitar, a violin and ocean sounds.

Afterward, each group got to speak their piece and answer their question. It was refreshing and yet, unsurprising, how passionate and well-informed my peers are when it comes to climate change issues. Being a social justice-inclined bunch as it is, I shouldn’t expect anything less.

When it came time for the media group to speak, Andre performed a piece about the malleability of the “truth” when it comes to climate change. Likewise, when we arrived at the global citizenship group, I got to perform my own piece. It is about navigating life as a consumer in a developed, “first world” nation with enough money to have a disposable income, but not enough to afford ethically made clothes.

As someone who loves fashion, only has so much money at this time and wants to ensure that marginalized peoples aren’t further marginalized, I have a lot of guilt about my shopping habits. Next to being elated to have an outlet where I could express this sentiment, I was so grateful I got invited to perform tonight.

As a whole, I am glad events like those apart of Perrin’s ClimateKeys exists. Words are great, obviously, but there is something so magical about music and words repurposed into lyrics (as spoken word is more akin to).

On a personal note, it’s been a minute since I wrote poetry. Rediscovering that side of myself lately was nice.

It was also my first time performing original work in front of an audience. It felt so good to share, which is strange. After suffering from intense anxiety for most of my life, the thing I was most afraid of now feels good.

Helping spark discussion and lay the foundation for civic engagement among my peers tonight made me feel like I was making a tangible difference in the world. Know that if ever there arises another opportunity for me to give back and provoke people intellectually like ClimateKeys provided, best believe I’ll sign up.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Fog Visit

Radio silence = Becca's been abroad!

I headed to Morocco yet again to visit research partner Dar Si Hmad. While I've seen most of the team, this has actually been on US and UK soil...I've hosted various staff members and volunteers for conferences and research projects abroad, but I hadn't actually been in Morocco myself in a year.

It was my first visit since the new form of fog nets were installed in the mountains. They are oddly beautiful, given that they're hunks of metal and mesh. I got rather excited about them, it must be admitted, and there are the visuals to prove it:

I took one of last year's UEA water security students, a Fulbright Scholar who had heard one of Dar Si Hmad's Environmental Youth Ambassadors speak about the fog project during a seminar in April. It was very cool to be able to make that exchange two-way and show Matt the project after so many months of talking about it. Of course the team welcomed us very warmly...with cous cous in the office our first day.

We also escaped to the beach of Sidi Ifni, the montane oasis near Agadir, and the market square of Marrakech for a bit of sightseeing and reconnecting with old friends. A very grand way to mark the autumn, indeed.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Sussex for TBC Graduation

Rafael and I woke up very early this morning to head to the University of Sussex. My pupils from Calverton Primary School, who worked with me to understand the engineering design process last term, were graduating from The Brilliant Club's Scholars Programme.

I honestly have more photographic evidence of our train ride than the day itself. Rafael LOVES trains (see grin below), and I was running around after him, joining my pupils on a school tour, and speaking during the certificate ceremony rather than staffing the camera. But a very grand day was had by all!

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Boys are Back in Town

I am a Becca with her boys.

After a month of holiday, Rafael is back in London. We had a joyful reunion this week, which in the first ten minutes included a song-and-dance routine to "Good Mornin'" from Singing in the Rain; quite fitting, given this week's weather. He seemed to like it!

Also this week came a Bram. Middle son of the Dutches - my parents' best friends and origin of my name. Becky and Ken lived in Cambridge for a year while she was a Churchill Scholar, just a couple years ago. Now Bram is doing his master's in computer science there, which means I get to continue torturing him as I have since he was a child.

Naturally, I decided that Bram and Rafael should meet. We went on a boat. Rafael was rather amused by the very tall man who wasn't quite sure how best to hold him. They must have got on, though, because Rafael offered Bram some of his banana, and then slept in his arms in a Greenwich pub.

And so a new academic year starts, with my boys in easy reach. :)

Friday, September 22, 2017

New Course! 'Catching the Clouds'

This term is an exciting one - I am teaching a brand new course with The Brilliant Club! It's based on Dar Si Hmad's fog-harvesting project, and I'm really excited to work with a cohort of A-level London students to test out the curriculum.

