After months of preparation and three weeks of intense work, we are happy to report that the initial stage of the Lalla Aouda Saadia garden’s rehabilitation is complete. Our current focus is the regreening of 1800 square meters of prime garden space at the heart of the school grounds. We started with the irrigation system: a technician repaired the pump’s electrical panel and fixed all of the damaged pipes. Well water is now ready to be distributed throughout the garden. Then the 54 Seville sour orange trees in the garden were pruned to allow more sunlight to reach the ground, which has been fertilized and leveled.
The girls actively participated in the restoration of their green space. Since the space is for and by them, changes in the garden are carried out only by consensus and with their consent. Supported by GDF, a landscape architect is currently drafting design proposals. The design that is chosen by the girls and the school staff will be the basis of the next stage of the garden’s rehabilitation. The proposals include creating a new fountain in the middle of the plot, laying out pathways leading to it and expanding the underground irrigation system. Aromatic herbs and ornamental plants could be cultivated in the garden beds among the paths.
Prior to the renovation, the orange trees were the only plants in the garden, but GDF is now ensuring the garden will be home to a wider variety of species chosen by the students. It will have a dynamic educational purpose in addition to being ornamental: the girls will learn about the traditional medicinal uses of the plants and how to care for the herbs and trees. Mohamed El Haouzi, GDF’s field coordinator who is in charge of the project, has noticed another impact: the staff and students of Lalla Aouda Saadia are cleaning and planting other areas of the school grounds.
(Edited by Thaïs Martin)
The pruned Seville sour orange trees are spread elegantly across the garden, providing fragrance and shade. (Photo: Thaïs Martin)
The rehabilitation was carried out with manual labor and local equipment including this wheelbarrow. (Photo: Gary Martin)
The condition of the garden before pruning of the Seville sour orange trees began.
The new year brought a new director to the Lalla Aouda Saadia high school. He is now settling into his post, and has met twice with Mohamed El Haouzi, GDF’s Director of Projects in Marrakech. While they proceed with the consultations necessary to continue with our original garden, Mohamed has been approached by directors and teachers of many other schools – in Marrakech and its environs – who heard about our efforts and wish to rehabilitate their grounds. We are excited by this expanding interest in our ‘edible and ornamental schoolyards’ approach, and have decided to broaden our project to include primary, middle and high schools. Now we have children and young adults from 6 to 18 years old involved in our project.
In this and future reports, we will tell you about some of these new projects, while keeping you posted on developments at the Lalla Aouda Saadia high school. One school we are eager to assist is the Ecole Abou Firass primary school in the Marrakech medina. As you can see in the picture, the school staff has already prepared the garden for planting. Now that spring is arriving in Marrakech, GDF is ready to buy plants so the school director and teachers can roll up their sleeves and start planting.
We have dug into the past to reflect on the original aspirations of the high school girls from Aouda Saadia. When the rehabilitation project first started two years ago, the girls were tasked with putting into pictures their impressions of an ideal school. We posed them with the question "Out of all the areas in your school, which area do you enjoy being in the most?”
The thirty girls were united in their answers, drawing pictures of clean and scenic gardens, reflecting their need to have a serene spot to relax and gain the strength needed for their studies. This need was particularly obvious amongst those who were residents of the school.
Historically, Marrakech was an oasis dotted with traditional caravanserais that served as a resting place and shelter for merchants from southern Morocco travelling to the north (and vice versa). This oasis motivated a lot of people to come from afar in search of its tranquil grounds. The images of peaceful gardens drawn by the girls reveal a connection anchored in Moroccan culture that the people of Morocco still have with their natural surroundings.
The drawing exercise was initiated by Charles Hamilton, a Masters student in Landscape Architecture at the State University of New York, as part of his university research project. He surmised that rehabilitating the school garden would greatly enhance the learning experience of the girls at Aouda Saadia.
From 22 to 27 May, Aouda Saadia High School organised a cultural event titled ‘Integrated educational activities, support for a better learning’. The six day event was packed with activities – presentations on topics including road safety, ecological agriculture (presented by the Norsys Foundation) and human rights, exhibitions showcasing books, leather and wool products made by participating associations and products from the environmental and health clubs, artistic and poetry themed evenings, a training on first aid, and cultural and sports competitions. Apart from that, visits were organised for some of the high school girls to Safi and Oualidia, and to view the monuments of Marrakech.
The Global Diversity Foundation collaborated with the school during the event to create awareness of the recipes that are the subjects of research under the ongoing study entitled ‘An Ethnobotanical Study of Five Traditional Women’s Recipes’. Samples of ingredients used were displayed and preliminary results of the study were explained. Awareness tools (photos and brochures) relating to the conservation of Morocco’s cultural heritage were also made with the girls from Aouda Saadia for use during the cultural event.
In early July, GDF was fortunate to receive a visit from two GlobalGiving representatives, Aliza and Shonali, who were in Morocco as part of their trip to three countries (Morocco, Spain and France) under GlobalGiving’s In the Field program. Although they were unable to visit Aouda Saadia High School because the school was closed, understanding of similar rehabilitation garden projects was achieved through visits to Dar Taliba Ourika and Dar Taliba Tamazouzte.
You can read more about their trip on Aliza’s blog: http://alizainthefield.tumblr.com/page/2, and in a postcard written by Shonali : http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/gdf-marrakech-girls-school-garden/updates/?subid=21890.
Shonali Banerjee and Aliza Appelbaum are In-The-Field Representatives for GlobalGiving. They are visiting projects in Morocco, Spain and France. Here is their most recent "postcard" from Morocco:
On July 1, 2012, Aliza and I visited two Dar Talibas or “student houses” that are sponsored by the Global Diversity Foundation (GDF). These two facilities were located outside of Marrakech, in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains and operate very similarly to the school featured in the project on GlobalGiving. Mohamed, one of the GDF senior program managers, kindly spent the morning showing us around the grounds and campuses, introducing us to key staff and walking us through the projects that he works on with GDF.
GDF provides the material resources needed to rehabilitate the school grounds with gardens and create a vibrant learning environment. The gardens are a source of nutritious organic produce for the students and pride for the school. Mohamed took us through the carefully crafted gardens and even took us to the library to show us the books the girls have created to remember all of the official plant names.
It was immediately evident that Mohamed felt very passionately about the Dar Talibas and the work that GDF has done in favor of education and women’s empowerment. Both of the sites that we visited housed girls between ages 11-16. Sadly, the students had all returned to their home for the summer, but the administrative staff at both schools kindly took us through the classrooms and dormitories, walking us through a day in the life of the students.
At the second Dar Taliba, the husband and wife team of directors proudly showed us the arts and crafts made by the students and a roster of recent test scores, indicating that their students had earned some of the highest marks in the district.
One of the stories that stood out to us most during our visits was that of Jamila, the 25-year-old deputy director of one of the schools, who had graduated from the Dar Taliba herself. She had gone on to high school in Marrakech after finishing at the Dar Taliba, and then went on to university in Rabat to study communications. Aliza and I had the opportunity to sit down with Jamila and talk to her about her experience. She talked about breaking down the cultural stigmas in village regarding girls going to school. She returned to the Dar Taliba after finishing her studies because of the strong connection and gratitude she feels towards the school. She also serves as the first female elected official from her village, and will be running for re-election next year. When I asked if family is proud of all she has accomplished, she smiled and said, “Yes, they are very proud. At first they were worried about me leaving the village. But now, they tell all the younger girls, ‘Look, if you study hard, you can be like Jamila.’”
Aliza and I were very impressed with the work being done at both Dar Talibas and look forward to hearing more success stories like Jamila’s in the near future!
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