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
High Atlas Foundation facilitates a women's IMAGIN
High Atlas Foundation facilitates a women's IMAGIN

Deep relationships maintained over time and a global scope at a local scale characterize the participatory approach to development. Methods grouped under the umbrella of participation vary widely, and are formed by diverse influences, such as culture, climate, the individual in a community, and a community within the global arena. Perhaps chief among these is Belief: inclusive of both self actualization through economic empowerment, and systems of belief that shape our worldviews and guide our actions. As development practitioners in Morocco, The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) works to develop methods that harmoniously bridge these influences.

What is the participatory approach to global development?

Community development builds the capacity to manage shared objectives and pursues self reliance. Its scope is multidimensional, covering economic, social, political, and environmental objectives, so that communities can profit as much as possible from a single initiative. The method of getting there is the participatory approach — group dialogue and consensus-building, communicating through visual and accessible diagramming, and ultimately planning projects that communities themselves identify and therefore own.

The participatory approach is a tool that not only can, but must be adapted and retrofitted to suit belief systems. It is not a one-size-fits-all standard procedure, but rather a set of strategies for extracting ideas and achieving consensus built on deep relationships and trust. When a planned initiative is interpreted through a lens of culture, participatory efforts dramatically improve chances of success and present equally enormous learning opportunities for both sides of the development relationship.

How do belief systems influence community building and decision making?

The strength of religious authority varies from country to country, and people around the world adhere to a wide array of belief systems. Moroccan culture is shaped in many ways by Islam, the state religion practiced by more than 90% of Moroccans, and coexists with the secular body of law that interprets religion and governs everyday life. Amendments to the Moroccan constitution following the 2011 Arab Spring introduced provisions for women’s rights, though wide disparities in legal literacy mean that while most Moroccans in metropolitan areas know their rights, most in rural areas do not. As a result, Morocco ranked 143 out of 153 countries in the 2020 World Economic Report’s Gender Gap Index, and Morocco’s incomes per capita are stagnated at 50 percent below what women’s participation in the economy could make possible.

What are strategies for forming partnerships that achieve development goals by affirming religious beliefs?

High Atlas Foundation has partnered with communities to establish 11 nurseries in 7 provinces, spanning the full picture of rural diversity in Morocco. Flagship tree nurseries around Marrakech began as interfaith partnerships facilitated by HAF: Jewish congregations gifted sacred land within cemeteries for tree nurseries, and local predominantly Muslim farmers protect and care for them. Today, in addition to providing medicinal plants and hosting interfaith celebrations, the nurseries are training grounds for farmers from Morocco and across Africa. The planting season (December – March) is currently underway. Said, project manager of HAF’s tree nurseries, shared that HAF plans to plant 1 million seeds across Morocco this year.

The tree nursery to the south at Tassa Ouirgane, a village anchoring the mountainous Tassa Ouirgane National Park near Toubkal, the highest peak in Morocco, has a quite different story. Initially a failed attempt by an association of men in the village to build and manage a site, the women of the village decided to step in. When HAF was first recruited for facilitation, Director of Projects Amina facilitated training for an informal group of women. This training included information on how to plant olive, walnut, and carob trees, all of which have completely different needs. This group would go on to become the Takharhout Women’s Association, 

To help the women organize and identify their priorities, Amina ran an Imagine workshop, a four-day rights-based, participatory approach that provides tools to help women identify and advocate for their needs and goals. The training focuses on 7 key areas (emotions, relationships, sexuality, body, money, work, and spirituality). Most crucially, HAF has built a full Imagine manual in Arabic, integrating the Moroccan family code and women’s rights as per Islamic teaching. 

How can we balance religious and secular influences in multicultural societies to ensure justice and equity?

Tree nurseries work because they limit the lens of development to a specific site and geographic area of direct impact, and to a universally beneficial aim. Providing for one’s family and protecting the environment are not polarizing aims, and therefore raising saplings can create a safe space for people to celebrate without discord or, inversely, to open themselves to more challenging moments of dialogue or social change.