Catching the Clouds: Water Security and Sustainable Engineering is an interdisciplinary STEM course furthering students' knowledge of meteorology, chemistry, and physics. Using the world's largest fog-harvesting system as a case study, participants will examine the role of engineering in sustainable development. Students will explore the science behind fog formation, solar power, and renewable energies. Design thinking will be used to guide students in considering how we develop and implement sustainable technologies that can improve quality of life, especially for marginalised communities. The course will build pupils’ specific knowledge of Morocco's hydrology and the CloudFisher system while encouraging them to consider applied engineering and sustainable development more broadly.
During their final project, students will critically analyse an existing community intervention and suggest improvements for future work (which might include questions of efficacy, scalability, or sustainability). Pupils will reflect and expand on a case study chosen by them, and may elect to focus their examination on any region, problem, and disciplinary angle they desire. In this way, participants can apply their learning throughout the course to personalised academic interests. The assignment is structured to allow for maximum flexibility while emphasising analytical abilities and an understanding of the broader implications of chosen case studies, thus giving students a taste of the evaluation processes expected at university.
Participation in the course will build students’ capacities for applied engineering and awareness of sustainable development, empowering them to consider how their interest in science can be used to address social issues.

More to come about the programme, I am this space! (And in the meantime, please send good vibes as I attempt to teach engineering - HA!)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hello again!

It's been an age since I updated this blog; apologies.

I was essentially in a cave for all of August, working to get my PhD thesis drafted.

September then started off with quite a bang.

So, updates!

1. My thesis is mostly complete. Its data chapters are now sitting with my research partners in Kuwait, Lebanon, and Morocco. As part of my participatory approach to research, they all have a chance to read and make edits on it before it is final. It has been an honour to share this journey with them, and I had a very emotional time writing up their stories and analysing what they have to teach us about environmental peacebuilding!

2. I have started a new job at Syracuse University's study abroad centre in London. I'm working in their office as a learning support officer and also teaching on a number of environmental justice and politics issues. In January, I'll be leading a study abroad seminar with them in the Scandinavian countries exploring equity and sustainability in Europe and teaching ethnographic methods.

3. I was in Poland this weekend, celebrating the wedding of very dear friends. The groom was an American Jew and the bride a Polish Catholic. They blended their various traditions very beautifully, and it was joyous to celebrate with them. It was also exhausting...when I left at 4:30am on Monday to catch my flight, I was leaving an active party!

4. I went from Poland to Manchester, where I spoke at a peacebuilding conference. We had a great environmental panel. I had the chance to finally meet in person some folks I knew well by reputation as well as connecting with some other great folks. Again, exhausting to go straight from wedding to intensive conference, but very well worth it.

5. And now I'm settling back into London, as are the new Marshall Scholars! I met them at Leicester Square for dinner last night and am more officially welcoming them at the Foreign Commonwealth Office this evening.

A very grand start to the autumn, indeed.

Monday, July 31, 2017

K+ Summer School 2017

Does the Telly Lie? Media and the Middle East is an interdisciplinary course allowing students to expand their knowledge and skills in government, English, and sociology. The course will guide students in exploring the role of media in society. Through the lens of Western news coverage of the Middle East, students will consider how knowledge and ‘fact’ are created in society and how they might evaluate truth claims. Students will wrestle with potential ‘myths’ told in mainstream media about a region generally portrayed as mired in conflict and be challenged to look “beyond the bombs” to consider biased assumptions about the role of gender, environmental resources, and democracy in the area. The course will build students’ specific knowledge of the Middle East’s religions, cultures, and politics while also encouraging them to reflect on similar issues in their own settings.

Through the final assignment, students will use the analytical reasoning skills developed in the course to critically evaluate a series of news articles and/or programmes. Students will compare and contrast stories from a variety of sources on a Middle East topic selected by them. Students will be expected to show an understanding of the broader implications of their own and societal understandings of and approaches to information. As such, emphasis will be placed less on the actual topic chosen and more on the reflective reasoning abilities demonstrated. This way, students will be given a taste of the evaluation processes expected at university.

