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Jamila Bargach

Moroccan anthropologist and activist Jamila Bargach has been named the 2019 Oak Human Rights Fellow at Colby College. Bargach is cofounder and director of Dar Si Hmad, a nonprofit that runs the world’s largest fog-collection project on Morocco’s Mount Boutmezguida. Her work is tied to this year’s Oak Institute theme: water.

“It is very impressive that Dr. Jamila Bargach has set herself a tangible goal of bringing water to these isolated, rural villages,” said Valérie Dionne, director of the Oak Institute for Human Rights and associate professor of French. “Even more uplifting is that she has spent ten years of her life giving these forgotten communities, and especially the women who live there, hope that they and future generations could have a life free of the daily chore of hauling water in dehumanizing conditions.”

Bargach holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Rice University and has taught at the Ecole Nationale d’Architecture in Rabat, Morocco. Prior to Dar Si Hmad, she cofounded a women’s shelter in Casablanca, which she directed until 2009. She’s also published numerous articles on adoption practices, unwed mothers, gender, and development, and she is the author of Orphans of Islam: Family, Abandonment, and Secret Adoption in Morocco.

“I am so excited to join this community and build on a history of activists who gave the fellowship its weight and importance,” said Bargach. “I am enthusiastic to share my experience and my knowledge of fog and fog collection as an alternative source for water scarcity, and in general to contribute to the debate on water activism.”

Dar Si Hmad’s fog harvesting project provides clean water to almost a thousand people in 13 southwest Moroccan villages that border the Sahara Desert. It enables Amazigh women in Aït Baâmrane, a Berber region, to save several hours every day; instead of fetching water, they can allocate that time to do their daily chores, to socialize, or to produce argan oil, which is derived from a type of Moroccan tree.

Dar Si Hmad’s fog harvesting operations atop Morocco’s Mount Boutmezguida

“Jamila’s organization caught the collective eye of the Oak Fellow Selection Committee because of its innovative way of collecting fog to create potable drinking water for communities in Morocco and to reduce the labor burden for women,” said Gail Carlson, assistant professor of environmental studies, who also teaches the “Human Rights in Global Perspective” course with Oak fellows in fall. “This organization also works on youth environmental education, particularly related to water issues. It will be very instructive for our students to learn about this innovative work and the perspectives on the intersection of water and human rights that Jamila will bring and share with us.”

Said Molly Smith ’21, a history major and anthropology minor who is a member of the Oak Fellow Selection Committee: “I really loved how [Bargach] does water rights as human rights as well as women’s rights. People think of water rights and women’s rights as different, but they are very intertwined.”

Established in 1997 by a generous grant from the Oak Foundation, the Oak Institute for Human Rights hosts an Oak Human Rights Fellow each year. The fellowship offers an opportunity to spend the fall semester in residence at Colby, where they teach, conduct research, and raise awareness about important global human rights issues.