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
We would like to share with you the first Sami's Project touch of the ground in our new 2018 planting season.  Sami's Project started its 6th edition.
Sami's Project is not only a great HAF initiative created for the schoolchildren and their communities, but it's transforming education in rural areas. Fruit trees transform the school landscape providing green spaces and shade while providing educational activities, nutritious food, and increased income. 
The group of primary schools in Ait M'hamed in the Azilal province had a special day on the 27th of December 2017, as the first schools to benefit from more than 60 almond trees from HAF in this new planting season. Both girls and boys were extremely excited to be involved in the planting activity, as well as contributing in organizing the event.  HAF Sami's Project continues to raise development with more schoolchildren and their communities.
Happy New Year all.
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A world created is one that begins with a path taken by an individual who gives time, energy, thought, and care without personal material return, to people seeking a genuine change.  The volunteer-of-oneself may begin this journey with heavy concern over the unknown, with boundless belief in the infinitely possible, and with even outright alienation from the people to benefit.  The giver-without-recompense may start a dialogue within oneself, asking why am I here, what can I do that really matters, and must I do this and feel cold, tired, hungry, and alone? 

The passage of time, persistence, and remaining true to the ideal of service-to-others leads to people’s familiarity with the volunteer.  Stories of joy and hardship are sometimes shared, dreams and fears may be expressed, and trust emerges from the people’s observations of the volunteer during setting after setting.  Finally, the people’s acceptance opens a pathway for creation.  

There can be no set timetable for this new path to development becoming open.  Social and environmental factors that are understood, that could take a lifetime to precisely identify, or that are oftentimes uncontrollable, bear upon the pace at which a volunteer’s service may become supported by the people.  At a certain point, however, a moment is reached after the volunteer passes an unacknowledged and informal trial set by the community when they become willing to gather for a meeting, facilitated by the volunteer.  At this time, there are methods – call them participatory, action research, community management, or by more than 100 other names – that assist the local participants in assessing their priority needs and viable project options. 

The volunteer plays a key role in launching this analytical process taken by the community.  The giver to local sustainable change helps to coordinate a suitable time and location for people to meet.  The volunteer works to ensure that all people – women and men, homeowners and homeless, youth and retirees, all and one – are part of the conversation about the first and following initiatives they create.  The volunteer shares information about prospective public and civil, local and distant, partners to a given development project.  The volunteer organizes the community’s data, searches for synergies, writes proposals, identifies funding – and builds the capacities of the people so that they can carry forward this change process for themselves. 

What exactly is the new world created from this evolving experience? An empowered path taken by the people; a discovery of a future far more fulfilling than the future prior imagined; new and changed relationships derived from a new and changed sense-of-self; and a new world gained from livelihoods derived from one’s own production that is achieved in conjunction with others.  In Morocco – where I have given as a Peace Corps and civil society volunteer and then supported others in their giving – this means women’s healing and legal recourses from abuse, drinking water in schools and deserts, organic fruit trees stopping eroding places, university students once volunteers facilitating change and now employed to accomplish change, and Muslim, Christian, and Jewish people restoring together their scared sites as a strategy for poverty-alleviation.  It involves program and policy advocacy at all levels to advance the sustainable development the nation has envisioned for itself.  It means consequences that we can measure, and generational ones that have yet to enter our imagination. 

For many volunteers, they may not have to blaze that initial beginning difficult pathway to new worlds, the winding road with its enough measures of doubt, misunderstanding, and even risk.  They may instead find a placement to help already-accepting-others to further along an existing development pathway to transformation, or maybe even evaluate the tangible empowerment changes that have been generated by new projects. 

In any case, there are also new worlds formed for and by the selfless traversing of the volunteers.  They may be introduced to a profession that provides the wonderful flexibility to promote the people’s self-growth.  Their studies may take an action-orientation, which recognizes that to explain a social problem without improving the situation leaves the research design incomplete.  They move along a new way they would not have otherwise, meeting people, forming relationships, and effecting communities never before projected.  They discover more of themselves, love more themselves and others, and find higher meaning that a harsh reality cannot take away.  They become filled with the people’s stories, and can with time and the accumulation of the narratives, communicate on behalf of the marginalized.

