Western Sahara Campaign UK



The 4th Congress of Saharawi Women created great excitement by electing the youngest ever woman to become Secretary General of the Women's Union. 35 year-old Fatma Sheik El Mehdi will hold office for the coming 5 years until the next congress.

At 35 Fatma represents the generation of young Saharawi women who have grown up to adulthood in exile from their native Western Sahara, which they were forced to leave in 1975 when neighbouring Morocco invaded and occupied it. They are eager now to take on their responsibilities and assume leadership roles in Saharawi society. Up until now positions of leadership have all been held by people who were adults when they fled to the refugee camps.

At first much of the work in the Women's School near Rabouni, known as the 27 February School in the refugee camps was aimed at employing women in traditional textile crafts and educating the whole population in an important adult literacy campaign. Having now achieved the highest literacy level in Africa of 95%, women are looking ahead to new goals.

The previous generation took a central role in creating a functioning sedentary society in the refugee camps, needing new structures not known in earlier nomadic life. They have been largely responsible for the organisation of every day life for the refugee community - food distribution, education of the children, and much of the health care and other social institutions.

Now the younger generation are training themselves to be effective members of a modern state. A new women's school has recently been established in Dakhla camp, which is situated 180 km from the other three, making it difficult for the women there to participate in programs offered by the School of 27 February. Side by side with workshops in traditional Saharawi crafts necessary for preserving their cultural identity, they are developing new technical skills, notably in information technology, photography, film and television on the other. It was great to see the young women from Dakhla, camcorder aloft on their shoulders, working as a team to film the Women's Congress.

These dynamic young women are desperately keen to get the material they need to keep the school going. I asked what they would like us to send. They answered that they would like wool for knitting garments, wool for making carpets, cotton cloth (preferably white) and computers (lap top computers are best because of intermittent power supply). They would also love help with learning English - simple books in English, picture dictionaries, or language courses would be much appreciated. A British convoy bringing humanitarian aid called the Rainbow Rovers will be leaving the UK on 20 April.

Anyone able to supply these items is invited to get in touch as soon as possible with the Western Sahara Campaign UK. Its new coordinator, Tim Braunholtz will be going on the convoy and will happily transport anything which arrives at the office by Tuesday 16 April. [We need time to pack and label the boxes.]

April 2002

Western Sahara Campaign UK
Oxford Chambers
Oxford Place
Leeds LS1 3AX
tel/fax : 0113 245 4786
email: wsc@gn.apc.org

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