Planet Earth is in dire need of environmental protection and sustainable development. Every day, we witness the devastating effects of climate change and the gradual depletion of natural resources. There are organizations and individuals who are working tirelessly to create a greener, healthier world. And the High Atlas Foundation is one of them.
On the third Monday of each year, HAF organizes an annual tree planting event with Moroccan communities around the kingdom. Hana, HAF’s project manager for the south, celebrated this day in Boujdour province, where 6 schools benefited from the fig and pomegranate fruit trees, and 120 students participated in planting the trees with their teachers and the schools’ staff. The main aim of this activity was to promote environment protection and sustainable development by planting seedlings of fruit trees. But it was much more than just planting trees; it was a lesson in preserving the environment and preserving water during irrigation.
Under the expert guidance of Hana, the students were taught how to plant seedlings and how to take care of them to ensure their growth. Hana gave valuable advice on how to preserve water during irrigation, which is a crucial factor in a region where water scarcity is a major problem. The students were also educated on the importance of trees in reducing the effects of climate change and the benefits of growing fruit trees for both the environment and the economy.
Everyone showed enthusiasm and interest. It was heartening to see the students, who are the future of our planet, taking an active interest in environmental protection and sustainable development. By teaching them how to plant trees and preserve water, HAF is not just creating a greener world, but also building a generation of eco-conscious individuals who will carry the torch forward.
It is worth noting that HAF’s work extends to all parts of Morocco. Our efforts are not just limited to planting trees; we also work on propagating democratic concepts such as participatory governance and civic engagement, cooperative building, family literacy, and cultural dialogue and preservation.
On January 13, 2023, the High Atlas Foundation in Marrakech organized a participatory meeting within the framework of the exchange of cultures and religions between students of the Yeshiva University, located in New York City, and students of the Legal Aid Clinic at University Cadi Ayyad in Marrakesh.
This meeting consisted of a visit to a community tree nursery in the village of Akrich, on the outskirts of Marrakech, which contains a 700 year old Jewish cemetery.
When the students of the legal clinic in Marrakech arrived at the nursery, we were received by the President of the High Atlas Foundation, Dr. Ben-Meir, and the nursery supervisor who is also the cemetery’s guardian, Mr. Baddah.
While we were waiting for the students of Yeshiva University to arrive, we took a quick tour to understand the work of the nursery, which includes tens of thousands of tree saplings, including carob, fig, and pomegranate. There was also talk about the method of planting it and the natural conditions that must be appropriate for each type to give more fruits.
After that, we enjoyed tea until the arrival of the other students. We welcomed them and they welcomed us with joy and in an atmosphere of peace, love and respect as a natural result of the relationship between Moroccan Muslims and world Jewry, especially since a number of them are of Moroccan origin.
The students from both universities were divided into groups in order to conduct a participatory workshop, exchanging about cultures.
After that, a welcome speech was given in English on behalf of the Legal Clinic in Marrakech to the students of the University of Yeshiva, While the speech was initiated by a professor on behalf of the students, speaking about our Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him.
The most beautiful thing said in this speech was: that this participatory meeting does not bring together just ordinary people, but rather brings together two strains: the lineage of Isaac, and the lineage of Ishmael on the other hand, and that the lessons learned in the past must be adhered to in the present in order to ensure its continuity and build a better future.
The first tree planting day event I participated in as a new HAF member was very meaningful to me. I witnessed the greatest miracle of all. Life.
It was a perfect, sunny day. I met with the team members at Abdellah Oueld Bahia School to plant fig and pomegranate tree saplings.
We were welcomed with great enthusiasm by the administration personnel. We invited the students to join us in the activity. Hana, HAF’s Program Manager, explained the steps of planting fruit trees.
The first tree was planted jointly by Laarbi , the School Director Abdelaziz, and Hana. Next, the students were divided into six groups of 4 and 5 people, and each group was responsible for planting the trees following the method Hana had explained.
I was pleasantly surprised at that sight. The children were very excited; they were running all over the place. All of a sudden, the entire place was full of life. The liveliness didn’t stop for a long time.
The children were very meticulous with their work. They assembled in teams; some brought water, some dug holes, some brought the saplings, and some filled the holes with earth. The buzzing activity that filled the place seemed to me like a beautiful painting whose charm I am unable to describe. They were very excited to be a part of this project, they felt proud of themselves, and they knew they were doing something good for the environment.
Later on, Hajiba, HAF’s Program Director, and Mounia a small workshop about plant life and sustainable development in which they taught the children about the importance of events like this and gave them ideas and information about how to protect the environment. This workshop reinforced the children’s commitment to safeguarding the wellbeing of the young trees that were entrusted to them and their school.
This event had a special significance to me personally. I recalled how one day in the past when I was a student at this school. I met my previous teachers who have grown older under the merciless grinding of time, and so have I. I never dreamed that I would be able to return the favor to my old school. Yet, with the help of HAF, I did.
This event opened my eyes to the cycles of life and death. Time comes and goes, people come and leave, nothing remains but sweet memories and the few kind acts we do along the way. The ‘Life’ we planted in this school may not flourish today but decades later, it will bring its fruits.
The fruits I am talking about here are not merely the trees' fruits, rather, the true fruits are the children in whom we planted the right seeds.
These children will grow to respect their environment. They have learned the importance of Life: the life of the other life forms without which we could not live on this planet.
Climate change is a crisis that is looming on the horizon. It is a heritage of the Industrial Revolution that we, the youths of today, shall bear. Only through consistent tree planting efforts, awareness campaigns and movement to renewable energy sources, could we mitigate this crisis's disastrous effects.
On the 9th of December, 2022, I visited the High Atlas Foundation (HAF). It was my first visit to the Foundation. I have never forgotten that day.
