Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting

by High Atlas Foundation
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Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting
Multicultural Cooperation for Fruit Tree Planting

Anamer and Aghbalou may seem to be two typical villages in the mountainous Al Haouz province of Morocco, but they embody exceptional efforts of participatory development led by the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), local communities, and the High Commission of Waters and Forests. As HAF Interns, we were delighted to come across their path and unveil the dynamic and fruitful relationship these parties came together to create. We organized a focus group that spearheaded conversations on effectiveness and cooperation between all involved parties.

It is crucial to draw special attention to the pursuit of new development opportunities for communities. The two villages represent the results of joint efforts to achieve sustainable development by adopting alternative methods that consist of coordinating various modes of production to achieve a green economy. In their case, the two villages were fully aware of their ordeals rooted in poverty conditions and efficiently tackled their needs by identifying key elements enabling the betterment of their economic conditions.

It is critical to highlight the partnership with the High Commission of Waters and Forests because it acts as a catalyst for other villages to embrace similar approaches to sustainability.  With HAF’s facilitation, the Marrakech Regional Department of Waters and Forests granted them the right to plant thousands of organic and highly lucrative carob trees on public domain mountainsides surrounding their communities.  The consulting, planning, partnership-building, and implementing involved inspired the local people to redefine for themselves what is possible and opened a gateway for them to achieve new possibilities.

After surveying both men and women in Anamer and Aghbalou, the most striking aspect of our encounter was the villagers’ willingness to challenge traditional mindsets and progress forward. This commitment to development takes shape in the form of education and access to information, resulting in a community that is fully aware of its needs and its remedies.

In this case, the establishment of a textile cooperative in Anamer and a honey-production cooperation in Aghbalou would enable the creation of revenue; thus, animating a sense of economic diversity and growth. The formation of these efforts would also enhance and encourage capacity building, innovation enactment, and, finally, the implementation of a replicable sustainability model.

Give to tree planting through partnership.

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An embodiment of Morocco’s integrated development approach is its way to preserve its diverse cultures.  Morocco’s vision is that cultural activities should be advanced in integration with people’s development.  King Mohammed VI described in 2008: “That vision consists in making sure culture serves as a driving force for development as well as a bridge for dialogue.”  HAF’s cultural projects critically move forward human development, in education, livelihoods, the environment, and with people in remote places.

 HOUSE OF LIFE is an innovative agricultural initiative whose implications are broad and set in the specific context of Moroccan human development needs and cultural history. The model thus created could be replicated throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and beyond. The term HOUSE OF LIFE denotes a traditional name for a Jewish cemetery.  It was therefore particularly appropriate for the former Governor of the Al Haouz Province, to employ the phrase in respect of the project, led by HAF in Morocco and endorsed by the Clinton Global Initiative. The uniqueness of the scheme lies in its intercultural aspect.  HOUSE OF LIFE facilitates the free loan of land adjoining Jewish burial sites, in order to establish organic tree and medicinal nurseries for the benefit of farming communities.

Pluralistic Moroccan Human and Agricultural Development: The goal of the project is to plant the two million seeds on land lent by the Moroccan Jewish Community and implement the agricultural value-chain, including the export of organic certified product to the United States and European Union.  HAF proposes to grow two million seeds in four nurseries in three provinces, transplant them to orchards and schools in the twelve regions of Morocco, certify organic in three municipalities, monitor carbon offsets, and provide training with the community and cooperative members.  

 In 2014, the HAF pilot nursery on Jewish communal land was established at Akrich, located on the northern side of the High Atlas in Al Haouz province, around 25 kilometers south of Marrakech, at the site of the 700-year-old tomb of a Jewish healer. Since that time, we planted 150,000 almond, fig, pomegranate, and lemon seeds which have reached maturity and now are maintained by about 1,000 farmers and 130 schools.  The project was funded by longtime friends and GlobalGiving supporters of HAF, and the Lodestar Foundation.

 In 2016, the first trees from the pilot were handed to local children and farmers by the Governor joined by the United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco.  Earlier, the Ambassador hosted a reception for House of Life at his residence in Rabat, at which Advisor to the King, and former Peace Corps Director in Morocco (and current HAF Board Member),  addressed the audience.

