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'My Story' by Saharawi children


Myself and my country

Africa small map'All of us want to go back to our own country. Some of us want to be doctors when we grow up. Some want to be airline pilots, some would like to be actors, some want to be journalists and some would like to be football players. Some don't know yet!'

children playing
© Julio Etchart

'I have lots of friends.'

'I would like to live the same way that other children do.'

'I would like to live in a house with electricity and with water.'

art work

'In term time I live at school but in the holidays I live with my family in a tent.'

'I like being at school because my friends are there. Sometimes it is boring at home.'

'I would like to go to swimming in the sea.'


'My country is the Western Sahara. It has beaches, trees and mountains but I have never been there. I would love to live there. It is in the north-west of Africa.'

'I love my country but at the moment I can't live there because it is occupied by the Moroccan army.'

night time

'Many of the Western Saharan people are refugees and live in the refuge camps in Algeria near the town called Tindouf. I want my country to have freedom.'

'The language we speak is Hassaniya. It is quite like Arabic. We have our school lessons in Arabic and we also learn Spanish.

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Home and environment

© Julio Etchart

'We live in the desert and the climate is very hot, dry and windy most of the time. In the winter it does get cold especially at night. It hardly ever rains. There are no roads, almost no trees, no rivers and no buildings in the desert. The landscape is very flat. Often there are sandstorms. The nights are very beautiful with thousands of stars.'

© Julio Etchart

'We have no electricity in our homes and we have to be very careful not to waste water. We live with our families when we are not at school. Every family has a tent, which has openings to help keep us cool. Many families have built small adobe [baked clay] rooms which are cooler in the summer. We also build separate kitchens and toilets. Many families keep chickens, goats and rabbits for food. Some families have camels.'

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Education and work

    ‘Our school is called the 9th of June school because that is the day our hero of the liberation struggle, Elwali Mustafa, was killed in battle in 1976.’
‘We like to study and we like our teachers. Education is important to us for our future.’

‘Subjects we learn: Arabic, Drawing, Geography, Grammar, History, Religious Studies, Spanish and Sports (basketball, football, and volleyball).’

Our school day:
'Our school classes start at 9 in the morning. Our first break is at10.00 and lunch time is at 12.30. After lunch we have a siesta until 4.00 p.m. Then we have classes until 6.00. There is a bell between classes and before break and lunch. After dinner there is a review of what we have learnt during the day.’

© Julio Etchart

‘ We use pens, pencils, rulers in our class room- but we don’t have many books. We also have blackboards.’

‘There are about 2,500 children aged between 11 and 14 at our school. It is a boarding school so we sleep in dormitories in the school building. There are separate dormitories for boys and girls.’

play again
© Julio Etchart

‘We have a school radio station, it is called “Radio Saharawi”. The radio has programmes about our school, about education and it plays music. Some of us help to make the programmes.’

In our school camps we have:
  • an assembly point with the school bell
  • a bakery, a hairdresser, a laundry room,
  • workshops
  • a bike work shop
  • a centre for disabled children
  • dormitories and classrooms
  • a game room
  • a health centre
  • kitchens and a dining room
  • a library
  • offices
  • playgrounds
  • a radio station
  • a small shop selling toiletries and sweets
  • storage for food and clothes
  • toilets and bathroom
  • vegetable gardens where we grow carrots, onions, tomatoes and turnips
  • water tanks-sometimes we swim in one tank

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Food and leisure

    Things we like to do in our spare time:

  • Go on class outings to the desert
  • Go swimming (but that hardly ever happens!)
  • In the summer we are sometimes invited to stay with families in Spain and Italy
  • Listen to music and dance
  • Listen to the radio
  • Play with friends
  • Play football, volleyball, basketball and skipping games
  • Read stories
  • Ride bikes
  • Tell stories and jokes

Here is a Saharawi joke:

One morning two children arrived at school late

“Why are you late?” asked the teacher.

The first child said “Oh, I was looking for my money.”

“And what about you? Why are you late?” said the teacher to the second child.

“I’m late because my foot was on the money!”

© Julio Etchart

Here is a list of some of the food we eat:

  • Bread
  • Chickpeas
  • Couscous – this is our favourite and it is our traditional food
  • Dates
  • Fruit and vegetables – but not often
  • Lentils
  • Rice
  • Spaghetti
  • Tinned meat and fish

‘Because we live in the desert, it is very difficult for us to grow our food. Because we are refugees, other countries send us a lot of our food, especially flour, rice and tinned food.’

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Tradition and celebration


‘We are Muslims. We study the Koran. It is very important to us.’

‘Ramadan is an important festival. This is when we fast. At the end of Ramadan we celebrated Ed ul-Fitr. We have a special big meal with all the family.’

© Julio Etchart

‘Other important days for us are 12 October which is National Unity Day. There’s no school that day! 20 May is the day we celebrate the time when the independence movement for our country started. 27 February is the day when SADR (Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic) was proclaimed and that’s a big holiday for us.’


‘We like to listen to traditional music and to dance. We really like telling stories and learning about the history of our people. Our traditions and history are very important to us.’

‘Every visitor is always offered tea to drink. This is an important custom. We drink green tea which is poured three times in a special way into small glasses. We say that the first glass is as bitter as life, the second glass is as sweet as love and the third glass is as soft as death.’

‘Painting henna on hands is also used to welcome visitors, especially women. At time of celebrations, women decorate their hands and feet with beautiful patterns of henna – especially for weddings and parties.’

© Julio Etchart

‘Our traditional clothes protect us from the heat and the wind, and sand storms in the desert. Men wear turbans and long robes called darra. Women wear long robes called melhfa. We usually wear T-shirts, jeans, skirts, sweat shirts and baseball caps.’