Oct 14, 2021

Monitoring Trees in Guercif

9 October 2021—Monitoring trees in the Guercif province began in early September and continued throughout the month and into early October. These trees have been grown in the Guercif nursery and distributed to farmers by the High Atlas Foundation in coordination with local cooperatives

On 9 September, 3,300 were monitored in the village of Swihla in the community of Taddart. As a HAF tree monitor, I visited and communicated with twelve farmers from the region at that time. The condition of the trees is very good, and they are well taken care of. They expressed their gratitude for the foundation’s initiative to support them and provide the trees.

Two days later, I monitored 5,000 more trees in the Taddart community with twelve farmers in the villages of Al-Baeyr and Ddamalt. Despite the farmers’ reliance on tractor watering and the absence of wells in a variety of areas in this province, the trees grow well. It is beautiful to see them growing here.

Later that week, the monitoring continued in Taddart with 4,000 trees planted by community farmers. The camel area is known for its tremendous progress in planting trees even with the absence of wells and the difficulty in securing water for irrigation. Farmers here also use tractors for watering. The following day, 1,600 more trees were monitored with a group of farmers in the Lgaryaj and Lfida Lkhadra villages who made a great effort to take care of the trees. They have therefore achieved very impressive growth.

Monitoring continued the following week with 2,000 trees in Tekhiamin village in Ras al-Qasr community. Returning to Taddart, I then met with farmers in Swihla again and Labyer village as well as Msson Zerga village. These all proved to be very good locations where growth is at a good level.

By late September I traveled to AHafir and Ain Beni Mathar in Berkane province to monitor 7,200 trees distributed in that area. In early October, I visited farmers in the communities of Chouihiya and Ahfir in the Berkane province to monitor the remaining trees.

The total number of trees monitored in the past month that came from the Guercif nursery is 23,500. The visit to the province of Guercif is among the most challenging trips for monitoring trees. It involves inspecting the condition of the trees and providing information to farmers that helps them in their agricultural field as well as listening to the agricultural problems and challenges they face in the region.

The province of Guercif is certainly a very large area, and it is among those with vast lands suitable for agriculture, mainly for the cultivation of fruit trees—especially olive trees—so that it is called “the city of olives,” with its abundance of olive tree farms and production of olive derivatives.

Through the monitoring process, I have visited many areas in the plains and high in the mountains, communicating with more than 100 farmers and checking on the 27,430 additional trees planted this year.

Most of the trees are in good condition. Although there are some areas that suffer from drought, farmers are doing a great job of preserving the trees, gaining cultivation skills while still meeting the challenge of water scarcity for irrigation. The valleys there play an important role in supplying water through drip irrigation and solar energy agricultural equipment despite the costs and the low income of most farmers.

Farmers have reported positive effects from the HAF tree-planting initiative that supports them and enables them to benefit from a low, symbolic price commensurate with their purchasing power. Monitoring of this region has shown that 80% of the set goals have been achieved so far, making Guercif a very successful model.

Oct 13, 2021

Visiting Essaouira's Past and Present with U.S. Charge d'Affaires David Greene

I had the opportunity, for which I am grateful, to visit together with Mr. David, the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires, the Jewish and Christian cemeteries in the incredible city of Essaouira. The day prior, we had launched with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) its new program, which HAF is implementing in Morocco,dedicated to cultural heritage preservation and education.

H.E. Mr. Azoulay; H.E. Ms. Lamia; the mayor of Essaouira, Mr. Tarik; and other leaders of national cultural endeavors, including Mr. El Mehdi and members of Miftah Essaad Foundation, among many others, shared this special moment. This is the beginning of our collaborative effort to gather memories of solidarity and multiculturalism in communities in different parts of the country.

Mr. Greene’s visit with me to centuries-old cemeteries was a reflective moment after such positive events from the day before. We read together heartbreaking epitaphs and reflected on the privileged work of collecting stories of the past and disseminating them today in order to build bonds, especially among young people, toward a sustainable future.

A lasting impression of Essaouira’s Christian cemetery is that it is, in real ways, inseparable from the events of Jewish life in the city, and vice versa, and that the people laid to rest there lived every dimension of what the region experienced through all the different trials and exuberations across time. From there, I so much enjoyed walking and talking with Mr. Greene through the mellah to old Jewish houses of learning and prayer.

On behalf of the High Atlas Foundation, we would like to thank USAID for their trust and partnership; partnering civil organizationsAssociation Mimouna, Foundation Memories for the Future, Essaouira Mogador Association, Miftah Essaad Foundation, and the Sefrou Association for Multidisciplinary Artsfor their activities of cultural learning and keeping of history; and Maghreb itself for creating and encouraging the public space for all strands of Moroccan diversity to progress forward and be part of the Moroccan experience.