Before I went to the Foundation, I was all the time thinking about the building, the people who are working there. All the time I wondered about it even though I had some information through the HAF’s website. But I had a strong feeling that I had to pay a visit to HAF because of its noble and human objectives realised by the staff and president, Dr. Ben-Meir, based on sustainable development in Morocco. Its work rests upon the participatory approach, which sees local people participate in their communities’ needed development projects.
I have first known about HAF on the 16th January, 2017, during the annual celebration of tree planting that took place at a high school where I was working at the time. That was the first time I met Dr. Ben-Meir, and though we have kept in touch, I have never visited the Foundation because of my work. I followed all the High Atlas Foundation’s activities because I believe in HAF’s sustainable development objectives and projects. For all these reasons, I have been curious to visit the Foundation and I finally did last December.
I phoned Dr. Ben-Meir to inform him about my arrival to the city and to agree about the time of my visit to the Foundation. We agreed that I would come to the Foundation at 1pm. I was first received warmly by Dr. Ben-Meir. He presented every member of the Foundation to me.
My first remark is that the HAF’s building is very simple and modest in comparison to the huge work they are doing all over Morocco. The wall’s colours are simple and reflect a warm peaceful energy and the offices of the staff are modest as the people working in them. The High Atlas Foundation’s staff reflects one of its main principles supporting cultural diversity. The people working at the Foundation are all sincere and nice. They all belong to different ethnic groups and different religious backgrounds. They are Americans and Moroccans, Jewish, Christians and Muslims, speaking various languages: English, French, Amazigh and Arabic. This variety mirrors their cultural diversity, which is amazing. Belonging to different cultural and religious backgrounds for one unified noble objective that is mainly helping and sustaining communities in need of help and such projects. They all respect each other’s cultural backgrounds.
When I arrived there was a Friday prayer, and I noticed that there are some members of the staff who were preparing themselves to go for prayer. It was really noticeable to me that the staff of the High Atlas Foundation was working at ease because while the president of the Foundation was moving around presenting me to the staff I noticed an exchange of respect but still friendly relationship between Dr. Ben-Meir and everyone. There is trust among all of them because his office was all time open; he didn’t close his office. Personally, I have really appreciated the relationship between him and other members of the Foundation. They were all working together as a beehive and that is one of the main causes of HAF’s prosperity as a non-profit organisation. There is a mutual respect though the multicultural characteristics of the Foundation’s components.
Since my visit to HAF, I have a strong feeling that I should participate and help at least in one of the Foundation’s cultural and sustainable development projects. I wish to pay another visit to the Foundation in the future.
"Joining the legal clinic was the best decision I made in 2022.
It has greatly contributed to my academic and professional growth.”
Soufiane is now a 26-year-old legal clinician trainee with a master's degree in business law. During the second year of his graduate studies and last planned year of formal education, he felt the need to deepen his knowledge and sharpen his skills to better face the job market, be ready for the post-graduate world, and feel more legitimate and confident. As such, he applied to be a part of the Legal Clinic of the Faculty of Law (CJFD) in Fez.
From the beginning of his tenure with the “clinic,” he made a good impression and easily stood out through his commitment, participation, and curiosity. He put his heart and soul into the activities of the program and participated ardently in all of the events organized. The experience allowed him not only to perfect his knowledge of the law and to satisfy his unquenchable thirst for learning by offering him a myriad of fruitful and eclectic activities, such as study days, practical workshops, and field trips, but also to perfect his public speaking and oratory skills through debate and moot court competitions and, finally, to enlarge his professional network and to meet new people.
"It is a complete, qualitative, and no-frills experience,” says Soufiane. “The legal clinic is an absolute godsend that allowed me to think outside the box and learn the law by doing. And all for free. What more could you ask for? If I had to do it again, I would do it gladly.”
According to Soufiane, his integration into the program was the turning point in his academic and professional life.
First, he succeeded in joining the Youth Parliament of Morocco, occupying the position of legal assessor since his first participation and being elected as a Minister for the next legislature, which will take place in July 2023. He claims to owe much of his success in joining the inner circle of young Moroccan parliamentarians to the “clinic” and the various skills he learned as a student clinician.
Secondly, his interest in defending the cause of women increased tremendously after meeting and assisting women who have experienced abuse and gender-based violence during his year as a student clinician. Wanting to do even more to help them, he created, with several of his peers, an association called eve4ever to improve the status of Moroccan women and promote their socio-cultural and economic condition.
Even in light of his notable success, Soufiane does not claim it for himself. He always insists on expressing his gratitude and appreciation to all those who helped him along the way. "Being a clinician is more than an experience. It's a valuable identity that sticks with us, makes us proud, and helps us shine in all areas," he says.
The Legal Clinic of the Faculty of Law (Clinique juridique de la faculté de droit - CJFD) in Fes aims to elevate the status of youth, women, and underrepresented communities by providing pro-bono legal aid and entrepreneurship training as a means to engage civically and economically.
Over the three years since its inception, the program has trained 231 (50% women, 50% men) master’s and doctoral students of law to administer legal aid and facilitate capacity building with community beneficiaries in the Fes-Meknes region of Morocco. In that time, student clinicians have worked on a total 267 case files pertaining to entrepreneurship, immigration and asylum, family mediation, psychological support, human trafficking, employment, and real estate. Additionally, 256 have benefited from the establishment or growth of 39 private income-generating projects and entities following entrepreneurship training and mentorship.
The program was established first as a pilot project in 2019 as a collaboration between the High Atlas Foundation and the Faculty of Legal, Economic, and Social Sciences at Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University in Fes. From 2020 to 2022, the program’s continuation and expansion to include concentration on the promotion of entrepreneurship was funded by the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).
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