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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

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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Yesterday, I traded the sprawling city of Marrakech for the rolling foothills and winding roads of the Moroccan countryside. Watching this buzzing metropolis retreat through the back window of the car we rode in, I was filled with excitement.

After an hour of driving and stop for lunch, we arrived at our destination, the village of Touama. There, we were to meet local high school students to engage in a discussion about climate change and its pernicious effects on rural communities such as their own. However, before the presentation began, we first had an opportunity to meet the educational leaders who had made our trip and the partnership with HAF possible.

After greeting the head of school and other officials, we were shown several brightly colored school buildings and offices, before being led into the yard at the back of the campus. As we turned the corner and entered this multi-purpose athletic space, we gazed upon a breath-taking view of rolling green fields accentuated by the regal silhouettes of the mountainous peaks, the source of the Foundation’s namesake. Looking around the yard, we admired the colorful murals adorning the low wall around our perimeter. These images warmly wrapped us in a welcoming display of communal strength.

Shortly thereafter, we were shown back inside and led to a classroom where the workshop would occur. The students, aged between sixteen and nineteen years, slowly filed into the room in groups of twos and threes and sat in rows of chairs facing us. Once everyone was seated and present, the English teacher at the school instructed the students to rise and each state their names. Every individual was recognized from the front to the back of the room.

Afterward, they again sat and watched with rapt attention as HAF staff members Karam and Imane began their presentation on climate change. The students were engrossed with the narrative they wove, from the demonstration of harmful environmental practices to the resolution and explanation of tree planting as an active agent for positive change.

From there, we shifted into a period of back and forth sharing during which students, standing before their peers, spoke earnestly about the environmental challenges afflicting their community. A lack of awareness and education was a recurrent theme they pointed to as causation for these issues. It was clear to see, though, that these students were not willing to have this same fate beset them as well. They were eager to share where they saw their community falling short in its efforts to protect the environment, and how they would, if given the opportunity and power to do, bring about more sustainable and productive approaches.

For the second stage of our visit, we returned again to the outdoor schoolyard. We were escorted to an area off to one side that had been designated as the planting site for the fruit trees we had brought with us.

The excitement in the air was tangible as the roots of the first fledgling trees were placed into shallow holes dug in the ground, and gently encased in beds of fertile soil. Pride welled in the faces of the students, their imaginations conjuring images of the vibrancy that would grow from these bare stems. For them, it seemed, the trees represented vessels that would grow and evolve as they would to eventually give back to the people and places that had nurtured them.

Once we had put the dozen-odd saplings in the ground and had enjoyed a short snack accompanied by green tea, we reached the final act of the afternoon. Together with the other HAF volunteers and staff, we presented the head of school with a certificate authenticating the now planted fruit trees and celebrating the future partnership of Touama and the High Atlas Foundation.

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My name is Nic, and I am an 18-year-old student from the United States. Today is my third day in Morocco, where I am working with the High Atlas Foundation in Marrakech. Before coming here, and leaving my home behind, it was difficult to imagine what my time abroad would be like. I did not know of the curving narrow streets of the Medina or the controlled chaos of the great avenues. The sheer vivacity of the city can be overwhelming for a newcomer. Yet, while I travelled here alone, the HAF community has welcomed me into their midst with open arms from the first moment I walked through their door. This attitude, of warmth and openness, seems the standard here. Moroccan communities, like the one I have already been generously inducted into, appear to be built on the backs of shared experience, empathy, and care for those around you. Everyone is a brother or a sister, and anonymity within the throngs of people who walk, run, ride, and drive through the streets of Marrakech, dissolves as quickly as the fog from your breath in the cold January air.

There is still much for me to see and do here. Whether it is relaxing under the shade of exotic plants in the Majorelle Gardens, traversing the sprawling stalls of the Jama El f’na, or walking the halls of the many great palaces in the southern part of the Medina, I want to know the spirit of this place.

Tomorrow I have the opportunity to see first-hand the High Atlas Foundation’s work in action, when I travel with staff and other volunteers to a rural mountainous community to plant fruit trees. I am excited to take part in this initiative committed to alleviating poverty and tackling the imminent threat of climate change and global warming. I also look forward to hearing the individuals of this community speak about their desires, concerns, aspirations, and goals in future partnership with HAF.

I hope to keep you all updated as my journey continues to unfold, and I get even closer to Morocco and its wonderful people!

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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
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