In our previous report, we described the diverse gardens we have planted at Dar Taliba, a girls’ boarding house in the foothills of the High Atlas mountains. Just 45 minutes from Marrakech, we have collaborated with Dar Taliba’s staff and the girls in residence to create aromatic herb, ornamental and vegetable gardens along with a fruit tree orchard. As we have noted, our latest initiative is an ethnobotanical garden created with support from the Montreal Botanical Garden.
Understanding the importance of these school gardens requires a little bit of history of Dar Taliba itself. The boarding house was founded in 1999, as Morocco was going through an important transition. King Mohamed VI had just taken the throne, and one of his first official visits was to Dar Taliba in the Ourika valley. This was a symbol of his commitment to improving the situation for girls and women in Morocco, including enhanced educational opportunities in rural areas.
When Gary Martin, Director of the Global Diversity Foundation, first visited Dar Taliba in 2002, he met several girls from the first generation of students. Among them was Jamila, a young achiever from the remote village Ait Lekak nestled high in the Atlas mountains. Originally monolingual in Amazigh (the local language), Jamila went on to learn Arabic in primary school, French in secondary school when she was resident at Dar Taliba and then English in university, where she studied communications. After a few years studying in Morocco’s capital city, Rabat, and additional years working in its largest city, Casablanca, Jamila was invited to return to Dar Taliba as its new director. Martin says, “Having Jamila return to the rural boarding house where she was a resident for three years is an incredible opportunity for Dar Taliba, and you can see on the faces of the current residents that they are embracing their good fortune in continuing their studies in a nurturing environment”.
Jamila is an enthusiastic collaborator in our ethnobotanical and horticultural projects. In our next report, we will describe one of our new initiatives that she is leading: recontacting and interviewing many of the 750 girls who have passed through Dar Taliba over the last 15 years about the impact that access to education has had on their lives.
One of the residents in Dar Taliba takes of photo of other girls planting a new tree in the ethnobotanical garden (Credit: Inanc Tekguc).
Dar Taliba Director Jamila interacting with members of the Pacific Horticultural Society who came to visit the gardens (Credit: Inanc Tekguc).
In April 2014, Abdelmoumen College welcomed 11 visitors, comprising three teachers and eight students aged between 14 and 18 years old as part of an official visit from the Department of Children’s Services, City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, UK. GDF coordinated the 4-day visit, from 22 to 25 April, allowing the foreign students to interact closely with the local students in activities encouraging healthy lifestyles. The students played football, basketball and volleyball, and worked hard together to rid the college herb garden of weeds and to plant new aromatic herbs and shrubs funded by donations received from our GlobalGiving supporters.
In a separate visit to another garden project, a group from the Pacific Horticulture Society headed to Dar Taliba on 16 May 2014. GDF Director, Gary Martin, is seen in the photo explaining the value and importance of the aromatic plants growing in the herb garden. This was followed by the planting of a Seville orange tree in the new Dar Taliba ethnobotanical garden by Katherine Greenberg, past president of the Mediterranean Garden Society and the Pacific Horticulture Society. The ethnobotanical garden, created in partnership with Alain Cuerrier of the Montreal Botanical Garden, will feature edible, medicinal and other useful plants that are important in Amazigh villages of the High Atlas mountains. The students from Dar Taliba will be able to take pride in recording the names and uses of the plants in their own communities in order to produce labels and a small booklet about the species cultivated in the garden.
For three days in March, two gardeners weeded and cleaned the garden of Lalla Aouda Saadia, improving growing conditions for the newly planted aromatic and ornamental plants. The uninviting old cement garden benches were also painted, adding colour and vibrancy to the garden. These activities were supported through a grant from The Global Diversity Foundation, a show of continued support at this time of transition to make way for school authorities and students to carry on efforts to maintain their restored school garden on their own.
School gardens in other parts of Morroco are also undergoing varying types of facelifts. At Dar Taliba Ourika, a gardener toiled for nine days to work the the ground marked for an ethnobotanical garden. The soil at Dar Taliba is very fertile but infested with weeds, particularly Cynodon dactylon (Njem) which is unfavorable to the growth of plants. The only way to get rid of the weeds is by tilling the soil to get rid of the roots over several months. Work is still in progress, and is being carried out in collaboration with Dr. Alain Cuerrier of the Montreal Botanical Garden.
