Our Work

Influencing positive change

What is Desert Voicebox?

Desert Voicebox is a unique early-learning project that trains local teachers to provide English language and music education to Saharawi children living in refugee camps in SW Algeria. Currently, it is the only after school programme offering primary school-age children opportunities to learn new skills in fun and stimulating ways and to grow outside the classroom.
Since its humble beginnings as a pilot project in 2016, Desert Voicebox (formerly known as Stave House in the Sahara) has steadily grown to become an established and valued programme in the community. So far, we have trained four Saharawi refugee women to teach and run the programme, and to drive its future expansion in the camps..
Scroll down to learn more about how the project works and how you can support our work. For a quick, easy to read summary of the project, download our brochure.

How It Works

Desert Voicebox is a unique early-learning project that trains local teachers to provide English language and music education to Saharawi children living in refugee camps in SW Algeria. Currently, it is the only after school programme offering primary school-age children opportunities to learn new skills in fun and stimulating ways and to grow outside the classroom.
Currently, over 60 children aged 6 to 12 learn English and music, 5 days a week during the academic year. The programme is based in Lal Andala primary school in Camp Boujdour. Thanks to a successful fundraising campaign in 2019, the project was able to move from a refurbished
school room into its own purpose-built centre of two large rooms and two small practice rooms.

Four Saharawi women are being trained to teach the DV programme. We have prioritised recruiting women who did not finish secondary school but are passionate about teaching children. Prior to the pandemic training was primarily done by volunteers on-site. During the pandemic, it continued remotely but due to poor connectivity issues were primarily mediated through WhatsApp.
English and music are taught in a mutually-reinforcing manner through a curriculum that spans four levels. Guided by the CEFR framework a be-spoke English curriculum has been developed by TEFL-qualified volunteers tohelp the students achieve good speaking and listening skills and a solid foundation in reading and writing. For music education we use the Stave House music method. Developed by Sandblast Friend Ruth Travers, who donated the system to the camps, this method is based on storytelling and interactivity to
engage the children's imagination and promote their creativity.

"I can say it is one of the most beautiful opportunities that exist for Saharawi children in the refugee camps. They come eager to learn about music every day and I can see how it affects them positively."

- Fatimetu Malainin, DV Music teacher
Children passing each level of Stave House receive certificates from the London College of Music at the University of West London. In addition to the regular programme, we run special annual creative workshops led by international artists and volunteers, and we work with local artists in the camps to enrich the children’s knowledge of their cultural roots in weekly sessions.

Why English and music?

Teaching English and music (neither of which are taught in primary schools in the camps) equips Saharawi children with the skills and knowledge to open new doors and express themselves and their culture to wider audiences. Furthermore, Desert Voicebox is responding to the dire need for extracurricular activities that will engage children in fun, creative and productive ways to keep them off the streets and help tackle the rising problem of juvenile delinquency.

"We want to speak about our rights for a better
life. Not the life of a refugee."

- Aisha, 10, Desert Voicebox student

Gaining a Voice, Expressing Identity

Teaching English and music (neither of which are taught in primary schools in the camps) equips Saharawi children with the skills and knowledge to open new doors and express themselves and their culture to wider audiences. Furthermore, Desert Voicebox is responding to the dire need for extracurricular activities that will engage children in fun, creative and productive ways to keep them off the streets and help tackle the rising problem of juvenile delinquency.
English is increasingly regarded as an important language for the Saharawis
to learn in order to access higher education opportunities in English-
speaking countries and participate in international platforms to advocate for
their rights. Desert Voicebox is addressing a language barrier to enable the next generation to seize these opportunities and have their voices heard on global stages.

Equally, by providing high quality education in both international and traditional music-making, Desert Voicebox enables the next generation to continue developing the important historical role of music in expressing the Saharawi freedom struggle and vitally, gives them the foundations to promote their unique
but threatened cultural identity. As a result of protracted exile, more than 60% of their intangible heritage is believed to have been lost, with fewer and fewer elders left to transmit knowledge of their roots and past.