Participation in the course will build students’ critical thinking while empowering them to be more active and thoughtful citizens of the world.

I got to teach this course at King's last week with their annual spotlight summer camp for widening participation students...quite possibly for the last time!

K+ at King's College London is a two-year programme of events, activities and academic workshops created to help support students' university application and provide the skills needed to reach their potential as an undergraduate student. One of the highlights of K+ is the Spotlight Summer School, complete with academic tutorials; information sessions on applications, personal statements, and finances; tours; student life taster sessions; and a trip to the London Eye.

Twenty Year 12 students gave me a riot of a time as we explored feminism and dress codes, epistemologies and academic politics, and censorship and Islam. As made evident below, the entire week was entirely serious.

Okay, so...there may or may not have been included in the festivities a visit from #thelittlestgeographer Rif Raf and a run through the fountains. But I'm not swearing one way or the other. Notice the students with books and giving presentations!! It wasn't all eating biscuits and rampaging through the Strand with a toddler...

Monday, July 17, 2017

Return to the Burn

As a highlight of every summer, the Marshall Scholars visit The Burn, a gorgeous manor house in the Cairngorns near Glen Esk (the very low highlands of Scotland).

Our activities whilst in England's northern neighbour include dancing a ceilidh (the very fun and fast-paced Scottish variation to an American squaredance), touring (and tasting at...) a whiskey distillery, roaming about cliffs and castle ruins, squishing our toes in a sandy beach, and roasting marshmallows over a campfire. It is, all in all, rather magical.

Also on the agenda this year was a few pre-seasonal salmon running the stream - pretty large fish leaping out of the water up the rapids to get to their spawning ground. Super, super cool to see in person.

I was entirely remiss in taking photos at most places, but here are a few from the North Sea...

Sunday, June 25, 2017


This last week in Oxford, a bit of magic happened. Once again, some of my favourite humans gathered through the AMENDS platform. More formally:

The mission of AMENDS is to facilitate a platform for promising youth leaders working from across the Middle East, North Africa and the United States to maximize their initiatives by providing them access to opportunities for developing key skills, networking with established leaders and sharing their initiatives with a larger audience.

In February of 2011, as protests were erupting across North Africa and the Middle East, two Stanford undergraduates met at a coffee shop. They had been born and raised in Bahrain and Chicago respectively. A conversation ensued about the power of youth leaders to create positive social, political, and economic change, the necessity of sharing their ideas and experiences with the world, and the profound potential of collaboration and understanding between the Middle East, North Africa, and the United States. This conversation gave birth to AMENDS – a student-led initiative sponsored by Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies with faculty advisors Professor Larry Diamond and Professor Frank Fukuyama.

Each April, the American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford (AMENDS) holds a Launch Summit providing young changemakers with proven track records access to opportunities for developing key skills, networking with established leaders and sharing their initiatives with a larger audience. The result is a growing generation of change agents working to ignite concrete social and economic development in the MENA region.

Our Fellows are people like Rahmeh, the co-founder of Jordan’s SheCab company that provides safe transport and economic empowerment for women in the region; Fadi, a young Palestinian entrepreneur whose alternative energy start-up in Ramallah who has secured a contract with the PLO to deliver 10% of the West Bank’s energy need through wind power; and Cole, an American advocate connecting policymakers in Washington DC with activists on the ground in the Middle East.

Alumni of the annual Summits have joined across the years to form the AMENDS Global Fellows, a new organization dedicated to equipping these changemakers and their initiatives. Activities include annual reunion Forums where Fellows gather for continued resource sharing; regular online workshops connecting initiatives working on similar issues in disparate countries; and internal crowd-sourced support for translation, grant-writing, and other needs the Fellows are able to provide for each other. The AMENDS Global Fellows has made possible partnerships like that of curriculum developer Laura and science educator Hamza, who built a countrywide extracurricular intervention for STEM learning in Jordan, and peace researcher Becca and choral director Micah, who brought an Israeli-Palestinian youth choir to sing in London’s West End.

