Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project

by High Atlas Foundation
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Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
The common objective that gathers the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) and Israel Is Organization is to strengthen the role of young people towards sustainable development. 

HAF Program Manager for the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer program, Errachid, met with five members of the Israel Is Organization who work to connect young Israelis with millennials around the world. The purpose of the meeting was to pave the way for several youth initiatives in Morocco . 
As result, new iinitiatives were discussed to work collectively not only to bring young change-makers together, but to engage them in collecting data from the field and contribute to building sustainable development projects. Such young people will also be able to channel their energy into current projects where local communities implement what they carry in their hearts.

This partnership will further provide a platform for young professionals in the MENA region to bond and interact based on shared experiences and challenges, as well as to create a business and social collaboration to enhance the relations between countries.

In order to advance the participatory approach, sustainable development and friendship, both HAF and Israel Is planted a fig tree near the local fruit tree nursery that is built on land lent in-kind by the Moroccan Jewish community, which provides 45,000 fruit trees for hundreds of farming families and scores of schools in Morocco.
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This morning I had the privilege of attending a very special event, hosted by the Beyond Trees Network’s Dr. Tamberly, a trained and licensed nature therapist who has spent the last several years training more and more nature therapists and spreading this practice across the world. Although the pandemic is nearly over, the need for social distancing, as well as the long distances between many of the participants around the globe, from India to South America, has brought on the need for using Zoom to safely and universally share the experience. Many of the activities are normally done in a closely-knit group where the natural scenes are taken in together, but because of these circumstances, we all had to experience our own bit of nature behind our screens.

So, what exactly is nature therapy? I’ll admit that going into this session, I was very skeptical. I thought I would just be meditating and maybe even doing some yoga, but I soon realized that the process is much more experiential and sensory than I thought. We began by finding a comfortable and peaceful position outside in nature. I sat in my backyard in the grass with the computer on my lap. The grass tickled my legs and the sun flickered through the leaves above my head as my session leader, Toby Bloom, began speaking gently. She asked that we close our eyes and slow our breathing, feel the natural elements around us and be conscious of them but keep our minds quiet. She implored us to think about our skin and how it felt against the cool breeze, how the hairs on our arms danced as it flowed across. She asked us to listen closely to the sounds around us, the leaves rattling, the chirping of the birds, a plane flying swiftly overhead. She asked us to breathe deeply through our noses and bring in the smells around us, all the while keeping our eyes closed and our bodies still.

After several minutes of meditating and taking in nature, she asked us to spin around and slowly open our eyes as if the image we were about to see would be for the first time. I slowly opened my eyes to find myself facing the woods behind my house. They were brightly lit and splotched with patches of shadow. It was really quite beautiful and to see it after focusing all of my senses was really something special.

Throughout the rest of the session, we explored the texture of natural things around us like grass, leaves, and rocks, and at the end, Toby performed a small tea ceremony that is commonplace in these sessions. Unfortunately, I did not have any tea made for the session so I simply had to watch behind my screen. When the session was over, I closed my computer and sat outside for just a few more minutes. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and tranquility. My whole body felt relaxed and I felt an Earthly connection from my head to my feet. Wholistically, it made me feel very good.

Dr. Conway explained that these forms of therapy started to become popular in the late 80s and have spread across the globe, helping with depression, stress, and anxiety. The calming vibe of the therapy takes little to no effort to reach and can effectively center and relax a person in under an hour. Dr. Conway’s organization aims to improve forest welfare globally, hoping to bring economic, social, and emotional support to the public, with the aim of improving the public welfare.

If you have a moment in your day where you have just a few minutes to yourself, I would highly recommend taking the time to step outside, close your eyes, and open your senses to the natural world around you. Nature’s healing powers are nothing short of pure magic.

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The closing ceremony of the OES small grants program took place on Zoom on June 2, 2021. It was an opportunity for the CSO subgrantees and the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) representatives to convene and share the results achieved during the two-year program.

