It has been a journey for us putting together this year’s Annual Report, because we decided to make it comprehensive, including visually, of all of the work of the High Atlas Foundation since its beginning in 2000. We hope that you like it, and that you feel a connection with HAF’s Moroccan mission.
We work in agriculture, health, education, multiculturalism, in rural (mostly) and urban areas, with projects in all Regions of Morocco, focused heavily on women’s and youth empowerment, with remote communities, in partnership with government, civil society, and business, and all this tied to a single premise: We implement projects that the people together determine, manage, and receive their benefits.
We concentrate most heavily in agriculture, because rural people do, and because by multiplying the size of its economy—from growing tree and plant nurseries, to commercialization of raw and processed product, building cooperatives, and monitoring carbon offsets—we generate new revenue to reinvest in human development projects, beyond agriculture.
By implementing people-driven development in Morocco, a nation that has enacted this approach in many of its policies, charters, and laws, and by building a revenue-generating mechanism to build local capacities and projects, we can help communities all across the Kingdom implement the change they seek. This is HAF’s vision, and Morocco’s goal.
Achieving this HAF-Moroccan dream would be profound for the country, the Continent, and the Middle East. Morocco’s human development journey, facilitated by participatory and decentralization approaches, is indeed a great hope, lighting for the world a sustainable national recourse and pathway.
The High Atlas Foundation is joined by, and joins, many Partners is this Moroccan-universal journey, to achieve the hopes of the people, all people, especially those who could utilize us most.
Destinations are not certain in our world. What is certain is that we have a Moroccan national framework for transformative change through participatory democratic means. It is also certain that Morocco absolutely needs the fulfillment of its sustainable development, and that the nation and those in the world who come to know its model will be most truly better off for it.
Please read HAF's Annual Report: 2018 and let us know what you think
Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir
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.
We are in the midst of a wrenching drought in Morocco. There is ultimately no greater relief than rain. There are though actions we can take together to help safeguard drinking water and the survival of the organic fruit trees we planted.
Water conservation basically comes down to containment and efficiency, and empowered local community management. In arid places, we also need to deepen wells. Basins and pipes conserve water by eliminating seepage and enabling us to irrigate with better precision. They also help to purify the water and reduce water born diseases and infant mortality. Deepening wells by even five meters we can significantly reduce the economic shock of the drought, and stem food insecurity.
The High Atlas Foundation and community partners achieve these water conservation and supply initiatives, and we must do much more. If we can provide only the materials to build efficient water delivery systems, the people will take it from there and contribute all the needed work for installation. Can we meet them halfway?
From struggle can come opportunity, and unity. In Morocco, we are all wishing for the same thing - rain and rain and more. Until then, and as we prepare for the future, we are also unified in our need for water infrastructure in order to best utilize the resources that we do have. Join our shared purpose, and help us implement the common priority of the Moroccan people.
The first component involves the establishment of essential physical infrastructures providing potable water to mountain villages. Responding to the environmental and topographical conditions of the region, infrastructures will consist of gravity-flow water systems that will pipe pure water from distant mountain springs directly to reservoirs built above villages, from which water will run through distribution systems to public taps located in key spots near groups of houses. Through such a system, potable water from far away sources is made available at all times close to homes or in important public spaces such as schools, clinics, and mosques.
Construction of the gravity-flow systems, comprised of different structures and components between springs and villages, will make use of local building techniques, knowledge and resources, similar to gravity-flow systems successfully implemented in twelve Tifnoute villages (Taroudant province). Work will typically begin at springs already determined suitable in terms of water quality, adequate flow, and tenure status during projects assessments. Springs will be slightly excavated, and a small basin, known as a springbox, will be constructed to allow water to directly and freely enter from one of the sides, to exist through a lower outflow pipe on the opposite side and be piped to the village. The springboxes, built of stone masonry, are fully covered to prevent any air exposure or contamination of water. Tops of the boxes can be removed for servicing, however, and all springboxes come complete with drain and overflow pipes, as well as a valve and filter to regulate outflow. Gravity will pull water from the springboxes through a special type of high-density PVC piping buried in trenches to villages below. The piping, which comes in flexible segments of 100 meters, has a lifespan of 40 years if properly insulated in trenches (optimally 30-50 cm deep). Where piping cannot be buried due to steep or rocky terrain, it will be “buried” or insulated above ground with rocks and earth, or else galvanized (GI) iron piping will be used.
Reservoirs above villages create not only sufficient water pressure for flow to taps, but allow for the replenishment of an adequate daily supply of water as water continually arriving from springs fill them each night. The reservoirs will likely be either rectangular or circular in shape, and vary in capacity from 20-30 tons of water, and like the springboxes be built into excavated earth, out of stone masonry coated with cement. They will also include drainage, overflow, and outflow pipes, with valves outside to regulate the latter and a door located in the roof to which they can be entered for servicing. Roofs will be built using a local technique called koubba, which requires very little if any rebar, but is just as strong and significantly cuts costs. The distribution system from the reservoir will use the same high-density PVC piping, but in various sizes and diameters to equalize water pressure between branches leading to different taps. Tapstands will use durable faucets, and their concrete construction will include basins to facilitate water collection and washing, if water supply is sufficient for the latter. Drains will lead water away from tapstand areas for sanitation purposes to areas where it can be used to irrigate fields or gardens.
