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Jul 17, 2020

A Partnership for Food and Clothing Solidarity in the Face of COVID-19

PRESS RELEASE               


Amina El Hajjami
Director of Programs, High Atlas Foundation

+212 (0) 6 62 17 66 63


A Partnership for Food and Clothing Solidarity in the Face of COVID-19

MARRAKECH - The High Atlas Foundation and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy are grateful to be of service to communities in Morocco that have endured livelihood losses as a result of COVID-19. Together we are making food, hygienic, and clothing items more accessible for 600 families located in the provinces of Azilal, Boujdour, Chichaoua, and Taroudant whose livelihoods have been negatively affected as a result of the pandemic. These communities and so many others have been economically hurt because they depend on each day’s labor, which has not been available, in order to make the most basic ends meet.

Even as we sincerely appreciate the opportunity to provide assistance to these families, we hope very much that we can carry out more acts of sharing with many more communities in Morocco.

The High Atlas Foundation would like to also sincerely thank Soles for Souls for their kind giving, and to the LFMC Foundation for enabling us to be of food assistance in Taza.

If you are with means and capacities to enable families to receive staple foods, please let us know. We send our gratitude to the Moroccan civil associations that have entrusted us with their requests and expressions of need.

Jul 17, 2020

Reflections on Omar Himmi of Toubkal, Morocco

Recently, I had a moment of self-reflection brought about by the passing of someone who made a difference in the trajectory of my life. Years ago, I lived in the home of Omar Himmi Ait Omrar in the village of Amsouzerte in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Sharing stories about those two years (1993-1995) living in Omar’s home and what followed, those stories of life, may be meaningful to others.

In the early 1990s, getting to this very distant village, caught between the provinces of Ouarzazate, Taroudant, and Al Haouz, was difficult. Of the five valleys surrounding Toubkal mountain, the tallest peak in North Africa, only one is on its south side: the Tifnoute. What is special about that fact is that about half of the Toubkal National Park is the summer pasturelands for the Tifnoute people’s herds. Yet, until that time there had not been adequate communication between the park management and the Tifnoute community of 44 villages (about 12,000 people) because it is so remote that it takes 24 hours to get there due to having to circle around the Atlas Mountains in order to arrive, with the last 70 kilometers of which being unpaved paths. When, as Peace Corps Volunteers, we were assigned to the Toubkal park, we could choose to live anywhere among its valleys of villages, so when I heard that no one had gone to the Tifnoute, I said, “OK, I’ll do it, I’ll go.” I traveled in segments, and it took me three days to get there that winter in 1993.

When people arrive in the Tifnoute, they would always be sent to Omar Himmi. No one knew I was coming, and there I was planning to stay for two years. I remember that the first meal I ate was an omelet, after which I immediately felt tired and sick from the long, cold journey. I was ill for two weeks, unable to leave my room and having terrifying hallucinations, which I had never had in my life. I decided early to watch the menacing shapes in my mind like a spectator would a movie, and I even ended up missing them once they were gone. At night, I would feel Omar Himmi’s hand on my head because he was genuinely worried. He would make sure I had hot soup and also tangerines for Vitamin C, which thankfully were in season in Morocco.

After a few days, the local sheikh came to visit me, and I mustered enough energy to sit up, show my passport, and ask whether the people would be happy if an American lived among them for two years, to which he replied, “Yes.” That was all. But it became more complicated because the Caid did not feel the same way. At that time, community empowerment and participatory development were words that no one had heard of, and these ideas of organized change were not particularly trusted - and to think their implementation is now mandated in Morocco. That the Caid did not want an unexpected sojourner to live in the Tifnoute, yet that someone was sick and confined to bed (or rather the covered floor), presented a dilemma for Omar.

As I was still weak, Omar convinced me to go to a hospital, which was in Taroudant. I was not getting better, and I was not really walking, nor did I have energy. I reluctantly agreed. But, when I arrived at the transit, I saw that all of my luggage was packed in the back of it. I knew that if I got in, it would be hard for me to come back. So, I refused. I turned around and went back to Omar’s home. When I passed him on my way to my room, his face was like a stone because he knew that his way out of the conflicting situation had not been successful. But he accepted me.