The program, which is funded by OES in partnership with the High Atlas Foundation, seeks to increase civil society engagement in environmental protection and promote public participation in environmental decision-making. It enabled four select CSOs, two in Jordan and two in Morocco, to launch projects in order to benefit local communities socially, economically, and environmentally. All four of the associations, including Methods for Irrigation and Agriculture (MIRRA), Dar Si Hmad Association, the AFCD Association, and Al-Fath Association, presented the objectives, results, and impact of their projects.

The Al-Fath Association for culture and development, for example, is a Moroccan CSO operating in the villages of Bouchane and Ait Taleb in the Rhamna province, north of Marrakech. Thanks to OES funding, Al-Fath was able to implement a project entitled “The Environmental Challenge” in order to contribute to the alleviation of pollution in the region and establish a culture of environmental preservation. According to Mr. Mustapha, President of Al-Fath, 70% of the objectives were successfully met. However, 30% were difficult to achieve due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its residual impact. Goals met include:

  • the implementation of a nursery and 2 greenhouses;
  • the provision of 12 agricultural farms with natural organic fertilizers;
  • the planting of 113,760 fruit trees; and
  • the provision of 3 wells with solar pumps.

Similarly in Jordan, the MIRRA Association was able to implement a project entitled “Realizing Sustainable Agriculture in Azraq” in order to overcome the problem of water pumping overuse while stimulating agricultural activities as well as economic and social growth in the area. The project implementation according to Ms. Ahlam, representative of MIRRA, ensured:

  • the achievement of sustainable, decentralized farm models in the area;
  • the reduction of the electricity bills for farmers;
  • the increase of the annual food production to meet local needs without depending on imports;
  • capacity building for farmers and students through the implementation of training and workshops; and
  • the writing of two booklets which gathered the knowledge on the application of sustainable rural agriculture in Azraq.

The impact of the projects both in Morocco and Jordan has had a remarkable positive effect on the local communities. Dr. Yossef mentioned that the support of OES in implementing these projects has built a firm basis for the growth of all participating associations while creating partnerships between the different CSOs. It was, in fact, a  meeting that marked both the closing of the program and the beginning of sustainable commitment to carry on this initiative and move it forward in order to achieve the visions of various communities on a national and an international level.

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For all the attention given to service-learning, the concept is extremely broad and can include an enormous diversity of experiences. I am passionate about the essentiality of service learning and have sought out several such experiences. In this article, I will compare three of my own service-learning experiences, analyzing both their particularities and their transcendent themes in an effort (a) to reflect on service-learning more generally and (b) to draw lessons from my experiences. 

In the summer of 2020, I served as an intern for the All-India Federation of the Self-

Employed Women’s Association (SEWA Bharat). SEWA Bharat is an organization “committed to strengthening the movement of women in the informal economy.” I worked in their social enterprise branch to support women-led cooperative enterprises, although, of course, everything took place from my bedroom in Virginia. As the internship progressed, I was fortunate to develop significant relationships with two of my supervisors—I felt that this was one of the most important factors in my being excited about the work and feeling connected to the organization. The latter state was a difficult one to reach, as I quickly realized the difficulty entailed in a remote internship. I had little context about the many environments in India in which I was supposed to be working, leading me to experience significant impostor syndrome about my abilities to contribute anything meaningful. This also resulted from my recognition and consciousness that I was but a privileged Westerner hoping to contribute in some way to this venerable organization in the global South. Given these difficulties, however, I learned a lot; these lessons were both in project-specific, technical areas (what examples exist of small-scale medical cooperatives?) and more transcendent, global themes (what are the differences in a rights-based and an outcome-oriented approach to development?). 

