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!
Efforts continue at Lalla Aouda Saadia high school to create and maintain a positive educational environment for the girls studying at the school. Collaboration is a crucial factor in making this happen. Last year, a plastic greenhouse intended to be a nursery for herbs was set up at the school, donated and installed by the Norsys Foundation. Students and teachers of Lalla Aouda participated in the weeding and cleaning of this plastic greenhouse in December 2011, which was supervised by GDF. Weeding and cleaning work in other areas of the school were conducted as well, including the first parcel of the school rehabilitated by GDF, a piece of land within the school grounds reserved for composting, and the infirmary that will temporarily house some forty girls from the boarding school pending the completion of the redevelopment of the boarding house where the girls usually stay. Garden rehabilitation efforts have not been without obstacles. The electric pump used for the well of the school broke down, a cause of major concern since the water from the well depended on to irrigate the green spaces of the school. In December 2011, a specialist was brought in by the high school to repair the pump.
Commitment towards the garden rehabilitation programme continues. During a visit on 10 December, a meeting was held between the director of the high school, some teachers, a representative of the association of parents and the director of the Global Diversity Foundation, Gary Martin. It was during this meeting that the decision to proceed with the rehabilitation of the central courtyard of the school was made, which is to commence soon.
Collaboration with external parties continued on 5 December when a visit was conducted by the headmaster of the school, the president of the association of parents, and a representative from GDF to one of the companies responsible for cleaning and transporting garbage in the city to discuss the possibility of donations to the school in the form of plastic bags, and to engage workers of the National Promotion to be involved in the school’s cleaning activities. As a result, the garbage and cleaning company donated two plastic bins to Aouda Saadia, and a dozen workers worked in the high school on 10 December in cleanup activities.
Commitment to ensure that the environment at Lalla Aouda Saadia is maintained and remains conducive for students’ learning and well-being is enabled through the generous support of project donors, to whom we are extremely grateful.
The rehabilitation of the gardens at the Lalla Aouda Saadia high school continues through ongoing discussions and coordination with local authorities, high school teachers, an association of the parents of the students, and students. This includes discussions with local authorities to have their support in order to facilitate the reports of the high school with the neighboring houses so that they are conscientious of the importance of the garden for the school, and with the Regional Academy of Education, Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz, in order to have permission to proceed with the rehabilitation of the garden.
In the meantime, effort to train students at Lalla Aouda as herbalist researchers has continued. Intern from Connecticut College, Joanna Smith, dedicated much time with the students from Lalla Aouda during her summer internship with Global Diversity Foundation (GDF). During this time, the students were further encouraged to be involved in the ethnobotanical study of five traditional women’s recipes. They received training on the use of a database containing the results of the field research previously conducted by thirty students from Lalla Aouda, who went into the Marrakech Medina to interview Marrakechi herbalists on important cultural recipes. All the traditional compositions collected in the field are available in the herbarium at the school, allowing the girls to re-examine, analyze, and discuss their own data. This is in line with the aim to build an educational framework at the school that allows students to explore their own city’s rich ethnobotanical traditions. Information from the database will published in a brochure for Lalla Aouda students and other residents of Marrakech.
Apart from this, several clean-up activities were carried out in September and October, funded in the majority and supervised by GDF, involving paid workers and aided by teachers of the school to clear rubbish that had accumulated in the school grounds over the years. These cleanup actions are helping to provide a safe space and conducive environment for the girls.
It is only with the support from its generous donors that GDF has been able to provide the opportunity to the students at the all-girls Lalla Aouda school to advance their appreciation and knowledge of the important uses of traditional plants, allowing them to discover, through this, a deeper understanding of their unique culture.
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