Westliches Sahara: Nasra Souelem

I have been working as a nursery teacher for over 29 years. A whole generation has passed through my hands.

— Nasra Souelem

Nasra Mahmoud Souelem has been working as a nursery teacher in the camps in Western Sahara for 29 years. She has suffered great afflictions in her life; perhaps the most harrowing of which was losing her husband in the war four years after their marriage. In the Saharan camps, to where her family had to move, she began her training as a nursery teacher. Despite the gradual improvement of the conditions in the camps, the situation there often remains bleak. In this climate, Nasra’s work to provide education for children is an investment in a more promising future.

Nasra Mahmoud Souelem was born as a slave girl in Agmar in Western Sahara. In 1976, fighting broke out between the occupying Moroccan armed forces and the Saharan insurgents. Nasra and her family were forced to quit their homes and move to live in the Saharan camps. When the Saharan traditions abolished slavery and Nasra became free, she learnt to read and write and had the right to choose her own husband – two remarkable milestones in her life. After the early death of her husband in the fighting, Nasra pledged her personal life to bringing up her only child, and to serving her people in the camps, whom she now considers as her entire family. Nasra was trained as a nursery teacher and has given care and education to a generation of Saharan children. The Saharan issue is waiting for a political solution from the international community. As such, people in the refugee camps continue to depend greatly on international aid supplies. But people like Nasra, who have borne great pain with fortitude, took many initiatives to transform the camps into productive self-dependant communities. Nasra’s work may not have a global or even a reputable national outreach. However, her efforts to improve the quality of life of her people for the last 29 years, providing a sense of normalcy in such an afflicted situation, are heroic.

Polisario Front (PF) National Union of Saharawi Women (NUSW)