Realising the need to create attractive green spaces for their university students, officials from the Association Dar Chichaoua, an institution in Marrakech currently hosting 344 university students (all girls) from the city of Chichaoua, invited GDF to organise and oversee the construction of a small garden for the girls, a project funded by a group of Canadians. The revamped garden now features ten new metal benches, five citrus tress (bigaradiers) and a fountain in the middle of the garden.
It is truly a pleasure to report the completion of the third and final phase of the rehabilitation of the Lalla Aouda Saadia High School garden. Four gardeners worked in October and November on the garden, further enhancing the school’s central courtyard as a welcome green space for the high school girls.
The new metal benches were first covered with an antirust coat, followed by a soothing green paint that blends nicely with the garden environment. Duranta erecta shrubs were planted all around the edge of the garden and over time they will be pruned into a natural hedge. The plot earlier set out and reserved for a small aromatic plant garden is now filled with basil, geranium, iris, lavender, lemon verbena, marjoram, sage, santolina, thyme and wormwood. Various ornamental plants, including atriplex, bougainvillea, hibiscus, oleander, plumbago, roses, and pennisetum and stipa grasses are featured throughout the garden. The greenery is now well established, and will be maintained by an irrigation system that effectively reaches each and every plant. We have left open spaces for small gardening projects, such as a demonstration plot of local fruits and vegetables, that can be carried out by the school’s environmental club and other groups.
GDF will continue to support the upkeep of the school garden over the coming months, giving administrative staff, teachers and students at Lalla Aouda Saadia time to establish an ongoing program to protect and expand this small but important green patch in Marrakech. We are positive that they will strive to upkeep the garden. As Charlotte Burrows, a GlobalGiving representative who visited the project and interviewed some of the girls wrote in a recent blog post, "The girls I spoke with were incredibly grateful they now have such a haven in which to read and relax, and the teachers I spoke with were thrilled that the girls no longer wander outside the school gates meeting boys…" In many ways, the garden now resembles the impressions that some of the students created at the very beginning of the project three years ago.
Now that our efforts at Lalla Aouda Saadia High School are winding down, we would like to give a sneak preview of our other Regreening the Medina projects. In this and future reports, we will provide glimpses of our efforts to develop other school gardens in the Marrakech medina and nearby rural areas. Let’s start with the Dar Taliba girl's boarding house in Ourika, in the foothills of the High Atlas mountains. As part of our Educate 1300 Girls by Restoring Marrakech Gardens project, we are supporting the development of gardens and an herbarium of useful plants collected by the girls from Amazigh villages who board here, serving as a platform to educate the students on traditional ethnobotanical knowledge and practice. Stay tuned!
The girls from the Lalla Aouda Saadia school are proud of their emerging garden! They are dreaming of cultivating an even greater diversity of edible and ornamental plants in the beautiful green spaces that are already affording them some peace of mind and moments of tranquility.
When asked what should be the next steps, they reply in unison that they would like to see more vegetation in the empty spaces in between the orchard trees. They are keen to participate in the work it will take to finish the garden: planting aromatic herbs and flowers, weeding, painting the new benches and organizing bins for composting, and recycling at specific points on the grounds.
GDF’s project director Mohamed El Haouzi has the merit of possessing enormous faith and tenacity, qualities that allow him to love his job and believe in it passionately. Over the past four years, he has worked hard to change the forlorn landscape of this unique girls-only college in Marrakech. The school’s garden, which was a large open space littered with trash, has gone from a neglected shambles to an actual garden. Although the process has been long and onerous, there is very little left for the job to reach a successful conclusion.
Mohamed has thought out his approach carefully, creating large pathways covered with gravel to clearly define the boundaries between the garden and the walking areas. Following the advice of a landscaper friend, he has made a point of enlarging the gravel areas to delimit the green areas, and consequently decrease both the use of water and maintenance while creating more space for the girls to mingle. The Seville orange trees spread evenly throughout the garden have been duly pruned to insure that they continue growing high and strong. Eight benches have been added to give the girls moments of peace in shaded areas. Mohamed has even taken his job to another level, guiding an ethnobotanical study of local useful plants with 30 girls from the school, during which they collected specific herbs to concoct five traditional recipes to treat diverse ailments.
These steps have been possible thanks to the support of the Global Diversity Foundation. Already the girls can be seen sitting on the benches gazing pensively at the trees, waiting for the opportunity to put edible and ornamental plants in the ground and watch them grow and produce...
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