In the case of Tassa Ouirgane, where traditional interpretations of Islam strongly influenced the structure of their community, women were able to prove to themselves and by extension, the men of the village, that leaving the house was “good for society.” That transformational mindset shift proved that when women are empowered to own, manage, and profit from projects, they do not upend the religious and communal fabric of society; instead, they lift up the whole of the community by strengthening bonds between neighbors and promoting economic vitality through action.

Is participation inclusive of all religions and belief systems?

Participation has an inherent spiritual value not confined to any one religion: building community and knowing ourselves. The aim of any religion is to teach people how to achieve harmony with others and the world, as well as awareness of one’s own role and potential. The act of raising a seed into a sapling is about rebirth, nurturing life, distributing lifegiving resources, and pursuing harmony with the natural bounty of a place. When participatory approaches are employed in the right way for the right reasons, we examine and more fully know how our own beliefs manifest in our live

Ian MacPherson is an undergraduate architecture student at the University of Virginia.

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Imagine Women's Empowerment
Imagine Women's Empowerment

In the darkness of every night, she raises her head to the sky, looks with her eyes at the stars, holds the shield of a soldier in her hands, and does not know what to do with it. Does she protect herself? Or use it to block shots that could be fatal. The days flow and she talks with herself night after night, with the seed of resurgence implanted in her breath, and she does not realize that this seed is growing and growing even on marginalized banks .

The Ourika commune that belongs to the Al Haouz province in Marrakesh, witnessed the singularity of active and energetic women, the women of the Aboghlo cooperative.  Every woman can dream, but the dream of these women quickly started becoming a reality with courage and strength, and without being extinguished. Supported by the High Atlas Foundation since 2015, these women have been able to find enlightened areas in their lives.

During a USAID Farmer-to-Farmer team visit to the project, Aziza, the treasurer of the cooperative, celebrated their accomplishments, saying, “When Amina from the High Atlas Foundation visited us, we were divided, barely gathered together. I still remember our first meeting as it was held in a place not far from the headquarters of the cooperative, attended by only about eight women.” 

“It was indeed a strange situation for all of us. The women shared the same confused faces,” she added. “The question of whether to go forward with the initiative or back off hung in the air.”

Since that first meeting, the number of women in the cooperative has increased to 60. The High Atlas Foundation has supported the women by delivering training and guidance so they can establish the Aboghlo cooperative for women of Ourika in 2016. Rachida, was appointed president, and the women started working on organic products such as couscous, Moroccan sweets, and other items.

The women of the Aboghlo cooperative worked hard and took advice that was given to them, while waiting to see results. As a result, and thanks to the efforts of the High Atlas Foundation, the cooperative was able to establish a partnership with the L’Oréal cosmetics company within their first year of operation. This partnership will allow the work to be done in a more orderly and effective fashion. It’s also allowed the cooperative to add the cultivation of the calendula flower, unique with its bright orange blossom and health benefits, to the cooperative’s activities.

On the same basis, Samira, the cooperative’s secretary, told us about this wonderful experience saying that “after the establishment of the nursery, the work has become branched into two tasks: working within the cooperative and working in the nursery. This has required more effort and accuracy. In parallel with that, we acquire many new skills every day, whether on a personal or professional level and then.”

However, Samira did note her disappointment that despite the proximity of the nursery’s location, in a nearby area called Tigmey Ait Salem, the number of women kept decreasing and withdrawals continued for known or unknown reasons. “Now we are 32 women,” she lamented.

We asked Samira to tell us more about those skills that she mentioned, and with a giant smile she said, “For me, I learned everything, even the skill of speaking fluently. For us, the cooperative is a learning station before it is a workstation, through which we acquired the skills of communication, problem-solving, time management, and the most important thing for me is the leadership skill that has evidently exerted its influence on my family.”

Our women’s session continued and each woman shared a brief part of her story. Then Fatima, the teacher of Aboghlo women’s cooperative, talked about the steps of educating these women, highlighting the importance of the remarkable change that this step added to their lives. 