Oct 12, 2021

Women Empowerment and Yoga_ in Rural Morocco and in Your Life

Before you read this, I challenge you to pause and ask your body the question: how do you like the thoughts I think about you?

When we make an active choice to listen to ourselves, we access the power of introspection. But as you likely realized within the first sentence of this article, that often isn’t comfortable. It is almost taboo to honestly ask yourself how you are, and even rarer to have the skills needed to be able to listen to the response.

These skills are exactly what the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) seeks to develop within their IMAGINE empowerment workshops. The sceneranges from rural villages to bustling cities, yet the content and goal remain constant. HAF leaders guide groups of 25 Moroccan women through a 32-hour transformative experience. Ecstatic joy saturates a room where these women connect with their true selves, maybe for the first time. Turning about freely through guided dance helps the women create “turnarounds,” the term for the newly expanded beliefs that replace often deeply ingrained and harmful ones. To work through the discomfort of releasing old patterns of thought and behavior endows the women with the confidence to recognize their true potential.

HAF guides participants in goal-setting and affirmative visualizations surrounding seven core areas, including work, relationships, and sexuality. These powerful techniques are paired with practical education regarding Moroccan family law and placed in a spiritual context with passages from the Qur’an, permitting the women to understand their legal protections, pursue justice, and see themselves empowered through their spirituality.

This act of slowing down and listening is the core driving force of yoga, as well as HAF’s mission of empowerment. It forces us to switch from the mode of thinking into feeling. The conscious effort required to turn off our critical thinking brain and enter a more profoundly present state is not small and requires practice. However, there is incredible potential in the ramifications of this decision; in a study following 24 young women who identified themselves as chronically stressed, a three-month intervention of biweekly yoga classes resulted in statistically significant reductions in stress and anxiety, as well as overall improvement of physical health. Saliva samples from before versus after a 90-minute yoga class displayed a concrete and significant decrease in levels of cortisol, our bodies’ main stress hormone.

How does yoga achieve this? For one, yoga is not simply a sequence of strengthening acrobatic movements. The Sanskrit word “yoga” literally translates to “yoke” or “join.” It is an ancient Vedic philosophy that both recognizes and encourages a connection with the inherent interconnectedness of ourselves with everything in the universe. We are not separated from nature, but rather, embedded in it. This idea is not as far-fetched or spiritually lofty as one might assume, either: the widely accepted Big Bang Theory postulates that all that is, from here to the farthest edges of the universe, originated from a single point. You were once quite literally one with everything around you. Furthermore, the techniques of stretching, strengthening, breathing, and meditation are joined together in one complete practice to join your mind, body, and spirit. Yoga philosophy and teachings emerge from this idea, with scriptures emphasizing the importance of ahimsa, or non-violence.

Here enters the original question: how do you like the thoughts you think about yourself? Chances are that you haven’t been conditioned to hold yourself in very high regard, like many of the women in the IMAGINE workshops. According to ahimsa, this harm to ourselves through negative thoughts contributes to the prevalence of harm everywhere. In order to strive for better, you must first believe that you deserve it. Movement in yoga is a constant push and pull driven by the breath, steadily encouraging us to expand beyond our limits and find contentment in where we land at the moment.

The niyama or personal principle of svadhyaya encourages the importance of self-study. Yoga styles such as Yin encourage practitioners to find their edge of discomfort by holding deep tissue stretches for longer periods of time. This increases circulation and joint flexibility while opening channels of energy. Through directed breathwork, students are able to release tension and practice mental fortitude. When a negative thought or sensation interrupts the flow, yoga enables us to recognize it as a disconnection from our true presence and choose to let it go.

By enabling women to free themselves from self-constricting thought patterns, HAF promotes both personal and community growth. IMAGINE equips participants with tangible tools and support to lead lasting and meaningful development from a place of personal integrity. To date, nine groups of women have gone on to create income-generating cooperatives thoughtfully designed to further their specific community’s development. HAF continually supports these women by providing requested training related to these goals, and the groups formed through IMAGINE meet monthly thereafter to discuss current goals and progress.

As we reach the end of the article, I encourage you to take a moment for yourself to notice the ebb and flow of your breath. Return to the original question, even close your eyes if you feel comfortable, and listen. The principles of yoga and of HAF’s IMAGINE workshops are centered in this truth that acknowledging where you are is the first step to creating the life you most want.

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