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Mount Holyoke students aim to help Saharawis denied a homeland

Western Sahara Project builds future for refugees.
Published: 22.02 - 2009 00:04Printer version    
Mount Holyoke News
By Samantha Silver
19 February 2009.

If you ask Senia Bachir Abderahman '10 where she's from, she will tell you she's from Western Sahara in North Africa, even though this is a place on which Senia has never set foot. A 1500 mile wall prevents anyone from coming in, especially its native people. Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1975.

As a refugee of Western Sahara, she and her family are not allowed citizenship in the territory and so Abderahman was born in Tindouf, Algeria, where her family lives in the Smara refugee camp. Despite a cease-fire between Morocco and the people of Western Sahara since 1991, this has not prevented the people of Western Sahara, called the Saharawis, from being tortured and killed by Moroccan soldiers. Western Sahara, located between Morocco and Mauritania, is recognized as a "non self-governing territory" by the United Nations because of Morocco's refusal to give the Saharawis referendum to self-determination, the right to choose their own status as a people.

If you Google "Senia Bachir Abderahman" you will find over a hundred hits from websites in English, Norwegian and Spanish, among other languages speaking the praises of a student who is doing all she can to make the plight of her people known. Abderahman has spoken before the United Nations and human rights groups, sharing her story and it was such a story that hit home with Nina Nedrebo '10.

Nedrebo, who is from Norway, has no connection to Western Sahara other than her own personal interest in helping the Saharawis and the Saharawi people she has met and spoken with. "There is no other project that has resonated so deeply with me," she said. Nedrebo has now taken on the plight of the Saharawi people as her own and along with Abderahman is embarking on a project that aims to help the Saharawis make their lives more sustainable.

Their plans for such an effort, called the Western Sahara Project, aims to create a library and cultural center for the people in Abderahman's refugee camp, and start a small sheep farm that will provide a source of income to the project and help to employ those who will work at the library. The Western Sahara Project was chosen by Mount Holyoke to be one of the 100 Davis Projects for Peace, awarding the project a grant for $10,000. "I was so excited we won. Every cent from the grant will be used," said Abderahman. Nedrebo and Abderahman's efforts are already taking the Mount Holyoke campus by storm, in hopes that starting small will help their efforts reach a more global scale. Abderahman won three awards last Monday (the most of anyone at the event) for her work within the Mount Holyoke and global community, including the Kelly Sottile award, the Center for Global Initiatives Award and the Weissman Center Award (which was given to both Nedrebo and Abderahman).

Abderahman and Nedrebo are also seeking donations of books for the library as well as funding to buy more books. There have already been donations of books from Putnam Press. Abderahman and Nedrebo are planning for a Western Sahara awareness week in March, which will start with a panel on human and civil rights in the Middle East and North Africa. They are also planning a benefit a cappella concert to feature the V8s, the Amherst Route 9 and the Smith Vibes, which will help raise money towards the project.

"Finally something that I have been dreaming about is becoming a reality," said Abderahman.




Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.

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