Fatima tells us, “I was chosen from among three teachers back in 2018. I found the women at that time were already accustomed to the pace of work, and I only needed to add the principle of learning to their work. So they invested more and more in their energies and capabilities. Despite the difference in age among the women, they welcomed this initiative. Together we adopted a program that corresponds to their work schedule, so that the duration of classes was approximately two hours, at a rate of three times a week.”

On the other hand, Fatima also integrated with the women by sharing their activities, not only by providing lessons. She went beyond to live with them and experience the events of their day inside the cooperative.

Rachida, the president of the cooperative, left her words for the end to express with all sincerity the extent of her pride in working throughout these years with a group of distinguished women, carrying together the burden of all difficulties. She declared with the victory and joy,  “My soul is among the souls of all these women, and I cannot go forward without them. Yes we go through situations that disrupt us, but we twist the rope of advancement, and we hold onto it firmly and stand up.”

       Rachida is now a successful leadership figure who does not lose sight of the smallest details of this cooperative that brings together all these women. The women all testified to her role. According to them, she is a very flexible person in her work, especially as she supervises training courses for women. She fluctuates, with boldness, between the role of the president and the role of the trainer, without losing sight of Rachida, the mother, who has other responsibilities toward her family.

After that, we went up to the women’s workplace to find them busy preparing products. Only the sound of the tools being used is heard in the hall, which suggests seriousness at work. Then Rachida and Sanae, HAF’s Office Manager and Volunteer Coordinator, had a lively dialogue with the women, focusing on their inspiration, aspirations, and vision for the future. Sanae had the opportunity to express her recognition toward the women of the cooperative.

Returning to the achievements of women within the cooperative, 2019 was marked by the cultivation of saffron, that red gold, in addition to the calendula plant, which makes these women’s careers path shine, enabling her to always see the path of success ahead of her.

Inspired by every touching feeling we felt with these women, we went to an agricultural land in order to participate in planting 400 fruit trees. On our way, Aziza indicated, with a nostalgic smile, to the location of their first meeting where the pledge and the agreement to work together was made. Now, with each time passing by the place, a beautiful memory is generated, which only increases the pride of these women.”

With our arrival to the field, after Sanae and the women spoke about the effectiveness of HAF’s supervision of the Aboghlo cooperative, and in light of the valuable assistance that HAF Project Assistant Hassan provided, each of these women was ready to plant trees. With the same seriousness and determination that characterizes the nature of work within the cooperative, the planting process was carried out in an atmosphere dominated by the hope of picking the fruits of these trees someday. 

The women shared an atmosphere filled with inspiration while they talked about the experience of working in their nursery and the fun that eases the pressure of the daily practices in the cooperative, even though the current location has become a bit far. Rachida says with a happy face, “The hardest difficulties ease in front of a woman’s steadfastness.”

  Yes, it is the steadfastness of a woman who had talked to herself during long nights in a desire for change. Here she is now, picking the calendula flower and saffron with longing, and picking with her a woman with a strong cohesive spirit, a woman who is originally the seed flower that was immersed in her breath one day, which is “the golden flower, the flower of Aboghlo.”

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The participants of the International Women's Day
The participants of the International Women's Day

On the 8th of March, the US Embassy of Israel hosted a webinar entitled “International Women's Day: The Middle East & The Abraham Accords” in partnership with the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC, The Embassy of Bahrain, and the Embassy of Morocco. The webinar consisted of a panel of expert diplomats to discuss the role women have played in peacemaking efforts and decision-making. This event was organized not only to celebrate and appreciate the important role that women play in their countries but also to drive conversations that will help advance the involvement of women even further.

His Excellency Gilad, Ambassador of Israel to the United States and the United Nation, initiated the discussion. He reflected on the importance of the role that women play in reaching peace especially, in positions that enable them to take part in the decision-making process. At the same time, he acknowledged that there is still much work to be done as a shared commitment to achieving gender equality. He also aims that the current partnership/ “friendship” between his country and the Arab countries that are part of The Abraham Accords can only serve as the start of more exchange and a mutual learning opportunity where countries learn from each other’s experiences regarding women’s empowerment.