 Having started during the holy month of Ramadan 2017, HAF is hosting a series of community meetings in the Mellah neighborhood of Marrakech to prioritize local needs and establish a path for a sustainable future. In coordination with the Association Mimouna, Jewish Community of Marrakech, Region of Marrakech-Safi and the Marrakech Beladiya, HAF hosted a series of traditional Moroccan breaks of fast with the local community in order to foster participatory development action. Immediately following these interfaith meals at the Slat Lazama synagogue, local residents and organization leaders developed plans to achieve new projects - in clean drinking water, education, and building revitalization.

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Morocco is a place of infinite possibility.  That is so because of Morocco, its multicultural people, and its identity.  People’s participation in their development can occur in all its places, because it is encouraged - even obligatory - by multiple laws and programs of the land.

 

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) creates project and partnership models that make national impact absolutely real.  We create the public, private, and multi-tiered relationships and project examples that engine national transformation.  Incredibly, Morocco’s full success of its participatory, decentralized development vision carries profound meaning for itself, the Continent, and the Middle East.  We are dedicated to Morocco fulfilling its global potential from its own national sustainable development.

 

HAF empowers women through their self-discovery, community-driven livelihoods, and knowledge of human rights.  HAF builds the power of youth through sharpening their abilities to create sustainable community and personal growth.  HAF brightens schools with new classrooms, gardens, and interactive environmental education.  HAF brings clean drinking waterto marginalized communities.  HAF vastly expands the organic agricultural economy, and helps direct the new revenue to advance the people’s development. 

 

HAF’s partnerships with cooperatives and associations, government, and religious communities is seeing millions of fruit trees being grown and hundreds of millions more possible.  The planting season is now and we plant trees such as walnut, carob, and others that live for centuries.  We also monitor tree growth for carbon credit offsets.  We would be honored and grateful to provide you these credits.

 

Giving to HAF is giving to personal and national transformation, and to the international consequences of Morocco a truly fulfilled participatory nation.

 

It is a New Year celebrated by much of our planet.  Here is to all our resolutions of the heart.  Here is to Morocco and to all who strive for its complete potential.

 

Yours faithfully,

 

Yossef Ben-Meir

President

High Atlas Foundation

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Through her internship in Morocco, the writer has been inspired to think differently about interfaith relationships. This article presents this experience and highlights the lack of global perspectives of those living in the midst of a conflict.

 

From the first day I landed in Morocco for my internship, I have learned more than I had expected from Moroccan society and the Moroccan people, primarily regarding the coexistence between the Muslim and the Jewish communities. In this experience, especially in Marrakech, I have been able to contrast the Moroccan experience with my own in Jerusalem.

As a Muslim, the Palestinian woman from Jerusalem, I am used to daily interaction with the Jewish Community whether in school, work or business, and I understand well how both communities feel about the other in our country. Emotions on both sides are very intense, and deeply connected to politics, which ruin the social, economic, and religious realities for everyone living in the city. Jewish and Palestinian kids are educated on different historical narratives and learn from their societies to react to the other community mostly with hate and fear. As the other side is so demonized and clearly seen as the enemy, violence and destruction are legitimized as an action to defend your people. Although there are still people who believe in peace and coexistence, it is very hard to act according to these ideals when confronting the political situation, which seems to get worse every day, as both sides continue to disrespect each other.

I have discovered that Jewish-Muslim community relations are not the same in Morocco. In the High Atlas Foundation, the local NGO in which I interned throughout my studies at Glocal, I encountered different moments that showed how beautiful it can be to forget the religion of those around you and just to see them as humans. I was also inspired by the CEO of the foundation, Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, a Jew who moved to Morocco twenty years ago, especially in his work with human development projects, which target Moroccan communities across the country, focusing on those who live in rural areas.

