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Empowering Women for Democratic Participation

by High Atlas Foundation
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Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation
Empowering Women for Democratic Participation

We have learned so far what we seek and practice: that ingenuity, faster responsiveness, and tailored solutions are driven by communities and leaders more directly around us; and that absolutely essential material and informational support come from national initiatives and leaders and global experience. An amalgamation of people empowered to act with broad societal upliftment – therein lies sustainability, and survivability.

HAF staff is working full-steam, at home, to take care of themselves and families, and for Moroccan people’s own sustainability, to help reverse the wave of troubles we all see ahead. Farmers in their own fields are planting still, and rural women in full adherence with required safety and hygienic protocols, are producing in their homes dried food to enhance their own and others’ food security.

We wish everyone the best in taking care of themselves and each other, in meeting the full needs of the personal and communal, in orchestrating the unity of the bottom and top, and loving all and one – as always.

We will post updates, when commensurate with this time.

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At the High Atlas Foundation with our community partners, we learned together that empowered people have self-belief, experienced depths of self-discovery, and have capacities and confidence to assess and then make decisions. Empowered people forge and implement plans of actions for development that is considerate of a range of social and environmental factors, inclusive of all interested people and sectors, and is sustainable.

For years, we believed and acted accordingly, that if only the historically-denied and controlled groups of humanity were integrated into decision-making processes that impact upon their lives, then outcomes will be fair and equitable. However, what we learned was that first assisting people as they heighten their own liberation, and understanding of relationships and conditions that may hold them back, is a necessary predecessor so that they can make their best decisions. At HAF, communities first envision, affirm, and know their recourses before planning and creating the projects to uplift their families and regions.

Our everlasting gratitude is to the nearly 700 women in 10 provinces who participated in one of the 24 workshops of four-days each, to catalyse their being agencies of change. Cooperatives developed, girls returned to school, familial harmony rose, and greater financial independence was achieved.

On this day, we call out to all potentially interested partners and all desiring participants to further embark with us on this empowered life course.

Our deep gratitude extends to the nation of Morocco that has built the policy, legal, and reform frameworks for launching and supporting greater freedoms for the benefit of women and girls. It is upon all of us to help ensure fulfilment in participation, especially in regards to rural girls’ education, particularly secondary and high schools and universities being of upmost importance.

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A parade of landscapes so beautiful and amazing at the same time: it's hard to believe that the city of Marrakech is nearby. My young, Western eye is astonished by the contrast between our noisy, oil-smelling taxi and the four women with their donkey that we pass on a very narrow path. In a funny paradox, even on this empty road, the driver uses his blinker, and in the middle of the mountains stands a football field.

I am attending my first tree planting: I’m almost overcome with emotion. Amina and the farmers discuss future projects that High Atlas Foundation (HAF) might consider with them if the trees planted today grow well. If they do, it will allow many new trees. Amina insists on the importance of education. Indeed, in the village, the school has only existed since 2000. Nevertheless, it’s important for children to get their fill of knowledge.

HAF distributed only organic fruits trees (almond, olive, fig, and carob). Then, we shared breakfast with villager members. All the products are homemade: bread, butter, honey, eggs…

The way back offered me another point of view, for despite all this greenery, the vegetation and all its ecosystem coexist with a plethora of plastic waste.

In the middle of the mountains, some summits are snow-capped, which seems unbelievable. We are with several women, including Malika, the president of this cooperative created in June 2019. This cooperative started with one woman and has grown to eleven. They produce different types of couscous, cookies and spices: organic and natural products. It is pleasant to be surrounded by women as smiling as they are beautiful, cheerfully offering us mint tea and baghrir (olive oil pancakes). The group told Amina about what they need to continue their activity: new packaging, a headquarters to promote their products, a place to breed more bees, and more tools for irrigation. They would like to see other cooperatives in other villages. For them, work is synonymous with independence, empowerment. But this thirst for a new kind of life is not always well-received, which can make it difficult to get started.