Aim & Objectives

The main aim of Desert Voicebox is to equip the Saharawi refugee children, and the women who teach them, with the tools to help them turn their dreams into reality.


We provide opportunities for them to become ambassadors for their community, raise international awareness of their plight, promote their culture and transform their future.

Our objectives are to:

Inspire children to learn and develop their potential
Equip children with skills to express themselves and become cultural ambassadors
Promote knowledge of their own culture and that of other cultures
Train and empower refugee women to become qualified educational leaders in their community
Facilitate access to new and international platforms for the Saharawis to tell their story
Enhance self-reliance and reduce aid dependency
Foster skills-sharing and the growth of international support links

A Story of Positive Impacts

Since 2016, Desert Voicebox has evolved to provide benefits in a number of ways:
We have created penpal links with UK primary schools to facilitate exchanges, foster understanding and build new friendships between the children and teachers.
So far, we have provided over 100 certificates from the London College of Music to students passing their Stave House music exams.
We've connected children to their cultural heritage and musical roots through regular lessons from local Saharawi artists.
Our international volunteers scheme have given our students a chance to practise their skills with native and fluent speakers, expand their cultural horizons and escape from the norm of refugee camp life.
Our training programme has promoted self-reliance and empowered four young refugee women to drive the early educational programme for the benefit of their community.

Meet the Teachers

Although Saharawi women play important roles in camp life and in the peaceful advocacy of their rights, they face socio-cultural forces that undermine their development and fuller participation. They are expected to be the main carers of the family, which leads to higher drop out rates amongst female students who leave the camps for higher education.

Through Desert Voicebox, women aspiring to develop professionally will have real chances to do so, without leaving the camps. They will also be able to transfer their skills anywhere they go.

Since 2016, we have recruited and trained four Saharawi women to teach and run the programme in order to play a pivotal role in driving its future expansion to all the camps. We prioritise hiring young Saharawi women who have not finished secondary school to provide them with opportunities to develop careers locally and reduce their aid dependency.

Fatimetu Malainin, music teacher

Fatimetu learned music at the Sahrawi Institute of Music in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf. Prior to joining Desert Voicebox in 2016, she worked as a sports teacher because there were no jobs for music teachers at the time. She is
married and a mother to a little boy.
"I love having so many opportunities to learn as part of the programme ... We get to escape from the normal – something that is so important for us and for the children."

Tekween Mohamed, English teacher

Tekween was born and raised in the Saharawi refugee camps. She works in the Education Office in the camp, and she has been teaching English at Desert Voicebox since 2016. Tekween is married with three children.
"Desert Voicebox provides an amazing chance for children to learn another language and it's wonderful to see the
excitement in their eyes."

Nicole Lehbib Moulay Aali, music teacher

Nicole is from Boujdour Camp and was unable to finish secondary school in Algeria when her brother fell ill. She found work to run extra curricular activities at the local
primary school before becoming involved as a music teacher
with Desert Voicebox.
"I have become better at my new job with a lot of effort. I thank everyone who has given me training and advice, and all those
in charge of the Desert Voicebox."

Nanaha Bachri, English teacher

Nanaha was born in the Sahrawi refugee camps. At age 12, she started middle school in Algeria, and graduated from secondary school but could not fulfil her dream to go to university due to family pressures to return to the camps. Nanaha studied Spanish and English in the refugee camps and taught English in middle
school before joining Desert Voicebox in 2019.
"I really enjoy being a teacher in this programme. I really gained from being part of Desert Voicebox. I'm a different person
now. I'm courageous and confident."

Volunteer with Desert Voicebox

"I was treated like a family member from the first moment.The generosity and hospitality is part of who the Saharawis are."
- Anastasia Oleinik, art and music teacher volunteer
Our volunteers have been central to the mission of Desert Voicebox. It’s thanks to their generous contribution of time and skills, and the loving dedication they’ve shown the children and local staff that the project has been able to progress to its current stage.

