A young man, smiling, looking to the side.

Utopia turned into reality

In the Hamada desert, more than 174,000 Sahrawi refugees are waiting to return to their homeland Western Sahara. While this is still occupied by Morocco, terre des hommes switzerland is working with the Sahrawi youth organization UJSARIO in the Smara refugee camp to help young refugees.

In the middle of the Sahrawi refugee camp Smara, between mud huts, picturesque junk and Sahrawi tents in the scorching sun, you suddenly pass through a gate in a wall of old car tires: it is the entrance to a green garden where tomatoes and mint are planted and even a few ducks waddle around. A lovingly painted sign reads, "Nomad Garden." The garden next to goats or camels, makeshift fencing with rusty fenders, seems almost surreal. "Nomad Garden" is a utopia turned into reality, brought to life by Mohamed Salem. Modest yet proud of what has been created with a lot of work, enthusiasm and pioneering spirit, the young Sahraui with lively eyes leans on his hoe and begins to tell how he had to abandon his school education in Algeria. As his father became ill, he returned to the refugee camps, one of the most inhospitable parts of the Sahara, to help with the family. In perfect English, he tells how he acquired the foreign language on the Internet. He read posts about organic farming methods, became active in online forums and, in parallel, began persistently and determinedly growing his own garden. Growing vegetables is a blessing: 94 percent of Sahrawi refugees depend on meager humanitarian aid, and a great many suffer from malnutrition. The water shortage is glaring.

Important self care

terre des hommes switzerland has been supporting the children and youth work of the Sahrawi youth organization UJSARIO in the Smara refugee camp for decades. The organization works with volunteers. Last year, it reached 2000 children and 4600 young people with numerous activities. Several play afternoons for children, courses for young people, cultural work, awareness-raising work, sports activities and social work are offered every week. UJSARIO Smara also collaborates with the resourceful agronomist Taleb Brahim on a regular basis to implement small gardening projects. Taleb Brahim has developed interesting projects, such as a combined vegetable-fish farm. The fish produce the necessary fertilizer with their excrement, which he feeds through hoses into his small greenhouse. There he produces vegetables, mint and green fodder for goats and chickens. With the eggs from the chickens, he can in turn feed the fish. He sells the mint at the market. He can provide food for his family with vegetables, goats, eggs and fish. He often shares part of his harvest with his neighbors or another needy family. Mohamed Salem has adapted Taleb Brahim's idea, and he too is proud of his successful little fish tank.

Small pioneering project

Mohamed Salem was also just the right person for a small pioneering project on hydroponics developed by terre des hommes switzerland with UJSARIO Smara and Taleb Brahim. This is a new method for water-saving vegetable cultivation. In the pilot project, five Sahrauis with experience in vegetable cultivation and inventive spirit were selected. The aim was to develop a new technology in a joint group. This group has now developed hydroponics together with Taleb Brahim. This method is based on the fact that the water used for irrigation is recaptured by a system and percolates several times through the vegetable beds created with a special mixture of sand and soil. Mohamed Salem was immediately hooked - he tried out what would grow well with the help of hydroponics and he is now very enthusiastic about the project.

"Ode to the impossible"

Young Mohamed Salem is also inspired by the exchange with his long-time artist friend and neighbor Mohamed Suleiman Labat, who will be a guest at the Culturscapes cultural festival in Basel this fall (see box on the right). So the two sit together, eyes shining, in an old car body - which has since been retired and now serves as a small research laboratory for compost and humus formation. Mohamed Sulaiman Labat, who has already been to Europe, picks up the black soil and sniffs it rapturously: "It even smells like soil!" They've been experimenting with how to make fertile soil with organic material, since even soil bacteria are lacking in the desert. They have found that a shot of goat's milk boosts soil fertility. Mohamed Salem documented the creation of his garden with his cell phone. The result is a beautiful short film that he presented at the 2022 Fisahara Film Festival, where it won third prize. The Nomads Film Catalogue (nomadshrc.org) praises the film as an ode to the impossible. Examples like these show that even in inhospitable areas like the Sahrawi desert, dreams can come true if refugees there are given support and are able to demonstrate their ideas and skills.

Cluturscapes Festival October 2023

Western Sahara at the Culturescapes Festival in Basel Culturescapes, the cross-disciplinary art festival that takes place every two years in October and November, is dedicating this year's edition to the theme of the Sahara. terre des hommes switzerland is a partner on the theme of Western Sahara, which will be present with films and guests. In October we show in the Stadtkino Basel two short films about life and peaceful resistance in occupied Western Sahara. Mohamed Mayara from Equipe Media, a group of video journalists who document human rights violations in the occupied territory, will be a guest. In November, Basel's New Cinema dedicates an entire film series to Western Sahara. Among others, the artist Mohamed Sulaiman Labat, who comes from the refugee camps in the Algerian desert, will be represented with two films and will be present for a discussion afterwards.

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