Advocates of including service in schools and the workplace remind us that we are three times more likely to volunteer if we are asked to do so.  With December fifth’s International Volunteer Day mobilizing thousands of volunteers, let’s join this chorus and energy that will forge better worlds that reflect our giving-selves and the sustainable projects that are just steps away. 

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Recently, one of our Interns, Ellen, wrote an amazing piece about the work of Sami's project, and its success. Please read below to see the latest on the project. 


Hello there! Ellen, here, HAF’s social media intern from Berkeley, California. I have spent the past five weeks with HAF, and I wanted to share my experience with you to tell you about all of the amazing projects HAF is working on and to fill you in on how you can help HAF do more in Morocco!


So, how did I, a college student from California, end up in Marrakech, Morocco for a summer of 110-degree weather and endless tagine dinners? Well, I happen to go to a school that offers funding for international summer internships, and I happened to be scrolling through nonprofits throughout Africa and was attracted to the description of an organization in Morocco called the High Atlas Foundation. Once I researched more about the organization and saw countless images of Marrakech’s red architecture, beautiful gardens, and proximate High Atlas Mountains, I think my fate was sealed. I took an internship offer with HAF to be a social media intern, in line with my interest in political communication, and set up to spend the summer overseas.


What was so special about HAF? Why was I willing to travel to Marrakech (and endure sweltering weather) for this nonprofit? HAF prides itself on its “participatory approach,” the way in which it works directly with Moroccans to facilitate enduring solutions to specific sustainability problems. Rather than serving as a towering, foreign entity that attempts to impose itsidea of what can help these Moroccans, HAF works directly with the communities it is attempting to help. Now, I read about this approach on HAF’s website before arriving in Marrakech, but I don’t think I fully comprehended its effect until serving on the ground in Marrakech. In previous internships, I barely left the office, even eating breakfast and lunch over my computer screen. This internship was entirely different. HAF spends a majority of its time working directly with Moroccan communities, so, as an intern, I was welcome—and even encouraged—to travel with project leads to areas throughout Morocco to facilitate conversation and follow up with projects to ensure that our help was continuing to be, well, helpful.


And let me tell you about these project sites. In the first week, I was asked to do some social media work for “Sami’s Project,” a project that plants trees at local primary schools in memorial of a young boy who died early, living and learning in an arid, treeless village. My coworkers picked me up, and we drove out of the Marrakech busyness through fields of crops, by clay homes, and aside kids playing soccer on dirt fields. After an hour drive, we arrived in the rural, agricultural town of Rhamna at a colorfully painted school, lush with green and shaded by large trees. My Moroccan coworker turned to me, “I am so happy to see how green it is because this school used to have no trees,” he said, beaming. “Oh, you mean when HAF first started working with this school?,” I questioned. “Yes, and when I went to school here, there was only dirt,” my coworker replied. I tried to conceal my surprise, but I was quite honestly pretty shocked to learn that my coworker, who came to work everyday in a button-down shirt and khakis, who spoke flawless English, and who is attending university in Marrakech grew up in this rural village with limited access to water or electricity. He continued to smile, as he introduced us all to this school’s biology teacher—the same biology teacher who taught him many years before.


The biology teacher brought us into the classroom, a brightly painted classroom full of excited students wearing long white lab coats. My coworker, still beaming, took center stage. He introduced us all, speaking in Darija, and began asking the students about HAF’s tree planting: if they enjoyed the project, how the trees were doing, and what HAF could continue to do. I stood behind, equally enthused to see student after student, both boys and girls, shoot up hands to respond to my coworker. My coworker drew images of trees, as well as the system of photosynthesis, filling in the process as these students answered his questions. He then continued to ask the students about their aspirations, giving high fives, as we learned about people’s dreams to be doctors, lawyers, police officers, soccer players, farmers, and teachers.


