High Atlas Foundation

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) is a Moroccan association and a U.S. 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization founded in 2000 by former Peace Corps Volunteers, and is dedicated to participatory grassroots human development in disadvantaged areas in Morocco, mostly rural. HAF received United Nations Special Consultative Status in 2011. HAF's team is comprised mostly of Moroccans with some international members. Using a participatory approach, HAF works to establish development projects in Morocco that local communities design and manage, and that are in partnership with government and non-government agencies. HAF is committed to facilitating, and training facilitators in, the participatory approac...
Sep 3, 2013

Celebrating Morocco's Youth

21 August was Youth Day in Morocco. This article was written by Malika Kassi, HAF Project Manager, in tribute to Morocco's young people.

Community-driven and Participatory Development: Morocco’s Key to Sustainable and Equitable Growth

tree planting - Sami's projectOne of the things that I discovered and recognized during my experience with HAF is the concept of participatory contribution to sustainable development.  Although in my life the action of participating in good works and deeds have always been present, the concept of participatory development was not clear until I worked for HAF. Now I experience the beauty of this concept every day in my life. Participation is the fastest way to change the world for sustainability, economy, agriculture, health and well-being purposes. Most of the rural young girls and boys do not have access to education and health services. These communities survive with little income, which creates a huge frustration and makes the youth feel unable to fulfill their potential.

When we lead community meetings with young people, they develop new and amazing ideas, yet the youth lack the opportunity to put these ideas motion. In this regard, the High Atlas Foundation plays a great role in developing human capital and other core assets of sustainable livelihood in nine provinces of Morocco. The best example HAF offers is scholarships for intelligent and disadvantaged students to pursue their academic studies. HAF helps not only the youth, but also it illustrates the way to fulfill their dreams.

Essaouira Cultural Project - Dar TalibI think my generation is very powerful and we shouldn’t be looked on as troublemakers but we need to be given opportunities as opportunities . HAF has helped to build the capacities of youth and made the channels of communication wide open.  Typically; HAF’s trainers and facilitators sit with the young people and they state their needs and list the solutions to their problems and concerns using the participatory devlopement techniques.

I believe my generation is very powerful because they have the drive to improve conditions in Morocco. The youth have passion and they can start their own businesses. They need, however, the government and relevant organizations to ease the difficulties that interfere with success. By doing so, together the youth and government can contribute to Morocco’s development. The youth do not want Morocco to experience un-just blood-shed. Morocco’s Green Plan 2020 has many initiatives that include the youth within the development process. Further it engages them into multiple types of inclusive programs.

visit to Christian cemetery EssaouiraI call the young to change their negative mindset and start to think about the solutions to better the societal conditions and embrace the characteristics of positive ethics, faithfulness and responsibility. This will build a strong civil society for a compatible sustainability. Nevertheless the youth can best participate, when heard and provided with the opportunity to grow.

Malika Kassi
HAF Project Manager

We hope this call to action reaches you, from Malika's mouth to you energy to make a difference. We are so grateful for your continued support to help these youth reach their full potential. 

We are committed to enabling more opportunities to kids this school year than ever before in Morocco, and your support is key to making this into reality. Thank you. 

Aug 29, 2013

Federating, Advocating, and Celebrating

Celebrating Success Together
Celebrating Success Together

On Thursday July 4th, 2013, the High Atlas Foundation held a conference with university students, members of civil society organizations (CSOs), representatives of government, and community participants.

The event took place at the local Cultural Center and was an opportunity for the newly created Coalition of over 30 CSOs in the city of Mohammedia that benefited from HAF program (funded by the Middle East Partnership Initiative) in participatory democratic planning and project management – to present their strategic plans and advocate for their social and economic opportunities.  The President of the Coalition, Mr. Ben Kacem El Yamani, presented their mission, goals and objectives and a detailed action plan for the upcoming six months.

During the conference, HAF’s President Yossef Ben-Meir signed partnership conventions with two local NGOs; the newly created Coalition of Associations in Mohammedia, and the Association Salma for Development and Integration, a leading association in the Commune of Sidi Moussa Ben Ali, represented by its President, Mr. Sdafi Abdelillah. These two new partnerships came to ensure and support a long-term and structured collaboration between HAF and CSOs in Mohammedia, where HAF offers the capacity-building and guidance necessary for CSOs to become ‘schools of democracy’, a place where the citizens learn democratic ideals and procedures, advance of diversity and pluralism, promote mutual acceptance and willingness to compromise, trust and cooperation, and where CSOs and citizens can influence government officials to adopt positions supporting their members and follow formal rules that facilitate open, free and fair social debate and decisions.

The conference was a great opportunity for participating CSOs to contribute and effectively play their role as a key player in developing, implementing and evaluating government programs and policies, particularly those related to key services and decisions that affect people lives, as Morocco’s constitution clearly defines the role of CSOs as crucial in evaluating government policies and proposing reforms (Article 12).

The event also presented an opportunity for representatives of government agencies and elected officials to share their feedback and suggestions on the programs and activities presented. They commended the CSO initiatives and invited them to coordinate efforts and resources in order to address key social and economic issues of their city.

