By Arielle Moss, Social Equity and Difference Intern
“Thilj!” The children shrieked the word for “snow” in Moroccan Arabic in response to a picture of snow-capped mountains of the High Atlas. Fatiha, the teacher of the Dar Si Hmad’s Water School, nodded approvingly and directed their eyes to the white powder held in their outstretched hands. She poured water over the powder, and the children’s eyes widened as they watched it expand into cool, fluffy “snow”. They began throwing the flakes in the air and sprinkling it over their heads, filling the classroom-turned-snowglobe with laughter and white powder. In the first lesson of the Water School on “The Water Cycle,” children learned about different types of precipitation and weather, and this snow demonstration provided a simulation of the appearance and texture of snow. Many of the children have never left their villages in the arid region of Ait Baamrane so this was the first time seeing “snow” up close and identifying where snow can be found around Morocco and throughout the rest of the world.
After graduating from Indiana University in 2015, I had the opportunity to teach English in Agadir, Morocco and intern at a local NGO, Dar Si Hmad, devoted to promoting local culture and creating sustainable educational and environmental initiatives with communities of southwest Morocco. DSH works closely with the rural villages of Ait Baamrane poised at the intersections of the Sahara, the Anti-Atlas Mountains, and the Atlantic Ocean. Because of its distinctive geography, Ait Baamrane is characterized by limited economic opportunities, poor educational infrastructure, encroaching desertification, and increasing drought cycles. With its innovative Fog-Harvesting Project, DSH has installed the world’s largest network of fog nets that provide drinking water to these communities. The stratocumulus clouds floating above the Atlantic coast behave like fog once they reach the Anti-Atlas. When the fog sifts through the fog nets, it condenses into water, which is then piped into the homes in five rural villages of Ait Baamrane.
DSH also organizes an annual Water School for the children of these villages. The Water School leverages the local environment as a learning tool to engage students ages 7-14 with hands-on activities to encourage sustainable management of natural resources and ensure the region’s socio-ecological vitality. The Water School responds directly to the environmental needs of Ait Baamrane’s next generation, providing them with access to greater quality of education today and equipping them with the skills their communities will need tomorrow. Each of the seven Water School lessons encourages students to celebrate water in their communities and to implement sustainable water management practices by providing hands-on, engaging activities that teach them the science and ecology of water. Since water is a precious and newly accessible commodity in these communities, the curriculum encourages children to explore water conservation and to better understand the fog harvesting technology their villages are benefitting from.
Although Ait Baamrane, like many other marginalized communities around the world, bears the brunt of environmental degradation and climate change, local Moroccans remained committed to promoting environmental justice and social equity within their communities. They provided an invaluable perspective on how poverty and social exclusion can be combatted in eco-friendly, participatory, and most importantly, sustainable ways.
Every individual depends on the environment. The global climate is environmentally and socially interconnected, thus demanding an interconnected movement. Although tackling climate justice might seem daunting, WE have the power to make a positive impact in our own communities. Educate yourself on an issue that interests you or gets you fired up. Listen to those most vulnerable to climate change. Make little tweaks in your lifestyle. Grab a friend and get involved in sustainable, socially responsible initiatives on campus or in Bloomington. Taking individual and collective action is one of the most powerful ways we can make change at IU and in our community. Check out the IUOS website for upcoming events, activities, and projects you can get involved in to help us work towards a more sustainable and inclusive IU. Small things can make big things happen!