I left that classroom overwhelmed by excitement, seeing these boys and girls so enthusiastic about HAF’s projects and passionate about their future. As we left the students, the biology teacher gave us a tour of the trees: thriving fig, olive, apple lemon, and orange trees coloring the campus. He concluded by showing us a workshop of student sustainability projects including a beautiful papier-mâché structure of the greened campus, which stood in stark contrast to photos behind it of the dry, arid campus that existed before HAF’s work.


Before leaving the community, we stopped by my coworker’s childhood home, a farm of massive proportions with an equally large family (15 siblings!). Upon arrival, we were flooded by greetings. His mother guided us into a cool room where she insisted upon feeding me (and only me, as I was the only person not observing the month of Ramadan) a Moroccan feast of freshly squeezed juices (yes, multiple), bread, and tea. After talking with her and her family, my coworker led us through their farming fields where we observed their watering techniques and were given bags full of melon, zucchini, squash, and cucumber. As we left the farm and this town, I felt excitement and joy: about these people and about what HAF was doing to help them realize their goals, as well as pride that I was lucky enough to get to see this side of Morocco and work for HAF.


That experience was undoubtedly special to me, but it is in no way unique to the HAF experience. During my short tenure with the High Atlas Foundation, I observed HAF working with women’s cooperatives, empowering women to profit from their products and giving them greater opportunities in their personal lives. I drove with HAF on windy, rocky roads to nurseries in the High Atlas Mountains to help create sustainable water practices that allow farmers to be more successful and simultaneously more environmental. I saw HAF facilitate community discussions in some of the most poverty-stricken areas of Marrakech to try to find ways to lift all people up. These examples, and so many others, show the great variety of projects HAF works on. More importantly, these examples help demonstrate that despite the diversity of projects, HAF’s approach remains the same: invest in people to invest in progress. In all cases, HAF uses the participatory approach to facilitate progress for these communities in need, while simultaneously forging lasting relationships with these people to ensure sustainability in the long term.


HAF works throughout Morocco, directly with these communities, to improve the lives of Moroccans. HAF creates a relationship with and attachment to these communities. It invests itself in the goals and dreams of these communities and has a stake in the long-term success of the projects. I believe that this approach makes HAF unique, and this belief led me to make the journey to Marrakech, to endure 110-degree weather, and to join HAF’s community.

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On the last Friday before Ramadan, we had a great visit to Youssoufia city.

As usual after every season of planting, HAF goes back to evaluate the situation of the trees, and listens to the stidents as to what they need in their schools.

And this evaluation's visit is respectively the fourth; after the provinces of Al Haouz, Chichaoua and Benguerir.

We first met two very active people - Lmanssouri and Latifa.  The are responsible for the "Amal Alghad" Association which is working to bring benefit for rural woman and youth.

Those very kind people showed us the schools and they stayed all the day supporting the evaluation and participatory process.

Between those lovely streets, we arrived at the first school, which is called Sidi Ahmed - a primary school with more than 510 students who welcomed us with their beautiful smiles.  Then we met Said the director of the school, with whom we learned more about the Sidi Ahmed School.  Afterwards, we visited the area the trees were area.

The wonderful thing is that all the students were involved in taking care of the trees.  We engaged the students in a drawing workshop, where they showed us their future ideal school on paper.  It was actually quite emontional for everyone, as we identified many needs which we will do all we can to achieve.

And as every last step in our visits with schools, we gave them the certificate to encourage them and spread planting among them and their communities.

The second direction was to the primary school, called Inbiaat, which faces quite a difficult situation, and that did not help the trees to grow in a good environment.

We tried to get information about the school and also we had a long discussion withe the school’s staff about the trees, but sadly many of the trees there died.  That is due to many causes, for instance: there is an increased problem with the school's  water infrastructure, including for drinking.  We are developing an assessment in order to meet the school’s water needs.