One of the foundation projects is planting trees for carbon dioxide sequestering. Thus, I was offered a trip to one of the sites planted earlier in the year in order to visit the site. When I arrived, I noticed that the site happened to be a Jewish cemetery, located in Akrich, 25 kilometers from Marrakech. Immediately, I felt a range of emotions visiting the cemetery.  Firstly, it felt familiar, coming across Hebrew, a language I speak from home. Secondly, I was really happy to see a Muslim man taking care of a Jewish cemetery and knowing its history perfectly, while remembering that in other places, particularly in Palestine/Israel, religious sanctuaries are generally looked after exclusively by members of the same faith. I was also struck by the fact that the Jewish community donated this cemetery, among other cemeteries, for the benefit of local Moroccan farmers to use the land for growing trees, such as pomegranate, figs, and olives, which are symbolic for both Muslim and Jewish religions. Furthermore, I was surprised to learn that the Akrich cemetery contains a seven-hundred-year-old shrine of Rabbi Raphael Hacohen, venerated as a miracle worker in ancient Moroccan tradition, and is visited by both Muslims and Jews, who celebrate together at this place.

After the visit, I compared our reality in Palestine and the one in Morocco. The difference was significant as while in Morocco both faiths are collaborating for preserving the cemeteries, in our country both Israelis and Palestinians invest in destroying each other’s history, by harming historical monuments and religious places and by disrupting religious holiday celebrations.

Furthermore, specifically, in Palestine/Israel, religious cemeteries are not treated with the same respect as in Morocco. For example, the Muslim burial ground, Ma’man Allah (Mammilla) in Jerusalem, which is believed to be the oldest Muslim burial site in the city, dating back to the 7th century, has been under threat of destruction from the Israeli government for decades. Although it is believed that the companions of Prophet Muhammad were buried there, as well as soldiers and officials from the Saladin conquest or leading nobles from the Husseini and Dajani families, Israeli officials converted the cemetery into a public park,  named the “Independence Park”, after 1948, marking Israel’s victory in the war. In this process, the graveyard was disturbed, including the disrespectful actions of opening graves or moving remains of bodies.

Furthermore, in 1970, a school was built in a section of the cemetery, and in 1986, UNESCO dropped investigations after Israel promised that “no project exists for the deconsecration of the site,” and that “its tombs are to be safeguarded". However, in 2008, Jerusalem families, together with the Northern Islamic Movement, failed to persuade the Supreme Court to stop the construction of the “Museum of Tolerance”, which is expected to open in 2017 on the same land.

In a journalistic investigation by Haaretz,, workers on the site revealed that in preparation for the construction in 2011, excavated skulls and bones were stuffed into cardboard boxes. Moreover, over the years, the cemetery was disrupted for luxury developments such as hotels, restaurants, museums, shops and other Israeli building projects that can now be seen at the site. It is clear by Gideon Suleimani, an Israeli archaeologist who worked on the Museum of Tolerance excavations, that “The policy is to dismantle what is left of Islamic heritage in Jerusalem piece by piece, to clear the area and make it Jewish.”

This is not the only example. In August 2015, the Bab Al-Rahmeh cemetery, dating back to the 8th century, and located outside Jerusalem’s old city walls close to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, was fenced by the Israeli authority. Although it is still used by Muslims, it will be confiscated in the near future. The feeling contributes to the general fear of Palestinians that their history and religious sites are threatened by the Israeli government, which does not honor them.

I question why this cemetery was chosen for the park. Was it impossible to establish the park or the museum in a location other than the cemetery where Muslim soldiers and heroes were buried? It makes me sad to see that Palestine/Israel, which is considered to be the sacred place of the three major world religions, lack mutual respect that can be seen in Morocco. Instead, the Palestinians and Israelis let politics and conflict regarding land disputes be mixed with religion while destroying other aspects of life or opportunities for interfaith partnerships. Instead of raising the next generation on hate and fear, I only wish that the model I have seen through my internship in Morocco can be replicated in Palestine/Israel, in peace, and with greater respect.

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The Azzaden Valley is part of the El Houz region, 70 km south of Marrakech. It is near the Toubkhal national park, which is developed towards tourists. In contrast, the nine villages of the Azzaden Valley are nearly off the beaten tourist track, which is beautiful. We found the Moroccan spirit that you won't find in Marrakech, but rather in the mountains! Nevertheless, the people suffer from fundamental problems like water scarcity, lack of edu cation, medical treatment and transportation. 

