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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
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project
Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project

Is it hubris, that in the face of worry and challenge and fundamental concerns about the future, that we put aside from what we may have, to plant trees for a tomorrow - a benefit for a distant day?

May it actually be our nature to uphold nature, even when we are confronted so suddenly with a threat to ourselves and to people we hold dear?

Yes, we are saying - plant trees. Plant them now. Plant them well and far. Plant with us. Ask others to plant. Plant in the face of our shared trial.

When the same wisdom from a most and least far past, and from places surrounding and furthest – that is, when a specific knowledge from across time and place – is delivered in front of us, it seems an interesting pearl, and one to take to heart.

Planting life seeds is practical and soulful, it is for today and tomorrow, it refines our bodies and mind, it satisfies all senses, it brings a beautiful rest, it is personal and communal for all coming time, it is the epitome of existence, especially when we do it with children.

It is also what we can do right now. Plant with hope in the face of confinement, restriction, and scare about health.

Today, we cannot do it with schools, but a farmer can do it in a nursery and field – a lovely opening for an everlasting good, in the face of a trial.

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On Friday, February 28, a new international convoy made its way to Demnate: the Moroccan contingent of High Atlas Foundation staff members Imane and driver/photographer Mohammed; Asmaa, the executive assistant for Yves Rocher Morocco; Jingxin from China, a HAF Intern; and me from France, also an Intern. We were pleased to have Asmaa present to foster a potential tree-planting partnership between Yves Rocher Morocco and HAF.

At the first school, the Hay Sonae, we met Jamie, an American Peace Corps Volunteer, posted for two years in Demnate. He teaches English, chess, basketball, and yoga at several schools and high schools in the city. Mr. Chaouki and AESVT (Association des Enseignants de Sciences de la Vie et de la Terre) members were also present. Two hundred and fifty primary school pupils formed a circle around Imane, who started the workshop with an “icebreaker” game. She asked questions about the environment, surrounded by this horde of children. The first tree was planted, and we left about fifteen more saplings for the school to continue planting during the day. Before we left, we were treated to a surprise that the school had prepared for us: the school choir of about twenty students performed two beautiful songs, one in Arabic and one in French. After this little show, we were offered mint tea and cakes to celebrate Green Week.

We had quite an ambitious schedule for the day, visiting four schools! We continued with the school of Mimouna, where 48 boys and 42 girls were waiting for us. Imane started the workshop with more than motivated students. I noticed with joy that the girls, like the boys, participated vocally. Jingxin was the star of a small group of girls who followed her wherever she went. These little fans were soon around the three of us (Asmaa, Jingxin and me), Asmaa speaking to them in Arabic. The girls asked questions about us: our first name, where we come from, and so on. After the trees were planted, the teachers and administrative staff invited us to drink mint tea and offered us little cakes. As at the previous school, the AESVT was also thankfully present. The message: let's plant!

We had two hours of break before starting the afternoon with a new school. Jamie, who knows the sector because he explored it for a year and a half, took us to a pretty nice place: Iminifri. While waiting for our tagine, we went down to the Iminifri cave. With only a short walk, we arrived near a small stream, where we enjoyed the pleasant view and the fresh air before going back up. Above our heads danced many red-billed chough birds that seem to live in this area.

After eating our tagine, it was onward to the Youssef Ibn Tachfin high school that welcomed us. This is the first Moroccan high school I have been to. I was curious to see pupils close to my age, to see their involvement, their participation, and to compare them with what I had already experienced at the primary and middle schools. Everything was going well and all the teenagers (36 girls and 20 boys) were involved until, unfortunately, the majority had to leave the workshop for computer classes. However, Imane finished the workshop with the remaining fifteen students, and we planted the tree together. Once it was in the ground, each person watered it by dipping their hands in the bucket of water: we took turns blessing the future tree.

To conclude this day of workshops, the dormitories of Dar Taliba (for girls) and Dar Talib (for boys) received us. Twenty-one girls and thirteen boys, all high school students, formed a circle. As with the other three schools, Imane got them to participate, and the group applauded each good answer that was given. One tree was planted, and fifteen were left to be planted by the students afterwards. We were again invited to drink tea and eat a snack with the members of the AESVT.