The utilization of local building techniques, knowledge, and resources, should make respective projects cost-effective to implement and sustainable in terms of maintenance, as was the case with the Tifnoute villages, where systems remain fully operational. Locals will not only be expected to operate and maintain systems afterwards, but will be heavily involved during their planning and construction. Mualims, or local skilled laborers with some experience in building water systems will be chosen by participating villages to direct the construction efforts in which they will work. The mualims will be compensated for their work by either village associations or jema’as, which will ensure the quality of and timeliness of work, and be responsible for mobilizing laborers and local resources such as rocks, sand and gravel on a daily basis. Local contributions, then, will comprise of all labor, the supervision and payment of skilled labor, the supply of all local materials (sand, rocks, and gravel), and provide for the transportation of outside materials from local points to villages by truck or mule. Outside material contributions will include all construction materials (cement, rebar, piping, and plumbing parts) as well as their transportation from Marrakech to the villages in the Toubkal High Atlas Mountains.
Coming of Age in Tassa Ouirgane
By Mark Apel, USAID Farmer to Farmer and HAF Volunteer
From 1985 until 1986, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer living in the Azzeden Valley working for the country’s Eaux et Forets (Water and Forests) Service to study and inventory what might’ve been some of Morocco’s last herds of wild Barbary Sheep. These wild sheep lived on a 2000 hectare mountain reserve in Toubkal National Park, just across the Azzeden river from the little village of Tassa Ouirgane. It was from this little village that my Eaux et Forets counterpart, Omar, and I would take our excursions into the reserve to document the presence and movement of these animals. Sadly today, the Barbary Sheep no longer inhabit the reserve, and according to villagers’ accounts, they moved up higher into the mountains to escape the influence of humans. But of course, the people of Tassa Ouirgane are still there and trying to eek a living out of a river bottom that was changed by a dramatic flood in 1995 and climate change. Hectares of land that were farmed for generations were washed away in the deluge.
Today, farmers along the river valley can no longer depend on the snowmelt and water that flowed out of the mountains to irrigate their fruit and nut trees. This is especially true in the months of June, July and August when barely a trickle flows down their irrigation canals. Conversely, when it rains, it pours. Any attempts to rebuild their garden terraces in the river bottom are frustrated by lower grade floods. Nonetheless, the people of Tassa Ouirgane are resilient and never fail to open their homes to strangers. There is a deep, abiding compassion in this village for the future of their people as demonstrated by a group of men known as the Tassa Ouirgane Association for the Environment and Culture. In addition, there is a women’s cooperative that was formed with the help of the High Atlas Foundation to help the young women of the village improve their income through the sale of handicrafts. The participatory approach has become the bedrock of the High Atlas Foundation to help communities decide for themselves what their priorities are. This approach was used in 2012 by the Foundation with the residents of Tassa Ouirgane to help them determine where their greatest needs lie, and improving their water infrastructure to irrigate their trees has become paramount. This year, in April of 2017, it was a happy reunion for me as a HAF and Farmer to Farmer Volunteer to return to Tassa Ouirgane and meet with the men’s association that I met with last year as a volunteer. Of course, the stories about my earlier Peace Corps days in this village back in the 80’s were always fun to recount, as I was the first American volunteer to have worked there and in the Park, with many others to follow. Somehow, 30 years later, the tales of my yellow motorcycle and other antics always seem to enter the conversations to the delight of everyone, as we sat around drinking tea and eating lunch at the house of Raiss Si Mohammed Idhna, president of the men’s association. Even though many of these men were small boys back in the mid-80’s, they laughed with the old-timers as if it was just yesterday that I had worked there.
The Raiss’s house is situated on the hill with a spectacular view of the park and the Azzeden River Valley – a view that I never grow tired of seeing. I had an auspicious reason for visiting this group again. Last year, as a HAF volunteer, I assisted with a grant proposal to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that was awarded just this year in the amount of $48,000. This will go a long way to helping the village fulfill its vision for improved irrigation, flood and erosion control, a new well, solar pump and water storage for the dry times of the year, and lastly, the hallmark of any HAF project, a tree nursery. Tassa Ouirgane already grows a variety of fruits and nuts including olives, walnuts, peaches and plums. However, most of these trees belong to individuals. The goal of HAF is to help rural villages like this one start a community-based tree nursery where they will grow seedlings that will then be distributed to farmers in the valley who don’t have any fruit or nut trees. Through this UNDP grant, Tassa Ouirgane has the opportunity to become an example of community-based development that is truly in the hands of the community. While here, we had the chance to introduce the village to the Director of Projects for UNDP Morocco, Ms. Badia Sahmy to the association and discuss the goals and details of the project that her office is so generously funding through HAF.
It was interesting to hear the spectrum of ideas behind the grant. For the men’s association, they are finally going to have the opportunity to have the infrastructure they’ve needed to sustain their trees through the dry seasons. For the UNDP, they see this as an opportunity for the village to serve as a model for community resilience once all the pieces are in place. HAF is perfectly positioned to help make both of these views a reality. To kick-start this project, intern Jan Thibaud from Belgium will be spending two months living in Tassa Ouirgane and surveying the other villages in the valley for their potential to start HAF nurseries. Jan is the same age I was when I first arrived in Tassa Ouirgane over 33 years ago as a young man. He will be working with the same sense of commitment and dedication to such a beautiful place and wonderful people. I’m proud to be able to pass along the torch, so to speak, after all these years. There have been many positive changes since I left – electricity, girls going to school, better roads. I am heartened to know that finally Tassa Ourigane will get a much needed boost in its quest to be more resilient in the face of climate change, to grow more fruit trees and hopefully, to empower its residents.
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