 

One may assume that they have lost hope,but on the contrary, they are the most friendly, hospitable and jolly people altogether! It seems as if the inhabitants of Azzaden Valley live on another planet, one with peace and harmony. When you see the women with cows, sheep, goats wandering down the dry river and next to them, the children of all ages walking around with black lips from the blackberries, searching for medicinal plants, your heart will open! They live with no worries except the struggle for animals and trees, because everyone is a farmer,and support themselves. There is a lot of work to be done, like repairing the waterways, watering (also with pesticides), tying up and harvesting the trees, eating, sleeping and discussing, but nobody is left alone; teamwork is always in order! That is the world of the men as the women are almost completely separated; they don't work on the fields, but take care for the children and the animals, collect food for the animals, wood to cook, and also herbs for the traditional tea. Moreover, they cook and fetch water from the spring as housework. They even eat in the kitchen and not with the guests or men (besides a few exceptions)! 

We were honored to take part in both areas: First of all we had to learn to "fee a tai", the traditional way of pouring in the tea (which is made of a lot of sugar, some green leaves, healing plants that smell very very delicious and grow everywhere like weeds and then some more sugar). There is an equivalent of sweetened coffee, something like a confectionary, but the tea is sipped all day long, at least 4 times a day! The ceremony looks like this: The first three cups are poured back before the first gulp is tasted. If it tastes like sugar you say "imim" and go on with pouring the other cups. But one need a lot of skill and craft to not lose a drop when pouring back, even more to fulfill the task with enough drive and height for a nice arc. It's more or less all about the height because the aim of the ceremony is a gorgeous white bubbling foam that is achieved by lifting the teapot higher and higher while pouring in. 

We tried over and over until Maurice brought it to perfection! The next thing we dedicated ourselves to was the secret of making the traditional bread "arm". The woman of our host Ibrahim showed us how she used to bake it. At this point we needed to learn some words about our accommodation, a gîte d'étape in Tiziane, but we were more like members of the family with a lot of free space. This included a terrace where we could spend a wonderful night under the starshine, only the Milky Way above us, the moon shining and a falling star crossing the sky in front of our eyes. All our wishes were devoted to the valley and to the best of the people who so kindly took us into their rows. We neither felt like strangers, nor as tourists, but as friends, as insiders:D We owe that to Ibrahim who always made us feel comfortable! We were allowed to eat at his home dozens of delicious meals from daily tajine with bread, olives, self made butter, jam, chocolate, diverse fruits over Couscous and lenses to noodles and rice with milk. We had at least 4 meals every day; breakfast (at 11 am because we slept a lot), lunch (at 3 pm), a snack (at 9 pm) and dinner (at 11 pm). Furthermore, we got a lot of extra meals due to our trips around the villages of the valley where the hospitality had no end. When days passed, also the women who normally ate alone in the kitchen joined some meals. The youngest one taught us how to speak Berber and how to dance "afus-afus". It just was a pity that the television was their single amusement! We failed to give the children an understanding of the card game UNO, instead we had even more fun with kicking around a plain basket without touching the ground until one of the girl fell of her chair laughing! The mother laughed at her as well. We felt as snug as a bug in a rug!

Back to the bread: The wife of Ibrahim took us to the kitchen where she had prepared everything. In the bottom of a tajine she mixed warm water with sugar and yeast. Then she added flour and more water with one drop of oil. These were all the ingredients, now it came to the practical application. The dough needed to be literally grabbed, we dug our fingers into the gloop like children and splashed about with childish glee. After it got more tightly it was rolled smoothly from one side to the other until pieces could be teared off which were formed to balls. Each of the balls got with the right technic to a bread. After an hour it was baked in a clay oven directly next to the fire.

Sounds like we did only women's  work? Not at all, most of the time we hiked around to visit the different villages to gain knowledge and personal sight on the problems and needs of the communities and the rest of the time we helped Ibrahim with his work. Well that's not the whole story: We struggled a lot with completing a chess set out of wood...with 2 knives and 1 saw we carved all 32 figures just for fun between the work.