We gave the rest of the trees to Jamie and dropped off him and the plants at the environmental center of Demnate. With our day thus ended, we took the road back to Marrakech.

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On February 26th, we, two French interns, went with Imane to the Mohammed Abed el Jabiri dar Essalam secondary school that is located on the outskirts of Marrakech. There we met the biology teacher, who welcomed us warmly. Inside her laboratory, we carefully observed the student’s pieces of work that are both posters and constructions representing, for instance, a volcano, the fertilization process, or a human jawbone. The teacher explained to us that all of those works were made by the pupils in their free time as homework. However, she provided them with the tools and materials so that no one was at a disadvantage.

To me, it is very appealing to give pupils the opportunity to be responsible for their own education. By creating objects, posters, and infographics, the students learn more effectively than if they were listening passively. This allows them to develop their creativity and by the process of doing, to enjoy making it and be proud of what they’ve achieved. Posters made by the students were hung in the schoolyard and described fruit trees. This is where the workshop took place.

The director of the school, two representatives of the AESVT (Association des Enseignants de Science et Vie de la Terre), Mr. Belhand and Mr. Abdelghani (director AESVT Marrakech), as well as Mr. Houari from the Observatory of the Palmeraie of Marrakech offered a few words and planted the first tree before giving way to Imane.

In a circle, we held hands and Imane tested the pupils' attention. After that, the workshop came to life with informed and involved secondary school students. Almost all the students took part so that the answers came flooding in. Everyone was shown appreciation by the applause throughout the rest of the assembly. And it was with great enthusiasm that the group headed to the chosen spot to plant the much-valued trees!

And on February 27th, we repeated the workshop but in another secondary school. The “Collège Sâada” is located a few blocks away from our previous workshop. What struck us at the first sight were the artistic works standing in the schoolyard. Every one of them was made by the pupils or former pupils. As we arrived at the school, we could see students working on cardboard-made guitars and another group working in the school’s garden. The students are growing their own lentils, carrots, chickpeas… with barely any knowledge about planting and growing vegetables. But the vice president tells us that they are learning from their mistakes. The biology teacher has already installed a drop-by-drop system to water the crops. Most of them are drought tolerant plants in order to be adapted to the arid soil and the low precipitation conditions.

The involvement of the students in the school’s cultural life is very appealing, and the staff’s efforts in bringing life to this place are noteworthy. In the classroom where the workshop took place, a theatre teacher comes voluntarily to help the students and teach them how to act.

According to the President of the environmental club of the school, Mrs Khadja El Kenani, the students of the school come here even when they don’t have any class because they have nowhere else to go, and this place allows them to develop their creativity and have fun. Through this pleasant atmosphere, the workshop unfolded well. Thanks to the students’ workforce, the children planted a symbolic olive tree in an empty space of the school where other trees will be planted in a near future.

In those two schools, the opportunity is given to the pupils to collaborate and create sculptures and posters out of raw materials. That encourages them to think by themselves, rely on very basic tools to explain on the one hand the complexity of the human body and on the other hand to decorate the schoolyard with music instruments or animals. Those creative works get the students and teachers together, making the students proud and the school honored to receive such artistic works. Eventually both sustainability and art are embodied in those community-made pieces of work and school gardens. And this is just a glance at two well-rounded schools on the outskirts of Marrakech. Pupils’ creativity must be encouraged as well as their self-confidence because art is sustainable development’s best media. As global warming is already happening, we have to adapt to our changing environment, and all the creativity we can get from the younger generation will become worthwhile.

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On the morning of the February 17, 2020, I’m going to pass the day with Imane, Karam, Nic and Yossef: international HAF convoy. In the car, the music gives the rhythm to the landscapes which pass before our eyes. Linkin Park and the Norman singer Orelsan are coming on the trip.

I learn thanks to Karam, the historian of the group, that the Moroccan villages generally bear the name of the first inhabitant or of the most powerful person in the village.

The first school we go to is in the commune of Sidi Abdallah Ghiat in the Al Haouz province. The schoolyard is surrounded by several small gardens tree-filled: olive trees, chiba (wormwood), rosemary; turtles, hedgehogs and cats are walking around the school grounds. All this fauna and flora gives a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere.