That was our beginning. Very soon after that, we worked out an arrangement where I lived there and had breakfast and dinner with him. In this way, he had the biggest influence on my personal life during those years because he agreed to do that even though, at times, he was made to feel he ought not to.

Another story I recall, somewhat indicative of the times we lived in almost thirty years ago, occurred one night at dinner. It was always just me and him, in his 70s at the time, a grandfather who later became a great-grandfather and lived to the age of 103. One night, Omar and I were talking about the Tifnoute people, and we ended up talking about the sheikh, Haj Lehcen Ait Ouahman, a complicated and quite a thoughtful man, I would later learn. I asked Omar if he was friends with the sheikh, and he said to me, “Before he became sheikh, we were great friends!” And he laughed, which made me laugh. We laughed so hard that we cried.

The next day, I went down to the village store, the owner of which was a close friend of Omar, who was also there when I entered. I walked in on Omar relating the story of the previous night’s happy tears. When he got to the point where he had to refer to me, he did not want to call me “aghmoy”--the Tashelheit word for a foreigner or outsider--because it might have been considered a bit insensitive. Instead, he asked me my name. So, I had been living in his home for some months at that point, having breakfast and dinner with him every day, sitting together from about 4:00 in the afternoon when the sun went down behind the mountain, and talking, and he did not know my name! You can think about that in multiple ways, but can you imagine? We would talk about personal experiences: Omar told about when the Jewish people lived there, when his brother was sheikh and had a Jewish advisor. Every day, we would be talking and sharing, and there is a warmth to the fact that this went on without him knowing my name. There was a trust there to receive me in this way without asking to see my passport, without any formal contract, without concern for whether I would pay him on time or be able to be found. He really was just accepting and gave unconditional hospitality. That is how I came to feel about the relationship and what I learned in those early years here in Morocco.

Omar’s older brother Mohammed, the sheikh (which is what bestows upon the family the title, Ait Omrar), had passed away in 1951 from poisoning. Can you imagine drinking a cup of coffee that has such destructive sickliness that it turns your kidney into a liquid that you then regurgitate? It makes me realize the nature of poison. People can quarrel, but we draw a line at poison because of the hiddenness of it--not just the treachery but the cowardly deceit of it. Why was he poisoned? Because, according to Omar, he would not permit the local men to marry more than one woman. Around that time, he visited a village below Amsouzerte, had this cup of poisoned coffee, returned home, and lived only two more days. The day after his return, he asked Omar, “At what point is the sun?” Omar told him where it was. Gesturing, Mohammed said, “When it gets to [this point], I will be passed.”

I was greatly influenced by the ongoing conversations with Omar of all the stories and deeds and attitudes that he could remember about his brother and the people. As an example, one that has stuck with me all these years and was even part of my master’s thesis focus is the issue of water supply in that region. There is a water spring source there called Ouray that flows north instead of south, but it belongs to the southern Tifnoute community. They had been working on a project, digging into the mountain to reverse the direction of the water flow that would have changed the life course of fourteen villages, several thousands of people and their generations that followed. The project was stopped upon Sheikh Mohammed’s death all those years ago, and, to this day, they are still suffering without adequate water, having to pipe an insufficient amount from eight kilometers away rather than having their own source--an unsustainable remedy. Ouray became a project that I really wanted to work on during my service, still want to do, and for which I continue to advocate. Living in Tifnoute, I would go into my room after these conversations with Omar, and I would write these stories in my journal. The stories of the past, like Ouray’s, were brought alive again in the present as I tried to make good on the necessary work that was started many decades prior.