The work we did: 

  1.  Watering apple trees

Sounds easy, but the waterway was handmade out of mud and constantly needed to be repaired. More problematic was the condition of the pipes because of the uncountable holes that needed to be taped with plastic pieces. A big amount of our time was spent  laughing, sitting in the sun and enjoying the amazing view over the mountain range, drinking tea as well as having lunch. Another aspect one should know, that if there is work to do, the farmers decide when and how long they want to work, after all after today is tomorrow where you can do the rest. That's the way of thinking, the way of living: Do what you have to do as long as you want. Eat when you're hungry, sleep when you're sleepy, enjoy what you have. If everybody was living this way...

  1.  Watering trees

Not the same at all! Before, we were in the mountain, now we acted in the flatland. The genius construction of watering bases on wholes around the trees so that the thirsty soil won't take the water away too fast before the trees got enough (the trees never ever get enough water but like this they survive). Therefor we hacked a deepening around the trees. Maurice' effort was honored by blisters all over his hands and Jana's attempts ended up with children in her arms. All in all very successful, wasn't it! At least a great experience of a farmer's life.

  1.  Tying up trees

Climbing on apple trees fits better as a description of what we did or were supposed to do. In fact Ibrahim's son replaced us after the first tree. We started to collect all the rosy apples that fell down while the action. Rapidly, we had too much to carry by ourselves and cleared off with the apples. We only left behind an arrow made of old apples we found underneath the trees. The issue reveals in the huge amount of bad apples that cover the ground. Still, we made our way back collecting wood to boil the fallen apples to purée. We thought that would be a good use instead of letting them rotten. Unfortunately, it took far too much time, required too many resources and wasn't the highlight in its result. For us it felt very ancient to cook on a clay oven with gathered wood from nearby, sitting on the ground with no light except the fire and the children around who joined us.

  1.  Gathering information

The hardest part! It combined hiking (one village took us one and a half hour to get there) with a lot of body language to deal with (and a lot of tea and food of course). The difficulty looked like this: The inhabitants spoke Berber, Darijap and Arabic. We on the contrary speak German, English and French. Nevertheless we got along; we just watched wherever something came into view, touched and tested it afterwards. An example: We caught eye of some farmers who didn't water the trunk but the leaves. So we took it ourselves (it smelled strange), afterwards we wanted to try some apples but weren't allowed to. The gesture was hand over throat and the tongue outside. Any guess what that means? 

In many cases we just visited the beautiful agricultural plantations, ate a lot of fruits (apples, plums, walnuts, passion fruits, prickly pears), scribbled down the needs the inhabitants could communicate with finger pointing (mostly about lack of water and destroyed water paths) and admired the big tomatoes, potatoes, onions, zucchinis, beans, hot peppers and other stuff we weren't accustomed with but looked like grown out of nothing (in one village it wasn't some vegetable that astounded us most but a 113 year old guy, sitting in the corner still alive!!). To our luck we discovered two English speaking people who could answer some of our questions. However, looking, taking pictures and walking around was the best strategy! 

We really saw a lot! Accidentally even the cemetery (a normal house) with all the dead people laying under blankets. We saw schools, painted kindergartens, mosques, Hammams, children jumping into brown water basins, future olive oil production, ...

Last but not least we experienced the seldom honor of taking part in a traditional dance with a traditional band and customs! Than, we really felt acquainted, when after ten days our adventures ended. Just one last adventure waited for us on the next morning! We had to get up at 5 am, took all our luggage to the road and waited for the truck to take us back to Marrakech. A Christmas train appeared out of the dark, bright front lights that blinded us, red lights on both sides rattling directly towards us. The best end for such an adventure; a truck full of boxes with apples, goats, luggage and people crowded together on the loading space. Vehicle documents that were passed from an approaching truck on our way and a winding road that was more a hiking path than anything else, everything rumpling upside down. That was fun! 

That was amazing!

That was unique!

Thanks to HAF which enabled us to go there and even more thanks and cheers to Ibrahim who let all the experiences come true! 

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Yossef Ben-Meir
President of the High Atlas Foundation
New York City and Marrakech, Morocco
$15,930 raised of $28,000 goal
 
308 donations
$12,070 to go
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