During AMENDS’ first five years, we have built a strong presence at both Stanford University in California and Koç University in Istanbul. Student teams work with university administration to host the Launch Summit (generally held at Stanford) and Fellows Forum (held at Koç for the past three years). We value these partnerships, and our presence in the US and Turkey is and will continue to be strong. But it is time – both in terms of organizational growth and due to current political realities – to expand.

The 2017 AMENDS Summit will be our sixth annual gathering with new delegates. This year’s 33 delegates were selected by the Stanford Student Team from a pool of 500 applicants. They represent 19 countries and work on a range of issues, from gender equality and diversity to environmental justice to education policy. In Sudan, Shiemma Ahmed manages an online platform for craftswomen in Darfur to sell their wares. In Iran, Esmaeil Pirhadi pioneers a hardware startup to provide sensory treatment for disorders like autism and PTSD. In Libya, Abdulrahman Zurghani runs coding classes for youth.

Shiemma, Esmaeil, and Abdulrahman have been directly affected by the recent executive order on immigration, with American visa appointments cancelled. Other delegates from countries like Lebanon have already had their applications denied – despite the support of Stanford University and AMENDS’ proven track record. Meanwhile, Turkey’s visa requirements have become much stricter in the past two years, and a number of alumni were unable to attend the 2016 Fellows Forum and face continued barriers with access to Istanbul.

AMENDS is about social change, and relies on relationships to create new ideas and make new projects possible. We know the power of working together face-to-face over a weeklong conference and remain committed to inclusion. With this in mind, we would like to turn the global security and geopolitical turbulence of 2016-2017 toward something good: the launch of AMENDS Oxford.

The AMENDS community already has any number of ties to Oxford. Fellows like Jessica Anderson, Corey Metzman, Zach Levine, and Sam Sussman have earned postgraduate degrees from the University. Stanford Team Members Marwa Farag and Madeleine Chang have studied there as well, while former AMENDS President Meredith Wheeler was a 2014 Rhodes Scholar, now joined by Fellow Hashem Abu Shama, who was recently selected as the first Palestinian Rhodes Scholar.

We launched the Oxford branch of AMENDS this summer by hosting the New Delegates’ Launch Summit in parallel with the Fellows Forum from 19-23 June 2017. The new Delegates and alumni Fellows were paired for two-way mentoring. Though the timing of Ramadan made logistics, eating, and sleeping somewhat crazy (celebrating Muslims didn't eat or drink during daylight hours, which goes from like 3:30am-9:30pm during British summer!), it was inspiring to share the holiday season together in such a beautiful and historic place.

The AMENDS Talks, when new Delegates shared the fantastic work they're doing with the wider community, were inspiring as always. More wonderful were the informal moments in the garden of idea sharing, resource swapping, and partnership growing.

It's truly amazing what you can do when you throw cool people in a room and let them go about the business of making change.

Monday, June 5, 2017

King's Cancun

I've just landed back in the UK after a fun two weeks in Mexico - my first time in that country, despite having grown up in the US.

The XVI World Water Congress was held in Cancun 29 May - 3 June. I attended to talk about Dar Si Hmad's fog-harvesting - and while there, also presented a co-authored chapter on ‘Hydro-hegemons and International Water Law’ during a session launching the Routledge Handbook of Water Law and Policy.

Somewhat more excitingly, though, my time in Cancun included a week of ‘speculative fieldwork’ with four doctoral candidates from King’s Water prior to the Congress. During that week, we explored the Yucatan Peninsula’s cenotes - underground limestone sinkholes leading to the Karst Aquifer. Our time included 7 semi-structured interviews with researchers, policymakers, and practitioners; 8 technical visits to sinkholes; an informal stakeholder analysis; and a great deal of discourse analysis and interdisciplinary conversations during travels as we examined how the cenotes were advertised and used by various stakeholders.

