“When you learn, you have to make your first 100 mistakes. So just make them.”
This was the first advice we received from our journalist mentor, Dr. Leslie Dodson, during the two hours journalism training session we participated in the first day of the Environmental Youth Ambassador (EYA) program.
The EYA program is an initiative by Association Dar Si Hmad to engage Moroccan university students and youth in environmental education and advocacy.
The six of us, EYAs, are university students benefitting from the MEPI-funded RISE professional development program at Dar Si Hmad. We were selected for being passionate nature enthusiasts committed to gaining first-hand experience of the fragile situation of water resources in rural Ait Baamrane, and sparking conversations about sustainable practices and creative solutions for the pressing issue of water scarcity in Southwest Morocco through photography, videography, and reporting.
The first step of our EYA journey was to join Dar Si Hmad staff in the final two sessions of its Water School, an annual program providing seven sessions on ecologically-sound water practices for approximately 100 underserved, rural children in Southwest Morocco.
With that piece of advice in mind, we hopped in the Land Rover, greeted by Abderrahmane’s notorious “Wajdeen?” (“Are you ready?”), before leaving the beautiful sea of Sidi Ifni behind us to head straight to the heart of Ait Baamrane’s mountainous landscape. Right from the start, the red soil, thirsty bushes and short trees communicated threatening drought and the challenging and adaptive nature of the region.
Our first Water School session was a myriad of feelings and learning experience, to say the least.
A total of 40 girls and boys, ages 7 – 14, gathered from neighboring villages, armed with curiosity and a lust for learning, for their usual rendezvous with Fatiha, the head Water School instructor. For this session, Fatiha brought microscopes, magnifying lenses and glitter, the necessary gear for this week’s lesson on “Water for Sanitation and Hygiene” about germs, contamination, and the importance of better hygiene and health practices.
Activities of the session went on and on, ranging from an activity with glitter and handshakes to illustrate how germs spread with physical contact, water examination with microscopes, to a demonstration of Dar Si Hmad’s fog harvesting project using the fog net miniature and a water spray bottle to mimic the fog, explaining the fog harvesting technology their villages benefit from.
While children were immersed in their learning, our team was busy making mistakes under our mentor’s guidance, trying to capture the sparkle of fascination in Soukaina’s eyes, the complexity of Aicha’s expression when spraying water on the net, and Ahmed’s mischievous smile when contaminating Ayoub’s hand with glitter “germs”.
These moments were the concrete translation of how powerful the impact of the Water School could be on these children’s ecological education. Surely enough, the Water School’s innovative and fun curriculum provided students with adapted hands-on activities to encourage sustainable management of natural resources, particularly water, a precious and newly-accessible commodity in their communities.
This experience was a two-way learning opportunity, as we not only formed a new understanding of the water situation in Southwest Morocco, but also had the chance to discuss with participating children the ecology of Agadir and its local environmental challenges, despite of the natural and linguistic differences between us.
All in all, the first part of our mission was nothing if not a handful of mistakes to be proud of, as well as a sneak peak of an exciting journey in ecological-diplomacy ahead.
Written by: Salma Edrif, a thankful EYA