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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

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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As part of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) project activities, Imane and I – respectively the OES project manager and the OES coordinator in the High Atlas Foundation –  went to the Mohammed VI Technical High School in Marrakech on Friday 27th of December, to conduct a workshop on Climate Change, Environmental Laws and Environmental Decision-Making.

The workshop started at 4 p.m. after a session of icebreaking and the presentation of each attendee, Imane made the presentation on the dangers of climate change caused by bad habits of people. Imane also explained how these habits can be changed, by government laws and by personal initiatives.

After that, Imane went to the middle of the courtyard and the students formed a circle around her, in order to explain how to plant a tree and how the tree needs to grow in good conditions.

After we planted the first tree together with students, we started the distribution of trees (13 pomegranates and 10 fig trees) to the students who put themselves in several groups and each group took care of planting the trees in holes previously dug by the school keeper.

The day ended with students singing traditional songs, the visit of the school choir and a last word made by the president Director of the school and the president of the association of parents of pupils.

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Moroccan youth today, whether urban or rural based, face enormous obstacles in achieving their self-development and in creating the improvements they seek for their families, communities, country, and even for the world.

As they know all too well, they are confronted with the statistical reality which confirms the more educational credits they have, the more their income expectation is proportionately diminished. The higher the level of education results in fewer employment options available for them to consider. The backdrop of having little faith in the social system, its sense of fair play, clouds the real freedom available to join cooperatives, to form businesses their aspirations mirror, and to envision more rewarding accomplishments.

In rural regions youth unemployment is more severe. Cash economies, dependent on established day-laborer experience, offer little chance of job openings. Urban migration is the only alternative for so many, even when their real desires would be to remain in their communities and to build on their local, heartfelt attachments. The poor and unacceptable levels of rural education compel young families to relocate in cities. Considering the strong incentives evident among youth to alter their realities, the success rate is low. The funding, secured for launching new projects, appears to be the exception.

This said, the bright light for change can be found rooted in the Moroccan condition. People's participation in their own development is the law of the land, pervading the social structure by way of policies, programs, and legal obligation. Portions of these national framework guidelines for human development specify youth as a primary and potential vehicle in facilitating local participatory development movements the nation seeks. This is to say the direct engagement of youth, in bringing their respective communities together, in planning and in managing the projects, offers the fulfilment their lives deserve while providing a key causeway to Morocco's best future.  Simply put: Moroccan sustainable development, the reality of its outcome for all people will be determined by the role its youth plays.

But how do we move forward, and how does this embody true entrepreneurship? As in ways of learning, of forging new skills, we do best by the practice of doing. We coordinate inclusive, local dialogue by assisting in that dialogue. We help others in defining their heartfelt projects directed towards a better future by doing just that: asking the questions, collecting the responses, aggregating them in helping others work through them until a common consensus and direction becomes defined.

In addition, we put forth successful project proposals by writing and submitting them with responsible follow-up. We learn how to create budgets by creating them. We build capacities around the evaluation of past actions in order to build future courses by engaging in them. We learn from experience; so must our youth. Thankfully, there are no preconditions required to begin. There is no educational degree we must have. There is no innate status or background needed to qualify. We begin by beginning. Time and life are short, so we must begin now. 

We are often taught to think that entrepreneurship comes from our own innovation. We are often encouraged to believe that to become the most creative, strategic, and successful is in doing that which arises from our own ingenuity, from our own personal business sense, and rests with our own ability to invent and to decide.

This outlook is categorically false, misleading, and even antithetical in effecting sustainable and progressive development towards a satisfactory society. Entrepreneurship rests on what we give towards drawing out and realizing the ideas of the people. Innovation is the embodiment of a thousand voices intersecting and resulting in one agreement for a collective, communal development. Our creativity is a reflection of how we assist others in understanding and pursuing their hopes for the future. Youth entrepreneurship is not an endeavor of separate individuals, but rather a concern of all youth, enriching themselves by building their communities' development course and driven by public participation.

There is a heavy burden Moroccan youth experience, with trepidation the future must hold in their hearts. To even fulfill the promise of the light of people's participation and development is truly painstaking and difficult, without certainty, and with non-linear progress. There is, however, reason for gratitude when national policies champion youth's role in creating sustainable change, and sees everyone's participation as vital to that change. The question before us is: will we give ourselves over to the cause of others; thereby to the vast multiplicity of entrepreneurship, with all the resources entailed, in order to walk this course?

Even though time brings us understanding, it is not presently our friend. There is urgency to this call in completing the Moroccan model in bringing, finally, mutual satisfaction; in the giving and the receiving our lives seriously need.

Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir is a sociologist and president of the High Atlas Foundation in Morocco.

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North Africa is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change and characterised by severe environmental degradation. This compromises already scarce natural resources and thereby the countries’ economic performance, which is heavily dependent on natural capital such as agriculture, phosphates, mineral resources and fisheries. This in turn also entails consequences for human development: While absolute poverty in North Africa has decreased, populations remain vulnerable to poverty, a situation complicated by environmental degradation, climate change and the overexploitation of natural resources.

Morocco is no exception. Creeping desertification, compromised forest areas, diminishing water resource potential, the sharp degradation of fragile ecosystems like oases and the coast, and high vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters is not only threatening Morocco’s rich biodiversity but also the livelihoods, well-being and health of many Moroccans. This is particularly apparent in the Zagora Province in southeastern Morocco. The region is characterized by hot and dry desert climate, so water supply is low to begin with but growing demands from unsustainable agricultural methods and climate change have pushed the area into extreme stress. Desertification is a harsh reality in this region. Salt concentrations in the water are so high that the water becomes undrinkable and due to long-lasting droughts palm and fruit trees are dying, leaving farmers without livelihoods.