After this, we went with Malika to meet another group of five women in the village of Anamer. Discussions are held in Tamazight, the local language. There is disagreement between the group and Amina. For them, the carpets don’t sell fast enough because of a marketing problem; Amina says that they need more training because their carpets are not of a “professional” enough quality. Moreover, they idealize the role of the president of the cooperative, which makes voting complicated. Amina explained to them that the president doesn’t hold the “absolute power” and that she is not the only one who can make the cooperative succeed.

Later, we travel to Sidi Ali Afaress, a small village in the High Atlas. Five thousand fruit trees have already been planted there: carob, olive, almonds and also cypress because they protect the lands from bad weather. The next week, a thousand trees will be planted. These farmers have an iron will. We also met about 20 women of the village. They discussed with Amina what they are able to make for sale: cookies, almonds, honey, vinegar, carpets or jam. The discussions were promising: we’ll see what happens.

It’s time for us to come back in Marrakech. What an enriching day!

To conclude this first field trip day, I would say that I observed the combination of the three pillars of the sustainable development: economic, ecological and social. The farmers who are in charge of the growth of the trees see it as an economical advantage because the fruits produced give them income – which means a long-term vision that stands against the notion of “profit at any price.” The more trees grow, the more land is shaded by foliage and the more oxygen is produced. Moreover, no chemical products are used. Equally important, farmers are protected from unemployment.

It’s the same for the women’s cooperatives: working gives them independence, income, and a reason to get up in the morning; the products are natural and healthy. Yet, it’s not that simple. It’s through school that girl empowerment begins. Thanks to education, they will be able to emancipate themselves. To face up to this problem, it’s important to understand why their daughters don’t go to school. Indeed, the educational infrastructures sometimes do not provide bathrooms for girls, or they need more beds at dormitories, and parents with income for transportation. These are some of the different issues to which solutions must be found.

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Down to the village of Anougal, on February 11th, the Farmer-to-Farmer team visited this women’s cooperative for the first time.

On this sunny day, a dirt road is leading us to the small village of Anougal. Olive trees, mountains, rocky constructions and dry rivers are the daily environment of the inhabitants. We are welcomed by the smiling and beautiful women who created the cooperative.

The twenty-women cooperative of Tifaouine Angale produces apple vinegar out of the smallest and unsellable apples they harvest. The others are sold in their original form. In addition to that existing production, the cooperative wants to make other products out of apples and that is why HAF is visiting them.

During this day, we are kindly invited for breakfast and sugary mint tea before a visit of the production process infrastructure of the apple vinegar. I am surprised about how dedicated and professional the cooperative is: everything is clean, organized, and each member of the cooperative knows what to do. In the building, a light apple smell follows us while we are taking a look at the tanks and presses. Our questions dealing with their daily routine or the process of making apple vinegar are answered.

This human-sized cooperative is located in an idyllic plateau in the middle of the mountains in a remote location that makes the work of these women even more meaningful.

From my personal point of view, the discovery of a cooperative dealing with apples was a first experience even though I come from an apple-producing region called Normandy. I was familiar with the culture of apples since I grew up in the countryside surrounded with apple trees and cider production. Here in the Anougal village, the cooperative is becoming the economic center, and it is noteworthy that this project is carried by women. This a wonderful step forward for women’s autonomy in rural villages.

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At 8:30 on the morning of 5 February 2020, I met with High Atlas Foundation (HAF) staff member Amina and French volunteer Julie at the HAF headquarters; from there we took our backpacks full of notes, pens and sheets and walked for a couple of minutes, in order to get a cab towards a place in the Medina called Arset el Maach. We arrived in an area very dense with people trying to leave the city of Marrakech. Here we secured a larger vehicle with room for six to take us to Laagrab. On the way there, I noticed the shining sun and the crowded roadway, people hustling to go to work or to school by bike, car, bus, or on foot; all in all it was a good start to the day.

Shortly after 11:00, we arrived in Laagrab to meet Abdel-Jalil, with whom we shook hands and went off to our first planting site, following is old Mercedes. The road to Chaabat Talat Momoun in Ghmat Commune was full of curves and hills; despite my fears, we arrived safely at our venue and met with more men. The association’s well-educated president Abdel-Karim seems glad of the partnership with HAF and strengthened by his resilience to continue the work and seek knowledge for himself and his community.