At the Congress, the team presented its results with hydrologists from our local research partner, CICY - the Centre for the Scientific Study of the Yucatan. We had a lot of fun with both the cenotes and our new hydrologist you can see. :)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Spring Up School

I've been teaching this week with King's College London's King's Scholars programme, a widening participation initiative working with pupils in Lambeth, Southwark and Westminster. King's Scholars explore what university is like through a variety of fun activities. #SpringUp17 was a weeklong 'day camp' for students in Year 8. They spent most of their time at King's with PhD students getting to know different subject streams at university. 90-minute 'taster sessions' gave them a feel for Dentistry, Geography, History & Politics, Languages & Literature, Law, Medicine, and Science.

The course I teach with The Brilliant Club, "Does the Telly Lie? Media and the Middle East", gets used in K+ Summer Spotlight. K+ is a similiar programme for older students, who choose one subject area and dive deeper instead of surveying all of them. For K+, "Does the Telly Lie?" is grouped into the Languages & Literature stream, so I was asked by the Widening Participation Team to create another Lang & Lit class for use in the Spring Up School.

You have ninety minutes to teach a class full of Year 8 (13-year-olds):
  1. what universities research under the theme 'Languages and Literature',
  2. what it's like to be an L&L student at King's College London,
  3. which careers you might pursue after studying L&L,
  4. a high-level exercise exploring a particular issue in L&L, and
  5. how to complete an independent learning project taking that issue further.

What do you do?

Use Disney, of course!!

I thought a good bit about what it is that brings Languages and Literature together as an area of study, and decided on the idea of translation. Most obviously, we translate languages: Portuguese into Mandarin, Dutch into Arabic. But all of L&L is, in a way, about translating - transforming one form of communication into a context more easily understood and/or enjoyed by people. We translate Chaucer's Old English into its modern form. We translate archaic plays into fun new blockbuster films. We translate across cultures and time periods. We translate ideas and emotions into stories. You get the idea.

So we talked about famous alumni of King's College London who studied Languages & Literature, and what they did with their careers. (They include the lyricist Sir W. S. Gilbert of the famed Gilbert & Sullivan operas, renowned poet John Keats, bass guitarist John Deacon of Queen - who wrote 'Another One Bites the Dust', sci-fi 'godfather' Arthur C. Clarke, and modernist writer Virginia Woolfe.) We then talked about what translation is, and how many kinds of things we need to translate to understand each other and communication.

And then I gave them each a poem, a short French glossary, and two sentences' worth of grammar rules - and made them try to translate poetry. Shockingly, it didn't work well. "Is this masculine or feminine?" "You haven't given me the right verb tense!" "But miss, it doesn't RHYME!" "This has no rhythym."

After discussing the massive problems they were facing with direct translation ('plug-and-play words'), we took a look at a piece of multi-lingual poetry done very well. Ladies and gentlemen, I present: "Let It Go". (With apologies to the poor Year 8s whose little brothers and sisters watch this movie every. single. day.)

Groups then discussed why this worked so well when their attempts did not and debated whether Google Translate will ever be able to replace human interpreters. Presentations to the class got everyone up front - and for some of the students, this was the first time they'd ever spoken formally to a large group of people they didn't know.

For our last activity, we turned again to Disney...this time having some fun with how badly relying solely on Google Translate can go.

Meanwhile next door, I had drafted my colleague Dan to teach the Geography stream. I wouldn't go so far as to say his session was COOLER than mine...though he did bring in far more toys! He had students evaluating the ecological status of different sites along the Thames based on real bugs in sampling trays. Indicator species of insects can tell us a lot about the general nutrient levels, average temperature, and overall health of an ecosystem.

In other classes, the Year 8s considered the legality of 'stop and search' policies, questioned the factors that led to Donald Trump's election, examined the interdisciplinarity of science, and identified shark teeth. They've now been sent back to school with a quite massive task: deciding which of the streams was their favourite, and writing an essay about the topic they explored in that subject area. Good luck to all of them!

As a fun surprise, pupils were there from City Heights...a school where I've previously taught with The Brilliant Club! Some of my mentees from a course on mathematical astrophysics (asking whether the stars would be able to float in the bath) got quite confused as we suddenly debated translation theory instead of calculating density measurements. It was great to have a mini reunion with them.

Thanks so much to the King's Widening Participation Team, and great job to all the attendees of the Spring Up School - you were brilliant! Here's to making space at university for everyone who wants to come explore. :)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Conservation Optimism continued!