Andalus High School was the third visit, which has 112 female students and 113 male.  That means the number of female students is rising (as compared to revious years, including around Morocco), and that's very wonderful to see the overcoming on challenges and them coming to study.

In the same high school, we met Said who is a teacher and responsible of the environmental club there.  He gave us all the information we need to evaluate the trees.  All the trees were alive.  The school has a very good watering system.  The students were involved in taking care of the trees and watering them.  All these reasons help the school to become a green and beautiful place.

The last step we had a group picture with the school community, and we gave them the certificate appreciating their efforts.

Before the fifth visit, we went to a middle school called Allal Al Fassi, where we met Lalla Fatiha the director of the school.  She just started her mission there a year ago.

At this middle school there is a huge empty space, and Lalla Fatiha suggested to make a nursery in that space.

And that's exactly our work; HAF is working to create more nurseries and more green spaces around the kingdom.  That's why we had a great discussion with the leader and students of the school about our future collaboration just to make a sustainable nursery there.

Among the most wonderful schools we visited in Youssoufia is a new middle school called, Albanae. We found all the trees in very good condition and they grew taller with green leaves.

The teachers and staff of the school there are very kind.  They showed us all the school.  There is an excellent boarding school containing all the conditions to let the students be more comfortable, they have a big hall to socialize in.

The moment that I felt close with the students is when we had a discussion in the open air among the green trees.  They were so happy to talk to us about the needs of their school. All what they want are books to make their library more meaningful.  At the end, we had a such good group, and we gave them their certificate.

The last visit in our day was to a primary school named Alfawarie, which has 60 male students and 59 females. The first thing you can see when you enter into this school is a beautiful garden which has very good almonds and pomegranate trees given from the HAF’s Sami's Project.  The teachers there look very energetic; they water and take care of the trees together with the students.

Also every student took two trees to their home.  That spread the culture of planting with families. They are so happy to see the trees growing in front of their eyes.

Before we leave the school the students sang to us very emotional hymns that are in relation to the environment.  Then we had a group picture with all of them, and the certificate we gave them is a form of encouraging the students to know the responsibility of taking care of the trees.

Finally, I would like to thank Lmanssori and Latifa and all the school leaders, teachers and students for their warm welcome.

I will go back there with many and different trees next planting season, and work to achieve their other priorities.

Together, we are going to make many green touches around Morocco.

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After three months with the High Atlas Foundation, I returned again to my origins in the Rhamna province, where I had the chance to earlier bring the benefit of more than 400 trees on the 16th of January – for the planting event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.


Today – the 3rd of April – I visited those seven schools to:

- Distribute the certificates - appreciating all the efforts of students and teachers as they take care of the trees

- Inspire the students to smile

- Build upon the health of the trees that we planted

- Discuss future projects with HAF


I can say that I still really get priceless information about the environment with the High Atlas Foundation.  I appreciate the good work of the active students and teachers as they create more than green spaces at their schools.


The distribution of certificates reflects our sincere gratitude to the students and teachers at Rhamna schools who planted the 400 almond, fig, and pomegranate trees.


When we planted the trees at the event, I noted the many smiles of students.  That is exactly the what happened when we gave them the certificates.


That was a precious feeling when the students came running and hugged me.  I really learned many things about responsibility from these moments.


As I look at the trees, I was surprises that I found they grew with green leaves.  The schools’ spaces became so green, and here I can say that we already achieved one of many goals.


The last step was to discuss with Mr. Mehdi, the president of the association WASSIL, about future projects with HAF; one of them is an action to plant more than 2,000 trees around 7 villages, with more than 1,000 beneficiaries.


With this collaboration, we are making green spaces for our youth and communities of the Kingdom of Morocco.

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High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
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Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Yossef Ben-Meir
President of the High Atlas Foundation
New York City, NY United States
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