His Excellency’s introduction was followed by a speech from Her Highness Lalla Joumala, Moroccan Ambassador to the United States. She described International Women’s Day as a bittersweet event that recognizes women empowerment’s efforts while also making us aware of the challenges and hardships that women face on a regular basis, especially this year where the consequences of COVID-19 had a greater impact on women. Her Highness recognized the efforts and the advancement that countries were executing to achieve gender equality, and she described these efforts as core steps that will lead to meaningful participation of women in all fields.

Lynn, Deputy Director for Public Policy and Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, moderated the panel. She started the discussion by inquiring about the key motivation that inspired the panelists to pursue their careers as diplomats. Tammy Ben Haim, Minister for Public Diplomacy, Embassy of Israel to the United States responded first, “I actually didn’t want to become one. Both of my parents were diplomats, and I knew exactly the hardships and the challenges that a diplomat faces and I really thought about pursuing a more family-oriented career. But later on, I decided that I wanted to become a diplomat but not before I discovered who I am first... and that resulted in me joining at an older age compared to my parents.”

The following question was about the challenges and obstacles that faced women in diplomacy. This time Shaima, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the United Arab Emirates to the United States, responded. She stated that the main challenge women face in a male-dominated environment is having a strong voice in decision-making and not being taken seriously because of being younger than male colleagues. In this case, proving yourself can be mistaken for a lack of respect toward elders which can be a belief resulting from the culture itself.

As the discussion progressed, the moderator asked Yousif, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of The Kingdom of Bahrain to the United States, about the contribution of women to the fight against Covid-19. He stated that in Bahrain 70% of the health care workforce are women: doctors, nurses, assistants, and researchers. Women are not only contributing to the fight, they are leading it. His answer was supported by Rose Saqr, Trade Representative, Embassy of The Kingdom of Bahrain to the United States, who stated that women’s ability to multi-task has enabled them to play an integral role in the fight. Since the health minister of Bahrain is a woman and the vaccine research team consists of women and men equally, they are contributing more and more as they are included in the decision-making process.

A follow-up question of how Covid-19 affected specifically women was asked and the response was provided by both Shaima and Tammy, who agreed that women had to take on having more responsibilities during the pandemic compared to men. Women needed to find the balance between their professional workload, their children’s school duties, and their responsibilities as moms, while also dealing with the social pressure if they got distracted doing any of these tasks. 

They also highlighted the fact that most healthcare and education workers are women, which results in putting them at a higher risk every day as their jobs cannot be done from home or via emails, leaving their families for a long period of time which can only add the already existing stress that women face. These facts can drastically contribute to the number of women facing depression and anxiety. 

This point opens the door to the discussion about the role of NGOs and institutions that can help women overcome these challenges by supporting, empowering, and inspiring them to aim for careers and positions that are dominated by men. Help them dream and strive to achieve more, and most importantly encourage them to believe in themselves and in the important role that they play in their societies.

HAF’s Approach to Women’s Empowerment

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) is committed to supporting and contributing to the empowerment of women by delivering four-day Imagine Women’s Empowerment workshops with women in remote areas. During these participatory approach workshops, women can reflect on different aspects of their lives including self-responsibility, self-esteem, self-confidence, and the positive behaviors that help them identify their dreams and ambitions. 

Through sessions about Moroccan Moudawana (family code), they become more aware of their legal rights, which often the women do not have any idea about.  Women also learn about financial independence, which HAF helps them to achieve through initiating a discussion about project planning that will enable them to start their cooperatives. Reaching out to and empowering women from around Morocco regardless of their education, financial levels is HAF’s contribution to gender equality.     

Thanks to the generous support of our donors, HAF has conducted women’s empowerment workshops with nearly 875 women since 2016. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to learn more about the women who benefit from these life-changing experiences. 

The participants of the International Women's Day
The participants of the International Women's Day
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Women’s empowerment is a key to having a successful and bright future for Morocco. The IMAGINE Program’s main objective is to help women discover what they want most in life. So what is exactly the IMAGINE workshop? How do we empower girls and women in Morrocan rural areas?

