Danielle Smith is the founding director of Sandblast Arts and has been involved with the Saharawi refugee community since 1991. An anthropologist, documentary filmmaker and photographer, she speaks five languages, including the Saharawi dialect of Hassaniya. Born in Belgium to an American father and an Argentinian mother, Danielle grew up in numerous countries including Sweden, the US, Spain and the UK. She holds an honorary BA degree in Biochemistry from Mount Holyoke and an MA in cultural anthropology from Haifa University.
Violeta Ruano Posado is the Stave House trainer for Desert Voicebox and piloted the early learning project back in 2016. She was project manager until 2020. Violeta is also a secondary school teacher of English in Gijon, Spain and holds a PhD in ethnomusicology from SOAS University of London, where she focused on Saharawi music in her fieldwork. She also led the archiving project ‘Portraits of Saharawi Music’ in collaboration with the British Library and the Saharawi Ministry of Culture.
Catrin Luithle is part of the communications team at Sandblast focused on content development. She holds an MA degree in Arabic and Linguistics from SOAS and a BA Hons degree in Arabic and German from the University of Leeds. Catrin’s academic journey has taken her to Morocco and Jordan, where she fully immersed herself in the language and culture, enhancing her regional expertise in the Middle East. Catrin’s specialism lies in the intersection of linguistics, human rights and minority language rights, reflecting a deep commitment to addressing social justice issues.
Aishwarya Iyer is our graphic design wizard for Sandblast and currently pursuing her second master’s degree in Ethnographic and Documentary filmmaking at UCL’s department of Anthropology. Before this, she was an environmental video journalist based in India covering issues of climate change, development and agriculture in South Asia. She also has prior work experience as a creative producer in the advertising industry from where she pivoted to more issue-based non fiction storytelling.
Giovani Vastida is part of the communications team focused on content and technical work; he holds an MSc in International Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies as well as a BA in International Relations/Asian Studies from California State University-Sacramento. He has studied and lived in the US, South Korea, France, and the United Kingdom. His specified interests reside in Continental Philosophy, Postcolonialism, and International Political Economy.
Desert Voicebox Teachers
Fatimetu Malainin learned music at the Sahrawi Institute of Music in the
Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf. Prior to joining Sandblast, she worked as a sports teacher because there were no jobs for music teachers at the time.
"After 5 years of working on this project, I can say, it is one of the most
beautiful opportunities that exist for Sahrawi children in the refugee camps,"
Tekween Mohamed oversees the administration at Desert Voicebox and was born and raised in the Saharawi refugee camps. She works in the Education Office in the camp, and got involved with the project at the start in 2016 and initially taught English until 2022. 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,"
Tarba Mohamed-Fadel 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 has exclaimed 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!”
Nicole lehabib Moulay Aali was born and lives in the Saharawi camp of Boujdour. She went to high school in Algeria, but she was unable to complete her studies. She found work as a sports teacher at the elementary school before becoming involved as a Stave House music teacher with Desert Voicebox. "I have become better at my new job with a lot of effort," she said. "I thank everyone who has given me training and advice, and all those in charge of the Desert Voicebox."
Nanaha Bachri was born in the Sahrawi refugee camps. At age 12, she started middle school in Algeria, but despite her own wishes was unable to pursue her studies at university level because her granma did not believe women should study beyond primary school. Back in the camps Nanaha took courses whenever possible and learnt some English and also taught it at the local middle school in Boujdour camp before joining Desert Voicebox in 2019. She teaches English to the students in levels 3 and 4. "I really enjoy being a teacher in this program," she said. "I really gained from being part of Desert Voicebox. I'm a different person now. I'm courageous and confident."
Embarca Zeyu is a highly respected, talented Saharawi artist with a deep knowledge of traditional dance and music. She teaches dance, singing and the tbal drum at Desert Voicebox. She was one of the eight members of the former Tiris band, which toured the UK and participated in the 2007 Sandblast Festival, at Rich Mix in London.
Mahfud Othman is a multi-instrumentalist and one of the few Saharawis who have mastered the traditional tidinit in the camps. He began teaching tidinit to the DV students back in 2019 and is helping to create a traditional music group made up of the most talented students.