Next in the series from my Moroccan research team's visit to the UK: filming at the zoo for children's education!! This post was written by Salma, another of our amazing Environmental Youth Ambassadors. Check out more:

Most of the conservation conversation is unfortunately available only in English, limiting access to its content for non-English speakers. Our Water School project’s main goal is to introduce the children of rural Southwest Morocco to global environmental issues. The curriculum, which we've published open source in Arabic and English, is delivered by our amazing teacher Fatiha in the main language spoken by local children, Tachelhit. We believe this is critical in making local communities feel as though they have a stake in environmental issues, valorising indigenous languages and cultural diversity, and engaging children in learning.

After attending the Conservation Optimism Summit in London, Dar Si Hmad’s Environmental Youth Ambassadors visited the ZSL London Zoo on the 23rd of April to create additional visual content about conservation work. The team spent a full day interviewing zoo employees, filming various animals in their habitats, and presenting the Society's conservation efforts. These films are being edited by the EYA Team now and will be published in Tachelit and Arabic - bringing the great work of the ZSL London Zoo's conservation and education to local Moroccan communities so they can be a part of the ongoing effort.

I got the chance to interview Andy and Ana, members of the Zoo's presentation and education teams.

First, Ana walked us through a typical day of her work in the zoo. As a part of the ZSL Education Team, Ana is in charge of coordinating visits with local schools and serving as a tour guide for  children. The Zoo offers a variety of educational workshops that include nursing and feeding interactions with animals, conservation education, and animal biology. Then, Ana introduced us to her favourite animal in the zoo - the seahorse - and talked about its natural habitat and where it can be found around the world.

Next, Abdelhaq accompanied Ana to the Zoo's indoor rainforest, a recreation of the sloth's home. Anna welcome the Water School kids to the Amazon in her native language, Portuguese, and then Abdelhaq asked Anna in Tachelhit to talk about the special features of this 'lazy' animal who has evolved to sleep nearly twenty hours a day. The two sloths slept through their 'interview' with the EYAs, but one of them did wake up later that afternoon for feeding time - so we captured some of his verrryyyy sllooooowwwww movement on film. Our camera was also visited by a curious colleague of the sloth (a golden-headed lion tamarin), who wanted her turn in the spotlight!


In the Zoo's Aquarium - the first ever in the world - our partner Hamad from the Kuwait Dive Team spoke with Ana about coral reefs, the bleaching of these amazing habitats caused by climate change, and how we can help protect our ocean. Our trip there made national news in Kuwait.
Moving across the world to Asia, we met Andy. Andy’s job at the zoo is to give live educational presentations to visitors. After I interviewed him about Asiatic lions - a close cousin to Morocco's national animal - Andy changed into his ranger clothes and pretended to be an employee of Sasan Gir, a forest in India where lions live. Using a unique animatronic model, Andy and his team gave a live simulation of rescuing a lion found injured in the park. Children visiting the Zoo to learn about lion conservation got to help perform first aid on the full-sized 'lion' and heard about how he would be cared for.

South of the Equator, we visited Penguin Beach, where Andy talked about the amazing birds that swim and don't fly. His talk gave us a lot of great ideas about how to teach adaptation and evolution to our Water School classes - and of course it was great fun to watch the penguins dive for food! At least, our youngest research partner Rafael certainly thought so.

The Environmental Youth Ambassadors also filmed videos talking about their favorite animals. Mahdi visited the BUGS Building to pay homage to one of the world's most crucial species: bees. Mahdi talked about pollination and how important bees are to in plants' reproduction - and our own survival! Meanwhile, Hamad and I explained how the radar technology submarines and satellites use is inspired by the incredible adaptation of nocturnal bats. Just like our fog-harvesting project is inspired by an insect's clever wings, the natural world has informed so many of today's greatest innovations. Copying animal adaptations and environmental systems in engineering is called biomimicry, and it can be seen transportation and agriculture, swimming suits and children's games. Nature is our greatest teacher - and that's what the ZSL Education Team and Dar Si Hmad's Water School are all about.