By Errachid Montassir
HAF Project Manager
A beautiful arrangement has brought together the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) and The Vacation Project (TVP), which is their shared desire to create positive changes in Morocco. HAF, working on sustainable development using a participatory approach, seeks to establish development projects in different parts of Morocco that local communities design and manage. TVP is a program created for fulfilling acts service through providing people with the opportunity to have a definitive departure from normal-life scenarios. TVP guides volunteers to pursue voluntary work with communities around the world and experience a deffierent life, helping local people and associations achieve their goals.
HAF and TVP planned a program that combines voluntary work and personal growth. The special partnership culminated with an initiative this month, spending 4 days with a Moroccan rural community, doing voluntary work, delivering school supplies for kids, helping farmers and women in their work, and doing many workshops with them as well as with the youth.
The community is Azzaden Valley, located in the municipality in the Al Haouz Province of the Marrakesh-Safi region. About 60 kilometers from Marrakech to the Azzadene Valley, between green fields of farms and walnut, almond, and apple trees, which HAF has previously contributed to in their planting. There you can also see the incredible relations among the village members as their livelihoods are improving.
The 2nd of January 2018, was our date for the visit. One day before the appointment, the 11 TVP volunteers coming from the United States and the HAF staff had a meeting in Marrakech, to put the last touches on the program before the visit. Following that everyone was agreement about what needed to be done.
Traveling from the city to the village was a totally fantastic moment to start 2018. But, what was even better was staying with host families, sharing the wonderful culture and exchanging beautiful memories. This was the first time they hosted internationals, reflecting the warmth between the local people and the volunteers. A host family member, expressed: “ I have never experienced hosting people from another culture, living with my small family, but I’m super excited to spend these 4 days together.”
After the wonderful meeting with the host families, we spoke about next step during the first day. A field of 300 apple trees 4 kilometers from the village was looking good as a future source of income not only for the farmers, but for all the village inhabitants. However, the trees were in need of irrigation. Here the volunteers took charge of watering the trees with the cold water coming from a source high in the mountains. Ideas about organic agriculture and organic local products were shared. Organic agriculture has been one of the High Atlas Foundation principle activities since 2003, and the HAF is working on organic products with more than 22 provinces in Morocco, including organic certification (and carbon credit certification).
TVP and HAF did not plan only to do voluntary work during the day, but there was also an important chance to organize workshops with the community during the night. This HAF does before (and during) every project--meeting with the communities using the participatory approach with them, to figure out their challenges and needs, by having them coming up with their priorities and design their future initiatives.
The first TVP and HAF workshop with the community was with the farmers and the local association members. Wonderfully, everyone introduced themselves in Arabic - even the TVP volunteers. Four mixed groups including the volunteers and the inhabitants, all together produced a community map of the village and shared ideas, and the community members brought up the needs of the village.
The village inhabitants, who voted on their priorities, produced three priorities:
1- A center for the local association
2- Hospital and sewage system
3- A women’s apple vinegar cooperative and agricultural basin
It is interesting that, the village men do not only think about their needs, but they included the village women’s priorities as well. There were tears after the barriers broke down between the community and the international volunteers.
Our stay in the community provided a great chance to meet the kids as well, and make beautiful smiles coming from their hearts. We went to a primary school shared by four villages in the morning with, two objectives: 1) to meet the children and do a workshop with them about the environment, and 2) to deliver school supplies (backpacks, soccer balls, winter hats, pens and other nice gifts). This was a collaboration between TVP and HAF's Sami's Project, which is a HAF initiative that strives to achieve the goals of sustainable development through schools. Sami’s Project seeks to understand people’s sense of their environment and the importance of protecting it, and to spread the culture of planting among students in rural areas.
The students and teachers were so happy to have that good morning with us, as well as we were extremely excited to spend fruitful half day with them. We did many activities with the kids; for instance, having them draw their future school, which is a participatory method to figure out the needs of the school. The first priority was a bathroom, and the TVP volunteers are so happy to help with the schools infrastructure in the future.
Before the women’s workshop, the volunteers had time to build new terraces in an apple field, which was really hard work, but well done. Following that farmers will be able to plant more trees.
The workshop with the village women was another emotional moment. The women as usual showed us the real Moroccan hospitality, bringing to us natural food and local bread with beautiful smiles. They gathered to talk about their needs and to also make their voices heard in the community.
It was a moment, while the groups were drawing their community map, that one of the women drew a green heart on the paper. We all asked her what is the reason behind that? "This is the current relationship between us and you. I feel great to sit with you all, talking about different subjects, and even we don't speak the same language. We appreciate your visit to us a lot, and totally welcome you anytime".
The women’s priorities were:
1- Women apple vinegar cooperative
2- Sewage system
3- Hammam (Public shower)
The women’s workshop ended up with a strong relationship between the volunteers and the village women, helping to ensure that they will meet again and to contribute to achieving their goals.
After we built trust with the community and the TVP volunteers, it was, unfortunately, time to say goodbye to the host families. Luckily, we all came back with a very strong relation with everyone in the community, and we are seeking to come back with the solutions to the problems discussed. Information gathered through the workshops will help to build proposals for many projects by the High Atlas Foundation, as it already started growing a nursery of multiple fruit trees. These trees will not be only providing free organic fruit trees for Ouirgane municipality but it will provide them for more than 22 provinces in Morocco.
HAF and TVP visit to the village in the High Atlas Mountains has played a significant role in building another strong link with our communities in Morooco.