In this context, the High Atlas Foundation together with a group of highly motivated Peace Corps Volunteers from the Zagora Province distributed and planted 370 almond, pomegranate, and fig trees with three primary schools, two student dormitories and three farmer associations involving 307 people while discussing the importance of trees in mitigating environmental degradation with the children. The children learned that planting trees has many benefits. Trees protect the environment through stabilising the soil and preventing floods, they provide shade and shelter for animals and humans alike, they clean the air and thereby combat climate change, and they increase farmer's income through the sale of tree products.

Additionally, the High Atlas Foundation conducted four participatory climate change workshops with farmers and women involving a total of 100 people. During these workshops women, men, and youth discussed changes to the oasis farms over the years, learned the science behind climate change, and identified solutions they can champion as local community to preserve the environment and mitigate and adapt to the changing climate.  Across all four workshops, community members identified the necessity to sensitise communities about human-made climate change as key priority as well as investing in renewable energy alternatives for producing electricity, pumping water,  and cooking, introducing measures to prevent trash burning, and receiving support from the local government to realise those priorities.

Another key priority was to plant well adapted trees that can deal with the frequent droughts and high salt concentrations of the soil and water. As an example for such a well adapted tree, one community member told the success story of a farmer in Zagora, who planted moringa trees and was able to increase his income from the 230.000 MAD he earned from the sale of palm tree products to  6 million MAD through selling moringa tree products. Also called acacia or the drumstick tree, the moringa plant can be irrigated with water containing up to eight grams of salt per liter, and adapt well to desert conditions by drawing water from up to 200 feet under the ground. The plant also protects other crops by creating a barrier from the wind and sand, improves soil quality thanks to its nitrogen-fixing properties which help to revive the soil, and increases farmer’s income through the sale of the variety of by-products of the moringa tree. By-products, for example, are gum arabic, which is used in the food industry as a stabilizer and as a binder in watercolor paints and ceramic glazes, moringa oil, which is extracted from the seeds of the plant and is used in food and medicinal products, and the leaves of the plant, which can be used for nutritional supplements, herbal tea, or mixed with honey. Due to the many benefits of this tree and the success story from the farmer in Zagora, the associations decided to investigate, how they could get hold of moringa tree saplings.

All in all the workshops and tree planting events in the Tamezmoute commune were a huge success. The High Atlas Foundation sincerely thanks the local community members, Peace Corps Volunteers, and local authorities for their hospitality during those exciting and inspiring few days in the Zagora province. 

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Twenty-nine master’s and doctorate-level law students participated in the second of a series of workshops and trainings designed to prepare the students to work in a new law clinic to be housed at the Faculty of Juridical, Economic, and Social Sciences at the University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah in Fez. Fourteen of the students were women; fifteen men.

The workshop focused on Interpersonal Development and Participatory Communication. Facilitated primarily by professional personal development coach Mohamed Sqalli, it built off of the inaugural workshop which took place earlier in November. Students continued to assess the energy levels of both themselves and other parties in order to better regulate emotions and ultimately provide more effective responses and legal counsel to future clients. They gained hands-on practice with active and intuitive listening and empathy in a legal clinic context through interactive group discussion and applied scenario role plays.

In one group role play, a man challenged his first wife on his decision to take a second. In court, the judge ruled in favor of the first wife who was opposed to her husband’s proposition. In another, a student sought advice about a missed exam, and her clinicians met her with a spirit of service. And in yet another, an international student needed answers about his legal status and consulted with three clinicians. While explaining his situation and concerns, one clinician exuded impatience while the other two demonstrated impeccable empathy and active listening skills. The latter were more successful in their ability to administer legal advice because they had gained access to more information and developed enhanced trust with their client.

During a group discussion about the project itself, HAF Project Manager Katie, posed two simple questions to student participants: 1) What are your ideas for making the law clinic successful? and 2) What do you need from the student training program to feel confident in your ability to work in the clinic?

Students lit up with suggestions, ideas, and visions. Sleek marketing and communications planning, student business cards, relevant and vital partnerships, opportunities to learn from the experiences of students who have worked in other law clinics throughout Morocco and beyond, student-led expositions on their areas of expertise, training on computer literacy in a legal aid context, more mock interviews to help them practice giving empathetic, professional legal counsel, and team-building activities. It is the hope that from these ideas will come student-led working groups and a built-in team effort to collectively lead the law clinic to success.

Moving forward, students will be able to incorporate soft skills emphasized during the first two workshops into a more technical focus on family law and migration policy. Upcoming workshops will be conducted by university law faculty and policy experts from the Moroccan government and intergovernmental organizations. The next training will take place on Saturday, December 14 and will focus on Moroccan Family Law and Clinic Operations.

Click here to check out more photos from this project.

The High Atlas Foundation is working in partnership with the University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah (USMBA) in Fez to establish a Law Clinic and Legal Aid program which actively engages students in experiential and service learning for the greater good of the local community. The project is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and aims “to foster greater cooperation among local civil society organizations and universities and promote service learning.”

Katie is a Project Manager with the High Atlas Foundation, an American-Moroccan nonprofit organization committed to sustainable development in Morocco. She is working with university partners in Fez to implement a pro bono law clinic to benefit marginalized persons.

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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
$43,513 raised of $50,000 goal
640 donations
$6,487 to go
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