The culminating part of the conference was when Professor Khalid Mayar El Idrissi facilitated a discussion on CSOs’ contributions towards achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Morocco. After presenting the goals and the country’s present status towards achieving them as highlighted in different reports, many questions were discussed: Is the CSO community rising to the challenge? Are the partnerships among NGOs and with the government and the private sector productive and optimal?

At the end of the session, Dr. El Idrissi summarized several recommendations for the CSOs, including working towards improving:

  • Local capacity, in terms of knowledge and skills to implement the MDGs
  • Local information and public awareness about the MDGs
  • Capacity to undertake integrated and participatory planning (horizontal coordination)
  • Skills in introducing performance budgeting for effective implementation
  • Capacity for creating a framework of MDG indicators and monitoring mechanisms
  • Local procurement capacity which acts as an impediment for high quality and the efficient delivery of public services
  • Lack of a national enabling environment for effective local development (e.g. legal and regulatory framework supporting decentralization, financial resources, organizational systems and mechanisms, values, norms and social practices that influence people’s decision and behavior)
  • Support from international agencies and donors to promote local governance and local poverty reduction activities

A very special highlight and reason for celebration of the conference was the presentation of Certificates of Completion to students and representatives of CSOs, and recognizing them for their civic engagement, volunteerism and active participation and contributions to the HAF-MEPI capacity building program. Congratulations, and thanks for your support for enabling, sustaining, and expanding this program! I hope we continue to do so together. 

The Whole Group
The Whole Group
Listening in
Listening in
Aug 22, 2013

US Students Visit Essaouira Cultural Sites

Students in Jewish Cemetery
Students in Jewish Cemetery

On 14 July, HAF was pleased to welcome a group of US high school students, in Morocco to study Arabic to the site of our cultural heritage project in Essaouira. Over the last months, HAF and partners have been working to rehabilitate the MuslimChristian and Jewishcemeteries of Essaouira. The group of 35 teenage students and their leaders, including Ms. Melissa Topiacio Long, visited the new Jewish cemetery and the Rabbi Haim Pinto synagogue. They were accompanied by HAF Project and Development Manager, Lynn Sheppard, and Ms. Regine Knafo, a former member of the Mogador Jewish community.

At the cemetery, the students were given a copy of the brochure which HAF and our project partners have developed for tourists about the cemeteries of the three faiths in Essaouira. Lynn gave them an introduction to the history of Essaouira and explained how such a significant Jewish community came to be living in what was known as Mogador.

In 1764 Sultan Sidi Mohamed invited ten Jewish families to settle in Mogador to help him in his aim to make Mogador the most important port of Morocco. Among them, the Corcos family was the most well-known of “Sultan’s merchants”. The Jewish community very quickly represented about half of the population estimated at 25,000 around the turn of the century and remained important until 1960. These wealthier families settled in the Kasbah, or ‘King’s Quarter’ but later two Jewish mellahs were built in the northern suburbs of the town. As trade developed, Consuls and trading agents came to Mogador. Many of these were of Christian faith and are buried in the Christian or Consular cemetery close to the two Jewish cemeteries.

cohen hands EssaouiraRegine, whose brother, Asher, has been working with HAF on this project, explained some of the practices and traditions of Jewish cemeteries. She highlighted the graves of the cohens (or kohenim) near the cemetery gate. Kohenim were priests who performed their priestly service in the portable Tabernacle until the Holy Temple was built in Jerusalem. Their duties involved offering the daily and Jewish holiday sacrifices, and blessing the people in a Priestly Blessing, known as "Raising of the hands". For this reason, the graves of the kohenim carry the image of open palms. Having a particular status in the Jewish religion, kohenim are not permitted to enter into the interior of a cemetery and even those who do not have this vocation, but who carry the name Cohen should abide by the same practice and remain near the gate.

The students were interested to learn about the multicultural history of Essaouira and the traces of that tolerance and coexistence today. they learned that Muslims and Jews frequently celebrated religious festivals together. They also learned about Jewish religious practices and were keen to understand similarities and differences between religious practices. They asked why the Jews had left Mogador (in the 1950s and 60s) and how many remained. Only one Jewish family lives permanently in Essaouira today, although many diaspora visit regularly on religious or cultural occasions. Regine explained that although there was no animosity between Muslims and Jews in Mogador, following the fall of the French Protectorate in 1956, many Jewish families (who were often Francophone and allied with the French rulers) feared a resurgent nationalism and felt their future in Morocco was uncertain. Many migrated to the newly created state of Israel, but many left for other countries such as France, Canada (Quebec) and the US.

US students visit Essaouira Jewish cemetery with HAF

Following a visit also to the renovated Rabbi Haim Pinto synagogue and an explanation of the renovation of the Slat Lkhal synagogue, Regine guided the students through the mellah into the Kasbah, where they thanked their guides and expressed their appreciation of their multi-cultural introduction to Essaouira where they would spend one week as part of their studies.

It is an honor for HAF to invite guests into the cemeteries that have been renovated through the support of individuals like you and the AFCP. We hope to continue improving the sites and sharing the cultural knowledge with new groups. It is thanks to your support that we will be able to sustain this project that protects a priceless history, and a model of co-existence for our modern world. 

The Group with Guardians
The Group with Guardians

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