Volunteering opportunities

Often spending weeks at a time in the desert, our on-the-ground volunteers have supported the project in diverse ways: teaching and stimulating the children by introducing new content and activities, training the teachers to become more proficient in their subjects, improving their teaching and
self-management skills and developing the educational programme further.

We also work with a number of virtual volunteers who provide teacher training via WhatsApp, develop the curriculum and design
lesson plans and creative workshops for the teachers and children.

Watch: A Day in the Life of Georgia, a Desert Voicebox volunteer

If you are passionate about creative education and want to share your skills to contribute to meaningful and positive change, then volunteering for Desert Voicebox is perfect for you! We have a wide range of opportunities available - download our info pack or get in touch to learn more.

Past & Present Volunteers

  • Beccy Allen
  • Anastasia Oleineik
  • Esme Graziani
  • Holly Watson
  • Maite
  • What the Saharawis want

    "I hope that the Desert Voicebox project will expand to all of the camps so that every
    Saharawi child can benefit from it."
    - Nicole Lehbib Moulay Aali, music teacher
    The feedback we get from the Saharawis is integral to guiding the development of Desert Voicebox on the ground.
    Here's what they've told us so far:
  • The volunteers-led workshops for the children and on-site training for the Desert Voicebox teachers are hugely beneficial and should be a regular part of DV's annual programme of activities.
  • They love seeing the kids getting excited and learning about their traditions through music and dance
  • The DV programme should be expanded to benefit more primary school-aged children in Camp Boujdour and in other camps
  • The DV Programme should be expanded into middle-schools
  • In addition to their current certifications in Music, the DV students should get official certification in English
  • Organising summer travel programmes to the UK with top graduated DV students and teachers will greatly enhance the value and meaning of the DV programme
  • "Desert Voicebox is so important for our school and for our children ...
    There is so much demand for the programme and we hope that it can
    grow in the coming years."

    - Salka, Director Lal Andala Primary School

    Our next steps

    In response to this feedback, our aims over the next few years are to:
    Build more partnerships (both local and international) to improve and enrich the delivery of the DV programme and provide certification in English to DV students
    Install solar energy at the DV learning centre to make the project greener and reduce the disruptions to the programme caused by frequent power cuts
    Adapt the existing DV English language curriculum to extend it in an age appropriate way to middle schools in the camps
    Set up an intensive 1 month pedagogy training programme for Saharawi English teachers from the camps, in Algeria, led by qualified volunteers (summer 2023)
    Raise funds to bring a group of 6 to 8 graduated DV students and two DV teachers to visit the UK for 1 month to build bridges and their skills further (summer 2024)
    Get our 4 Desert Voicebox teachers trained and certified and able to train others
    Establish an English teacher training centre in the camps with facilities to deliver a combined remote and on-site internationally certified programme. (2024/25)

    We need your support!

    We realise that our goals for Desert Voicebox are ambitious. But we are driven by the knowledge that the project is valued, needed and is having a positive impact on the lives of Saharawi refugee women and children in the camps. To achieve these goals, we will need
    stable and substantial long term funding. So far, despite the numerous applications we have done over the last few years, this funding has eluded us.

    Friends and supporters, here we are, turning to you for ideas, strategies and any help you can give with your skills, experience and time to put together strong funding applications.

    Can you help us with guidance and advice? Do you know about any potential benefactors/patrons who would be interested in providing the funding we need?

    Please get in touch - we can't wait to hear from you!

    "Saharawi child,
    take hold of a paper and pencil
    and learn literature, math and science.
    Sit close by your elders
    and listen carefully to their wisdom;
    in the future, this will come to your rescue.

    Agaila Abba Hemedia,
    Saharawi Writer and Poet
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    Registered Charity (England and Wales) :1115288 | Companies House Registration number : 05397223
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