The IMAGINE program is a trip of self-discovery with women over the course of four full days. Each day has a specific format consisting of four modules divided into seven areas: emotions, relationships, sexuality, body, money, work, and discovery.

Twenty Women’s Empowerment Workshops in Al Haouz, Morocco

During the final weeks of 2020, Amina El Hajjami,High Atlas Foundation (HAF) Director of Projects, conducted two IMAGINE women’s empowerment workshops, funded by the U.S Embassy in Morocco. This project, managed by Mina Alaoui Kamal and Moulay Hassan Aladlouni as Project Managers, aims to bolsterring women’s development in rural areas .

The first workshop took place in the village of Sidi Ali O Fares in the Setti Fadma commune, where ten women participated. The second workshop was held in the village of Achbaro, in the Tameslouht commune of the Al Haouz province, with an additional ten women.

Imane Akhezzan and I accompanied Amina as apprentices for the two workshops. After one year of observation and training, we will be able to conduct our first women’s empowerment workshops in the future, helping HAF spread its work even further into Morocco.

The first day is spent getting acquainted with the empowerment program. The women begin the workshop breaking the ice with introductions and activities to feel comfortable with one another and with the HAF facilitators before diving into more intimate topics.

From there, the participants delve into a trip of self-discovery and personal growth. Culturally, it is not common to speak about emotions in Morocco, so the workshop starts by helping the participants build the vocab to speak about their feelings and have the confidence to do so aloud. Facilitators highlight many new concepts that are built upon through the subsequent days of the workshop: self-esteem, confidence, growing age, goals, and affirmations, among others.

Planting Seeds of Empowerment

Using imagery that parallels HAF’s goal to increase economic empowerment in Morocco through planting endemic fruit trees, participants of the women’s empowerment workshops begin to understand the importance of nurturing their inner selves. They come to understand the law of attraction: manifesting what you desire within yourself to achieve it in your life. It is the same principle that allows a seed planted in the ground to attract all the nutrients from the soil that it needs in order to grow.

Through the early stages of the workshop, the women discover their “internal soil.” If the soil is fertile, they can plant seeds that will grow healthy and strong, helping them to reach their goals and desires. One way to ensure a healthy internal soil is to identify the “limiting beliefs” (challenges, obstacles, and cultural/personal beliefs) that hold one back from nurturing a healthy soil.

These first parts of the workshop teaches the participants how to transform the limiting beliefs and behavior patterns that are causing difficulties, watering seeds instead of weed, and instead direct these new creative energies toward achieving what they really want—from a healthier body to better relationships; from material success to a richer spiritual life. Facilitators do this by asking targeted questions:

  • How can they free themselves from any limitations?
  • How can they create dreams and achieve them?
  • What are the materials they need to reach their desired achievements?
  • How can they be brave and face the reality of making a life that they want most?

Another important concept of the workshop is identifying one’s weaknesses as well as one’s source of strength. Drawing upon sources of strength helps fertilize your inner soil. After attending these workshops, I’ve come to believe that many of us do not think to identify the source of the strength. However, they play an important role to help in advancing in life.

We should ask ourselves this question: What allows me to feel powerful in my life? There are seven sources of power: commitment, discipline, support system, inner guidance, lightness, love, finding your own truth. The facilitators do an exercise with the participants in order to access their depth, discover these sources or strength, weakness points, and testing the internal soil. They gain the tools to continue working on them to change to them better.

During the following days, Amina built upon this foundation, focusing on each of the different modules: emotions, relationships, sexuality, body, money, work.

Personal Reflections on the Women’s Empowerment Workshops

As the workshop comes to a close, the women state their affirmations, declaring the goals they’ve set for themselves and identifying what it will take to reach them using the four steps:

  • Where am I at in the process of achieving what I want?
  • Where do I want to get?
  • What are the limited beliefs that are holding me back?
  • Am I satisfied with the goal I’ve set for myself?