Then, this fall, I interned for the High Atlas Foundation. A sharp difference between the two experiences was quickly made apparent: whereas my initial tasks for SEWA felt a bit mundane, menial, and “intern-y” (the online equivalent to fetching coffee), my work for HAF immediately felt more meaningful. I felt trusted with more weighty and intensive tasks, which I really appreciated. That being said, I felt like I developed somewhat less of a relationship with my supervisors—of course, a feeling I wish was different. Despite these differences, there were certainly similarities in the two internships, the main one being my impostor syndrome, difficulty grounding myself, and struggle to contextualize my work in broader knowledge about the region and field. I’m still reflecting on to what extent these challenges were actually also helpful to my learning experience and personal growth. One thing that was certainly valuable in this area was the accompanying class—I truly appreciated having a pedagogical and experiential foray into this domain. 

I also worked part-time this fall (virtually) for an organization in my hometown; I ran a youth program focused on using creative expression and meaningful discussion to facilitate resilience and self- and community-consciousness. Needless to say, it was a very different role than the aforementioned internships. Whereas I had trouble grounding myself in my global internship work due to lack of knowledge and experience about the region, I’ve lived in this town since I was eight years old. Even with this stark difference, I found many parallels with my other roles. For one, it was an equally intense learning experience: I learned how difficult facilitation can be, about how youth experience social phenomena, and about trauma-informed programming. Additionally, HAF’s emphasis on community-centered, participatory approaches felt reinforced by my job in my own community. The emphasis was unfailingly on the thoughts, lived experiences, and feelings of the young people with whom I was working—not of some central authority. In designing curricula in cooperation with my supervisor (with whom I had a great relationship), we engaged in critical conversations about the messages we were sending relative to larger societal forces. This reminded me of how our HAF class discussed broad social theories that, while abstract, were relevant to our internship experiences. 

Though these experiences were diverse, some common lessons may be drawn from them. First, having contextualization to ground the work is important. Without it, service-learners can feel disconnected or insecure about their ability to contribute. Second, meaningful relationships with one’s supervisor facilitate connection and feelings of deeper meaning in the service learning. Third, having a pedagogical component to accompany the experiential activities can create a mutually complementary framework of experience for service-learners. More generally, service-learning offers the opportunity not only to learn more deeply about the organization and cause for which one works, but to experience profound personal growth—the kind for which I am extremely grateful.

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When people speak of the protection and upliftment of children, those in juvenile detention are often forgotten. In Morocco, children between the ages of 12 and 18 who have committed a transgression of the law are often housed in Child Protection Centers (CPCs). Children who were abandoned, had to be removed from the home due to violence, or are in an otherwise precarious situation may also be court-ordered to reside in CPCs. Living in these centers -- detached from society and from a normal childhood -- can be difficult for children. It is crucial that detained youth receive the care they need to avoid recidivism and lead full lives as adults.

What are Children’s Rights?

To get at the heart of the problem of youth recidivism, one must start with an understanding of the rights specifically afforded to children in Morocco. In 1993, Morocco ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. All countries who sign it are bound by international law to ensure children’s basic fundamental rights are protected, including the right to “life, survival and development; protection from violence, abuse or neglect; an education that enables children to fulfil their potential; and be raised by, or have a relationship with, their parents”, as long as it does not harm their well-being. In more recent years, Morocco has codified this rights framework in its national laws. Detained children have these same rights, of course, but CPCs have struggled to enforce them to their fullest extent.

Room For Improvement

According to Search for Common Ground, CPCs often lack the organization and resources to ensure that children are in a safe and healthy environment. The centers are reported to have low -- or unevenly applied -- standards of care for children, whether it be proper nutrition and healthcare, reasonable physical space, or deterrence of violence between youth. When it comes to the third issue, for example, children who have had little to no criminal involvement may be mixed in with children more prone to violence, which can have a negative impact on their socialization and physical safety. CPCs also struggle to provide children with a quality education, often failing to hold them accountable for their studies to be effective. These gaps in education are a massive obstacle to ensuring that youth feel inspired to plan for their futures and can excel in their work as adults.