Touring the site of the planned carob nursery, we saw magical views of the mountains up the hills and the trees that lie inside the deep forest. It was magnificent and a delight to be standing in front of that sight among HAF’s team. Abdel-Karim and his friends Karim and Hassan showed us the land where they are going to grow the carob trees. At this point, Julie and I were excited to join his staff in covering the carob seeds with dirt.

Before departing, Amina talked about how the HAF will cooperate with those farmers to plant 1,450 carob trees in the near future amidst almonds, walnuts, and many more. The farmers were overjoyed at this news because they have a strong desire to work with HAF, and they promised some very good cooperation in the future in order to bring bliss and contentment to their village and help many farmers grow these trees to earn a living.

The farmers were euphoric by the end of the planting, and thus Abdel-Karim honored us with a very special breakfast: butter, honey, cocoa, water and some tea. At the same time, we spoke about the influence of being illiterate in the rural areas, how planting trees changes some people’s vision about villages, how nowadays they want their girls to continue their academic careers, but the most important thing was bringing up how much they want to work with HAF to help them fund additional equipment and learn better irrigation methods. HAF staff matched their excitement about the partnership, eager to work with these ambitious men in the future to help promote human development.

The road to the next stop, Ourika, was less treacherous and lit by the sun, so on the way to the village we saw camels, people who sell their traditional work by the roadside, and some tourists taking pictures and purchasing souvenirs. Julie was taking pictures during the whole, sensational trip.

After an hour drive, we arrived at the site. Climbing rocks in the mountains, we met some women, including the village association president, Malika, and her associate secretary, Fatiha, who welcomed us and introduced us to the other eleven women. This association in fact was created by HAF in June 2019, and, after learning the craft, they took their degrees to manage this association four months later, calling it “The Participatory Approach with Cooperative Women and Women of Jaaman Atamar.” This cooperative decided at that time to make some cereal, caramel, and medicinal herbs local to their region. While they found it hard at first, step by step they learned the ropes of this craft and started working and also making couscous with different spices. Malika said, “We are very much content and there’s a lot of progress. Therefore, we now find it easy to make new crafts, plus we try to move forward and promote the association to the other villages and communities because it be very helpful to us.”

Clearly, it is a very small structure at the top of the mountain, but they are very satisfied.  Moreover, I asked Malika whether the number of her staff is enough, and she confirmed that it is, saying, “These women are happy.” During this discussion, they served tea, black olives, bread, boiled eggs and Badger. They were very welcoming and engaging, their words translated for us from Tamazight, keeping the HAF staff very busy.

Amina requested that the women think of any suggestions in order to promote their association, for HAF works with both men and women for the greater good of the communities – and these women seem resilient, hardworking and very reliable. We learned that many of the issues that women face are

  1. how to promote their products and deal with the customers;
  2. an insufficient stock of production equipment and packaging;
  3. insufficient space for beekeeping to cultivate more honey; and
  4. limited water to grow aromatic and medicinal herbs.

In addition, the women find themselves at a crossroads where they need a headquarters to manage their business and training in how to deal with their clients and boost their products for themselves, their families and their communities. At the end, the women served us a very delicious tajine with potatoes and olives. There were hugs and kisses before we left, and we wished them the best before departing.

Our next site was a mere five-minute drive to Sidi Ali Afaress, where they plant diverse trees, such as: almonds, olives, carob, and pomegranate. HAF’s dream is to plant 6,000 trees in this village to spare this commune from poverty and provide drinkable water.

In conclusion, Imane stated at the end of this noteworthy day:

“This association is HAF’s number one; the farmers are extremely active, collaborative, on time, resilient, and determined to drive this association forward. They desire more trees from HAF, and we will supply even more to this village because it has earned extra support and assistance to recognize their marked advance and evolution. I’m immensely blissful.”

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @haffdtn
Project Leader:
Fatima Zahra Laaribi
Marrakech, Morocco
$26,634 raised of $50,000 goal
75 donations
$23,366 to go
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