The Oak Institute for Human Rights, established in 1997, annually brings a prominent human rights activist to campus every year. While in residence, the Oak Fellow gets a chance to reflect and to participate in activities to educate the Colby community about his or her work.

The 2019 Oak Fellow is Jamila Bargach. Her transformational work has significantly improved the lives of Berber communities in Morocco that had long suffered from limited access to water. At Colby, Bargach will share her knowledge and passion in addressing this year’s Oak theme, Water as a Human Right.

Bargach is an activist and scholar who has dedicated her life to serving under-resourced communities in southwest Morocco and creating sustainable initiatives through education and scientific innovation. She is cofounder of Dar Si Hmad, which operates the world’s largest functioning fog collection project, a system that fosters the independence of Amazigh women in Aït Baâmrane, a Berber region, by delivering potable water to their households.

An anthropologist by training with a Ph.D. from Rice University, Bargach has taught at the National School of Architecture, Rabat, and spent decades as a human rights activist helping organize residents in slums and informal communities in Morocco. In 2006 Bargach cofounded a shelter for women in Casablanca under the aegis of La Ligue Démocratique des Droits des Femmes, which she directed until 2009. She has published several articles on adoption practices, unwed mothers, gender, and development, as well as the book Orphans of Islam: Family, Abandonment, and Secret Adoption in Morocco (2002).

As an anthropologist, she works seamlessly with entrenched Berber communities and understands their social fabric to aid in alleviating root causes of poverty. Her primary goal for her is to increase global awareness about water rights and accessibility in a world increasingly anxious about its water future

Bargach was awarded the Vera Campbell Fellowship for Women Scholar-Practitioners from Developing Nations at the School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, which allowed her to lay the foundation for the fog-harvesting project with Dar Si Hmad in 2011. She has been a research fellow at the Ford Foundation, at the American Institute for Maghrebi Studies, and at the Transregional Institute, Princeton University. She is currently working on enhancing the very first environmental and ethnographic field school in Morocco, setting up an environmental education program for underserved school children from the fog collection villages.

Thanks to President David Greene, Oak will host a second fellow. The Spring 2020 Oak Fellow is Venuste Kubwimana. His startup, A Water Kiosk at School, has transformed communities and engaged schools in rural Kenya and Rwanda by improving access to clean water. As our second fellow to address the theme Water as a Human Right, Kubwimana will share his story and mission to expand his water-access project.

Kubwimana was born and brought up in a poor, rural family of seven siblings in the southern province of Rwanda. After losing much of his family during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, he was left to care for his younger siblings and often had to miss school to fetch water from distant clean-water sources.

His experience inspired him to partner with a friend to form International Transformation Foundation (ITF)–a nonprofit that provides youth leadership and entrepreneurship programs to develop jobs and contribute to the development of Rwandan and Kenyan communities.

In 2013 Kubwimana turned his focus to improving water access in the region. He partnered his organization with Join the Pipe Foundation, launching A Water Kiosk at School, a project that involves installing specially designed Dutch tap stations near playgrounds, city centers, parks, schools, and bus stations in order for people to have access to clean drinking water. To date, the program’s 11 water kiosks across Kenya and Rwanda have given almost 125,000 people access to clean drinking water.

Kubwimana has gained international recognition for his innovative approach to engaging communities in developing water kiosks. He was named the 2018 AIDF Global Innovator of the Year, and he was a finalist at the 2019 NextGen in Franchising Global Summit. This year, Kubwimana was featured as a speaker at the World Humanitarian Innovation Day Conference in Basel, Switzerland, and has taken advantage of the media attention resulting from his various honors to build capacity for his water-access projects at home.