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WHAT IS

DESERT VOICEBOX

Desert Voicebox is a pioneering, after school project that trains local teachers to provide English language and music education to Saharawi children living in refugee camps in SW Algeria. Since its humble beginnings in 2016 as a pilot project, Desert Voicebox (formerly known as Stave House in the Sahara) has steadily grown to be an established and valued part of the community. Currently, it is the only educational programme offering primary school-age children opportunities to learn these skills in fun and stimulating ways outside the classroom. Furthermore, Desert Voicebox is responding to the dire need for quality extracurricular activities to engage children who might otherwise have limited constructive opportunities in the camps.
Check out our Brochure for a quick summary of the project, read our Info Pack to learn more about ways to get involved, or head to our Volunteer page!
How It Works
60 children aged 8 to 12 learn English and music five days a week during the academic year. Each subject is taught at four progressive levels in two 45 minute long lessons. The programme is based in Lal Andala primary school in Camp Boujdour, the smallest of five camps. According to the latest UNHCR report (2018), the refugee camps are home to over 173,000 Saharawi refugees.

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.
So far, we have trained four Saharawi refugee women to teach the programme and have one local administrator to support the running of the learning centre on the ground on a day-to -day basis.

We have prioritised recruiting women who did not finish secondary school but are passionate about teaching children and want to develop a career locally. Training, which is ongoing, is delivered either through remotely through WhatsApp or in on-sire workshops run by qualified volunteers for period between two and 4 weeks.
English and music are taught in a mutually-reinforcing manner in a curriculum that spans four levels. Guided by the CEFR framework a be-spoke English curriculum has been developed to help 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, this method is based on storytelling and interactivity to engage the children's imagination and promote their creativity. Children passing each level of Stave House receive certificates validated by the London College of Music Examination Board.
"I can say it is one of the most beautiful opportunities to 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, Desert Voicebox music teacher
Our Objectives
Empower refugee women to become qualified educational leaders
Inspire children to learn and develop their potential
Promote knowledge of their own culture and of others
Facilitate access to international platforms for Saharawis to share their stories
Enhance self-reliance and reduce aid dependency
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
"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."

A Story of Positive Impacts

Since 2016, Desert Voicebox has evolved to provide benefits in a number of ways:
We have created penpal links to facilitate exchanges, foster understanding and build new friendships between the children and teachers. Since 2020 we have established four pen pal links in the UK, one in the US, one in Romania, and one in Germany.
So far, we have provided over 150 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 five young refugee women to drive the early educational programme for the benefit of their community.
"We want to speak about our rights for a better life; Not the life of a refugee."
- Aisha, 10, Desert Voicebox student

Our Enrichment Activities 

As part of our ongoing efforts to improve the learning experiences of our Desert Voicebox students and to build their life skills and expand their horizons, we integrate special enrichment activities throughout the year. These include:

Saturday Enligh bookclub to promote literacy and a love of reading in English

Native English speakers based in camp Boujdour, come three Saturdays a month to read stories to the DV students. In these sessions they entertain and inspire through their story reading as well as help the students build vocabulary and improve their pronunciation and reading skills. Whenever possible special guests visiting the camps are invited to read to the children, like the South African Political Councillor,Dr Patrick Rankhumise, who launched the English Bookclub in Nov 2022 and read the life story of Greta Thunberg.

Weekly Saharawi music session led by local Saharawi artists in the camps

to promote the children’s knowledge of their cultural roots through music. In these sessions the students focus on learning traditional dance, song and drumming and also are introduced to the-4 stringed tidinit to learn how to play it. The tidinit is traditionally an instrument only played by males. At Desert Voicebox we are encouraging girls to learn too and to learn about their musical roots embedded in El Howl.

Annual creative workshops led by international artists and volunteers

who come for periods of between 2 to 4 weeks. These workshops take place two to three times a year and aim to stimulate the student's learning  through their interaction with fluent English speakers, enhance their communication skills and broaden their cultural horizons.

Penpal links between Desert Voicebox and English speaking primary schools around the world.

These links are primarily mediated through WhatsApp and aim to promote child to child communication in English and involve cultural and creative exchanges to build understanding and friendship with children in diverse countries.

Student-led projects that engage them with their elders

to activate the oral transmission of cultural knowledge between generations around such topics as learning about their Hassaniya proverbs and the nomadic life of their ancestors.
Still not sure what Desert Voicebox looks like in action? See for yourself!
Or see what our volunteers have to say about their experiences!
Volunteer
Why English?
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.

English has been identified by the Saharawis as an important language for them to learn in order to access higher education opportunities in English-speaking countries and participate in international platforms to advocate for their rights. Through our Desert Voicebox programme, we are addressing a language barrier so the next generation can seize these opportunities and have their voices heard on global stages.
Why Music?
Historically, music has played an important role in expressing the Saharawi freedom struggle. By providing high quality education in both international and traditional music-making, Desert Voicebox is equipping the next generation with the tools and experience to engage in international collaborations and it is providing them with the foundations to promote their unique but threatened cultural heritage and continue their tradition of non-violent resistance through music.

It is estimated that as a result of protracted exile, more than 60% of their intangible heritage has already been lost, with fewer and fewer elders left to transmit knowledge of their roots and past.
"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 of Lal Andala Primary School
NEXT
STEPS
Sandblast prioritizes close collaboration and consultation with Desert Voicebox students and teachers, as well as members of the broader Saharawi community, to make sure the programme is crafted to suit their needs. Their feedback is integral to guiding the development of Desert Voicebox on the ground. 
We have received significant support from the Saharawis for the expansion of the DV programme to benefit more primary school-aged children in the camps as well as into middle schools to support English learning. We have also been advised that our volunteers-led workshops and on-site teacher training sessions are hugely beneficial and should be part of DV's annual programme of activities. Students also wish for summer programmes outside the camps, and want to receive certification in English as they do in Music. 
In response to this feedback, our aims over the next few years are to:
Ensure our Desert Voicebox teachers are trained to high standards and are certified to train others
Create a bespoke Desert Voicebox English curriculum to take the students from total beginners to a pre-intermediate level (B1) This curriculum will be guided by a teaching manual that provides clear assessment criteria of the students' progress and adapt and use appropriate teaching/learning resources
Build a space with facilities for English teacher training next to the Desert Voicebox learning centre. The training programme aims to deliver a combined remote and on-site internationally certified programme in order to train more teachers locally for future expansion (2024/25)
Organise intensive annual summer camp programmes of 3 weeks in Algiers for the DV staff and our graduated students. This will involve providing an immersive and experiential English language programme for the students that could include participating in collaborative music-making and cultural exchange with other children and exploring a new setting. For the teachers their programme would involve intensive pedagogical training, subject knowledge enhancement and practical teaching sessions.
Raise funds to bring a group of graduated DV students and two DV teachers to visit the UK for 1 month to build bridges and their skills further (Summer 2025/26)
Build more local & international partnerships to improve and enrich the delivery of the DV programme
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
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.

That's where you come in. If you have any ideas, strategies, or experience putting together strong funding applications, we would love to hear from you!

Don't worry if grant applications aren't your strong suit – we also welcome on-the-ground or virtual volunteers who can help the project in diverse ways. Get in touch to let us know how you think you could contribute to the programme and create meaningful and positive change in the process!
Contact

"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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