Perhaps the most damaging of CPCs’ weaknesses is the lack of psychosocial support given to children. Separation from society and the various traumas that may have led them there can put a huge burden on young people’s mental health and ability to reintegrate post-release. Children in CPCs are also often hurt by a lack of contact with their parents or other trusted adult figures. Parents are essential in encouraging children’s education and development, and they can also be a grounding contact with the outside world. Moreover, for those children who did not have positive role models in the home or are permanently separated from their parents, having someone to provide them with guidance and emotional support can be especially important.

Building Self-Reliance

In an assessment of youth involvement in extremism, the High Atlas Foundation found that a lack of educational opportunities and economic disenfranchisement lead many formerly detained youth, especially young men, to become disillusioned about their futures. These challenges are an outcome of their time in juvenile detention, and when coupled with the associated behavioral issues, lack of role models, and feelings of shame, they may find little incentive to find their place in Moroccan society and thus turn to crime. This is why HAF believes that empowering youth to develop a sense of self and fostering independent skills is the key to reducing recidivism. When youth feel confident in their human potential and have the tools to seek out their goals, they are set up for a brighter future. Although CPCs lack the resources to help youth reintegrate, they have the potential to cooperate with outside actors encouraging self-reliance.

How NGOs Are Helping

Non-profit organizations like the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) are doing their part to help enrich children’s lives and craft creative solutions to reduce recidivism. In a partnered effort with Association Bayti, HAF has proposed adapting its “Imagine” women’s empowerment workshops to the context of children in CPCs. The initiative’s aim is to empower and strengthen the capacities of detained and at-risk youth toward greater self-reliance and self-confidence. The workshops would last over a span of four days, educating youth on their rights and human potential, as well as helping them process the difficult emotions surrounding personal and relational challenges. This impact carries over into the long-term as the children are guided in creating “life projects”, or essentially goals for achievement and personal growth in various areas of their lives. These projects are sustained by the help of mentors and, when needed, one-on-one psychosocial support that is lacking within CPCs. It is HAF’s hope that they will be able to implement this project in Moroccan CPCs and that other NGOs will consider similar empowerment efforts for youth development.

Due to the crucial role of parents in reducing youth recidivism, legal family mediation can also prove to be a useful form of assistance from NGOs. HAF’s Clinique Juridique de la Faculté de Droit (CJFD), run in collaboration with the University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah’s Faculty of Social, Juridical, and Economic Sciences in Fez, offers family mediation within its repertoire of free legal aid services. Funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative, the CJFD  supports the process in which families can dispute financial and child arrangements when going through separation or divorce with the help of a neutral “mediator”. Sometimes, it can even succeed in keeping parents from separating. Mediation has proven beneficial for children’s mental health, as it spares them from the stress of a tense formal legal case and helps preserve a stable living situation with their parents. By limiting children’s exposure to the psychosocial and economic challenges associated with family disputes and separation, mediation can prevent children from having to be removed from their home in the first place or from falling into crime.

HAF has also established two of its widespread tree nurseries at CPCs, which not only provide youth with agricultural training, but foster human development. Programs such as these are proven to provide youth with a sense of purpose in applying tangible, valuable skills and forging a deeper connection with their environment and communities. Not to mention, they replace the idleness common among detained or released but unemployed youth that can so often lead to radicalization or backsliding into crime. Therefore, community-driven agricultural initiatives can reduce rates of recidivism and violent extremism in youth.

It is important that CPCs make an effort to improve their conditions by whatever measure possible to better the outcomes of detained children reentering society. Still, NGOs continue to prove their value in protecting vulnerable communities as they see the potential in troubled youth and turn it into action. When children in CPCs are afforded the rights to education, development, and a full life, they will recognize their potential as well and thrive.

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Yossef Ben-Meir
President of the High Atlas Foundation
New York City, NY United States
$48,996 raised of $100,000 goal
736 donations
$51,004 to go
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