Our Work



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 to get a quick overview, find out about current volunteering Opportunities, 
or Support Us and our great project work with a donation!
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 remotely or in on-site workshops run by qualified volunteers for a period between two and four weeks.
English and music are taught in a mutually-reinforcing manner in a programme that spans four levels. Guided by the CEFR framework, the English curriculum has been developed to help the students achieve good speaking and listening skills and a solid foundation in reading and writing, in order to achieve a B1 level by the time they graduate.

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.
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
Still not sure what Desert Voicebox looks like in action? Click on video to see for yourself!
"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
DV Team
Why English & Music
 Enrichment Activities
Next Steps
Volunteers are crucial to the Desert Voicebox project. It is thanks to the generous contributions of past and present volunteers and the loving dedication they have shown the students and teachers that the project has been able to progress to its current stage. 
We welcome volunteers who want to support the project on the ground, by providing training to our teachers or offering creative workshops, as well as those who want to contribute virtually. Volunteering is a great way to enhance your own professional and creative skills while opening up new opportunities to both the Desert Voicebox students and teachers.
"I was treated like a family member from the first moment. The generosity and hospitality is part of the who the Saharawis are."
– Anastasia Oleinik, art and music teacher volunteer
Volunteering in the Camps
Often spending weeks at a time in the camps, 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 curriculum and pedagogy further. Volunteering in the camps is a very special and unique experience, with all our volunteers feeling fulfilled, inspired, and welcomed after their trips!
Volunteering Virtually
In the past, virtual volunteers have contributed in a number of ways, including providing teacher training via WhatsApp or Zoom, developing the curriculum, and designing lesson plans and creative workshops for the teachers and students. As Desert Voicebox is a central part of Sandblast's work, volunteers working virtually on other aspects of Sandblast's mission will still get to be involved in spreading awareness of Desert Voicebox and highlighting the incredible work being done by the teachers, students, and other volunteers!
For further information on the volunteering process, check out our Info Pack!
Info Pack
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, administrator (former English teacher)
Tekween was born and raised in the Saharawi refugee camps. She previously worked in the Education Office in Boujdour camp, and has been involved with Desert Voicebox since its inception in 2016, first as an English teacher and then became administrator in 2023.
"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."
Tarba Mohamed Fadel, English teacher
Tarba is an English teacher for levels 1 and 2, who joined the project at the end of 2022. She graduated from university with an English literature bachelor's degree. Through her experience of teaching at DV she believes that it is a wonderful opportunity for the children to expand their knowledge and open up to the world, much like her own personal experiences of learning English.
I'm happy to be a part of this project and I believe that this is the best project that is helping our children in many ways and we are going to do our best to keep it going!”
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.
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 sixty percent of their intangible heritage has already been lost, with fewer and fewer elders left to transmit knowledge of their roots and past.
Hear from our Desert Voicebox students and see the power of music and English!
Since 2016, Desert Voicebox has evolved to provide benefits in a number of ways:
We 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 through our international volunteers scheme.
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.
We have empowered five young refugee women to drive the early educational programme for the benefit of their community.
We have so far provided over 150 certificates from the London College of Music to students passing their Stave House music exams.
We have connected children to their cultural heritage and musical roots through regular lessons from local Saharawi artists.



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 bookclub to promote literacy and a love of reading in English

Native English speakers based in the camps come periodically 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 South African Political Councillor, Dr. Patrick Rankhumise, who launched the English Bookclub in Nov 2022 and read the life story of Greta Thunberg.

Weekly music sessions led by local Saharawi artists in the camps

The weekly sessions in Saharawi music aim to promote the children’s knowledge of their cultural roots through music. 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 the tradition known as El Howl.

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

These links are primarily mediated through WhatsApp and the exchange of scrapbooks. The activities 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.

Creative workshops led by international artists and volunteers

Qualified volunteers come for periods of between 2 to 4 weeks to run workshops two to three times a year, aiming to stimulate the student's learning through their interaction with fluent English speakers, enhance their communication skills, promote their creativity and broaden their cultural horizons.

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.
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 the highest standards and are certified to train others
Raise funds to provide every DV student with their own English language textbook and workbook from the Learning Well MacMillan primary school course at each of the 4 levels. This would entail providing 15 textbooks and 15 workbooks per level.
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 (2025/26)
Mobilise support from the UK WS solidarity movement to host a small group of our top graduated DV students and two DV teachers for a one- month summer programme in the UK to build bridges and strengthen their skills further. Ideally this could take place every other year.
Organise summer camp programmes of up to 3 weeks in Algiers for the DV staff and graduated students that are not able to participate in a UK programme This will involve providing an immersive and experiential English language programme for the students, 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.
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. 
Build more local & international partnerships to improve and enrich the delivery of the DV programme.
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 our goals, however, we will need stable, 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! But don't worry if grant applications aren't your strong suit – we also welcome volunteers who can help the project in diverse ways. Please click on contact below to let us know how you think you could contribute to the programme.
It goes without saying that donations are always welcome and needed. Find out how your donation can make a difference to help us keep going and growing. Make our day – donate now!
"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

"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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