I am still stuck with my first workshop memories when I was a volunteer at HAF, thanks to Dr. Yossef Ben- Meir who guided me to attend it. I have always believed in the IMAGINE program. It has a magical power in changing women’s lives for the better in four days. Here are some testimonials from the workshops that I found to be quite profound:

“I am Malika, a defense lawyer standing in court.“

“I will pray the fajr (morning prayer) on time.“

“I am the strong Fatima. I saved enough money to do the holy Pilgrimage.“

“I am in good health and without obsession. “

HAF’s Approach to Women’s Empowerment in Morocco

Through the IMAGINE program, HAF aims to develop citizens' agency and voice, especially of women, through personal empowerment, fostering change-agents who build environments that promote democracy and guarantee freedom.

Thanks to support from USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer program and the US Embassy in Morocco, in 2020 alone, 73 women and youth in the Guercif, Berkane, and Al Haouz provinces of Morocco took part in HAF’s women’s empowerment workshops. The IMAGINE program is not limited only to women. HAF staff have led these workshops with men and youth, as well. Since 2016, a total of 836 participants have benefited from this empowerment program: 627 adults and 209 youth.

When you donate to women’s empowerment initiatives in Morocco, you contribute towards developing community-led sustainable social, economic, and political stability for all in Morocco.

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On Saturday, November 14, 2020, the newly inducted cohort of student clinicians in the Legal Clinic housed at University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah’s Faculty of Economic and Social Legal Sciences in Fes attended one of several training sessions organized by the High Atlas Foundation that is designed to prepare them to become clinicians who provide pro bono legal aid to marginalized populations in the Fes-Meknes region. The training was facilitated by an expert and researcher in the field of immigration and asylum, at the doctoral center at the Faculty of Economic and Social Legal Sciences.

The training began by defining the legal framework of migration law in Morocco and the articles that govern it. The facilitator gave an overview of the immigration situation in Morocco as well providing context with statistics. The facilitator shared that approximately 6 million Moroccan immigrants live abroad while Morocco is home to approximately 50,000 irregular migrants and 85,000 regular migrants. There are 1663 asylum seekers registered in Morocco.

The facilitator highlighted the importance of the protection of migrant workers, citing that 3.2% of Morocco’s population are immigrants, according to the International Organization for Migration. The fragile position of immigrants was also discussed during this session -- the facilitator pointed out the difficulties that a migrant will face in a host country. He cited Laws 143 and 97, which provide protective solutions and have been revised according to the needs of immigrants. He also noted Law 118, which sets a provision for equality and fair treatment for migrants in Morocco.

Another key point addressed during this training was the increase in clandestine migration to Europe through Morocco. The facilitator discussed Morocco’s situation as a major crossing point into Europe for irregular migrants, which simultaneously increases the risk of terrorism. Due to the fact that Morocco is a transit country for irregular migrants, Morocco has been transformed into a “gendarme” for Europe, thus experiencing increased pressure. Morocco has partnered with European countries, such as Spain, to work towards decreasing the number of irregular migrants leaving Morocco.

Having addressed the general topic of migration, Mr. El Makouti then discussed asylum in Morocco. According to the international and national framework related to migration and asylum, Articles 26 and 29 grant the right for pregnant women and children to seek asylum in Morocco. The facilitator also discussed the severe financial and custodial penalties for irregular migrants and those who organize irregular migration. He also discussed the convention in 1961 that stipulated the right to statelessness, which is a special protocol that serves as the basis for the acquisition of nationality in Morocco.

This technical training is crucial in the preparation of student clinicians' work in advising local communities on legal matters, Morocco’s migrant community in particular. Learn more about how you can support their efforts here.

The High Atlas Foundation is working in partnership with the Faculty of Economic and Social Legal Sciences at the University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah (USMBA) in Fes to operate and grow a Law Clinic and Legal Aid program which actively engages students in experiential and service learning for the benefit of marginalized communities in the Fes-Meknes region. The project is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).

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High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Fatima Zahra Laaribi
Marrakech, Morocco
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