Pupils who participate to the workshop are about ten years old. They form a circle around Imane who first makes them play so that they are really attentive, then follows up and asks them questions about global warming, environment, the role of trees… The children, in small groups, took care of planting the trees, compacting the soil, filling in the holes, watering the young shoots... with our help.

Planting trees whets the appetite! The teachers present at the workshop invite us to have breakfast with them.

The road is lined with high trees: for a moment I thought I was in the middle of the pines in the Gironde area. I closed my eyes, when I opened them: what a magnificent sight the snow-covered mountain tops are.  

Now we are at the middle school Nour Alatlas, the workshop only starts at 2:30 pm, but the teachers invite us for lunch.

The workshop begins with about 50 young people between the ages of 14 and 16. After a more or less successful attempt to get the teenagers to play, Karam interacts with the group by asking them questions about the environment, climate change... Then, they were given sprouts that they planted in the holes they had previously dug.


Today is February 18, 2020, let’s go for a new field trip day with Imane, Karam, Nic and Hassan, a project assistant in HAF. We take the road to Ouarzazat: a beautiful and long day begins.

We arrive to the first primary school of the day, the Talbanin school: 88 kids are here for the workshop. The children form a circle and Imane asks them, by turns, to say a word that evokes the environment. After that, the kids start planting the trees.

Looking at the earth at my feet, I notice that there are pieces of plastic bags, a razor, bits of paper, shoe soles, bottle caps...

We planted about 12 trees, after that we presented a diploma to some children and we took some group pictures. Then, we ate breakfast in a classroom: very cool.

Back on the road: heading for the Machtoun school group.

15 girls and 16 boys about ten years old hold hands in a circle and let's go for the little ritual game. Karam quickly asks them questions about the environment, the role of trees... The girls don't dare to answer in front of the boys, even though they know their shyness takes over.

Third school of the day: the Tizi school. I was frightened to find that at the bottom of the courtyard was a vegetable garden of rubbish... Despite that, a group of 19 girls and 17 boys are ready for the workshop: ritual play and ritual questions. Five holes had already been dug, the children dug others so that they could plant even more cypress trees. So far, this is the only school that has added manure when filling in the holes. Time for a cup of tea and we are off to the last school: the Tidili school group where 180 primary school children are waiting for us. Imane takes care of one group while Karam looks after the other. The children, in groups, share the holes and plant.

We shared a tajine, fruits with teachers, and we visited the library in front of the school before coming back to Marrakech.

We have visited six schools in two days, and 130 trees have been planted today.

Out of the 6 schools we visited during these two days of field work, I observed that most of the teachers are men, if not all of them. The few female teachers we met were mainly concerned with young children. On the other hand, I don't think boys are more concerned about climate change. However, in all the schools we visited, they were the ones in charge of watering, digging new holes... Girls dared not participate as much as boys: for fear of ridicule? Are they simply used to not talking often?

All the children were happy to leave their daily routine by planting trees, some more involved than others. I think it is important to make the younger generation aware of all these worrying issues. And in my opinion, it is also the role of the school to raise awareness about waste. In three of the four schools visited on Tuesday, all kinds of waste were littering the ground. I doubt that an empty yoghurt pot is a natural fertilizer, or that plastic bits grow like dandelions.

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Recently, the High Atlas Foundation and Kids International Dental Services organization (KIDS) came together to help advance rural children's health care. KIDS' leader and I visited Anamer and Ait Lkak villages in Oukaimdan (Al Houz) and Bouchan (Rhamna). We were there to arrange and prepare for an upcoming visit by 8 American dentists, their assistants, and support team (20 people total) due in March 2020 to treat the teeth of 3,000 rural children. 

HAF president, Dr. Yossef initiated the plan after a meeting a few months ago in Morocco. The HAF is committed to sustainable development goals in Moroccan communities, that are also in line with KIDS' principles and programs. We all are looking forward to their return in March, and to the sweet smiles and improved health of children.

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High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @haffdtn
Project Leader:
Fatima Zahra Laaribi
New York City, NY United States
$40,298 raised of $50,000 goal
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