After the two years, when I was soon to leave, Omar brought to me the small tea kettle of silver that Sheikh Mohammed would drink tea from with his wife. Only the two of them would drink tea from that kettle--a family heirloom, a regional heirloom--and he gave it to me. This was a hugely thoughtful gift. I brought that tea kettle with me when I returned to New York. I showed it to my family, and I said, “This is the tea kettle of Sheikh Mohammed, and he would drink tea from it only with his wife.” I explained to them that he tried to do the right things, and he was murdered for it, that he was inclusive, and that the kettle was approaching a century old. To others, it was only an old, unpolished kettle from the mountains that they had little affinity for, and they seemed not particularly moved by the story. It became clear that that kettle was in entirely the wrong place. Its meaning lay in Toubkal. So, though it took some time, after a few years I returned to Omar, and I brought back the kettle. I said, “Omar, this kettle belongs here.” And fixing a wordless look on me, he understood, and he accepted it.

Jumping to the end, our last conversation, a few days before he passed away in May 2020, he could no longer speak. He could whisper to his grandson, Mohammed, who related to me what Omar said. I would respond to Mohammed, who would convey my comments to his grandfather. The very last thing he said to me was, “This is your home,” meaning his home was a place I was always welcome to be. And, from time to time, over the course of thirty years, it has been a place where I have found myself. There was something there, whenever I was there, that was soothing as nowhere else.

Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir is a sociologist and President of the High Atlas Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to sustainable development in Morocco.

Jul 9, 2020


5 steps for project lifecycle management (source:

How many times have you asked yourself a series of questions about what to prepare for a hike, a trip, or dinner party? You probably thought about what time to leave, what clothes to bring, what food to serve or how much money to carry on you. These are the basics of project management. A “project” does not need to be a million-dollar project employing 50 people and resulting in something big and long lasting. It could be something as simple as brushing your teeth or cleaning your garage.

There are many positive aspects of successful project management. The advantages to manage projects professionally are numerous, but the most obvious ones are: to have better outcomes, to use resources efficiently, to establish good governance and to better manage expectations.

All projects should address five elements. Without planning these elements, a project cannot reach its full potential. Each project manager should spend a great deal of time planning the project’s timeline, defining clear objectives, securing sufficient financial resources, assessing risks that can affect the project and hiring the right personnel.

Planning a project is the key to success. A start and finish date should be communicated to all parties involved. This timeline has to be split into smaller timelines for each team involved in the project. Dependencies between teams or tasks should be clear to everyone. Other events that could happen during that timeline should be studied to see if they have an impact on your project. So the timing should be well chosen. Benjamin Franklin summarized it all when he said: “Failing to plan is planning to fail”.

The objectives of a project should be understood and clear to all stakeholders. Every team member should stay focused on the project’s main objective. This is the best way to make sure that all tasks will lead to the desired outcome.

Financial resources should also be carefully calculated. Without sufficient funds we should not expect any success. Getting loans, raising funds or applying for grants are not easy tasks. Before starting any fundraising efforts, you should have enough experience and a good reputation to convince donors to support your project. This will be demonstrated in your forecasted budget. The latter speaks volumes about how you plan, execute and evaluate your project.

Any project has its fair share of risks. Washing your car could be seen as an easy project to do. However, the weather forecast might oblige you to change your plans. Similarly, the timeline for developing a new customized software could be extended because the customer may communicate some changes at the very last minute. So thinking ahead, picturing different scenarios, and planning for each of them may be a good preventive behavior.

Last but not least, human resources are crucial to any project’s success. Oftentimes, people think that if you have enough funds, then the project is safe. Experience has shown that both financial and human resources are necessary to achieve good results. You can provide someone with funds, but if s/he does not have the capability to manage the funds, the project will be a total failure. Hiring the right profiles and making sure that everyone embodies team spirit is key to leading the staff to complete their tasks successfully.

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) staff have been practicing project management techniques for years. The Farmer-to-Farmer team, that I am part of, has been taking into consideration project management’s good practices. This is why HAF has had 20 successful years of managing development projects across Morocco.

For a first step towards learning project management, visit this site that offers some free resources.

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