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

There may be irony in Morocco now reconsidering and revamping its development model, which is its national guiding frameworks for social and environmental fulfillment. I have long been and remain a believer in Morocco’s existing frameworks for the people’s development. There is, after all, a lot to like. Municipalities are to create development plans made from the participation of all communities and groups. Environmental management is understood to integrate the local people. Agricultural programs seek to achieve the value-chain with communities of small landholders. Morocco is committed to the goals of decentralization, renewable energy, liberation of women and youth from social and economic hindrances, and well-established southern unity. Multicultural preservation is a non-equivocal national choice.

Furthermore, there are a lot more to these initiatives when we consider the innovation within each, and the extra value that can be accomplished when these frameworks operate well in tandem. For example, the Decentralization Roadmap designates the local communities as planners and implementors of development projects, to be buttressed by national level, private, and public support. Decentralization is made even more viable because also part of the Morocco model is its national Municipal Charter, which requires locally elected officials and civil society to plan alongside all community members in the creation of their human development plans. In the model design, this means that the participatory community work of municipalities and their forming of partnerships toward creating projects managed by and for the benefit of the people, contribute to the emergence of a decentralized system. This would have public administrations considerably more aware and directly supportive of the people’s priorities.

For Morocco, these and the other existing frameworks – call them together, model one – are intent upon and could set forward sustainable development initiatives across the countryside. Yet, it is honestly the rare exception when a rural municipality creates development plans genuinely reflective of collective community identification of the needed projects in their area. Rural women and girls are not, for the most part, aware of the Moroccan family code and the human rights that are theirs. Morocco’s unity with its multicultural identity is beautiful and real, but its translation into the critical growth for the populace is insufficient.

This search since 2019 to redefine Morocco’s model was made possible by the poverty-related frustrations at all levels and sectors of Moroccan society. It is commendable that the national dissatisfaction has brought on this reevaluation, with now six months remaining before the anticipated completion by the appointed commission. I hope that the framers of a new Moroccan approach – model two – fully appreciate the good afforded by model one. I would go further and suggest that model two would be visionary and bold by offering programmatic actions to successfully implement model one.

Morocco’s development frustrations stem from insufficient training in participatory development among those responsible for facilitating community dialogue and actions. Achieving success within Morocco’s current model depends on communities being integral to planning and management, and that condition can only be achieved when there are trained facilitators of participatory planning. Members of local councils typically have not experienced capacity-building programs that enhance these necessary applied skills. We cannot forge decentralization from beneficiary-determined community projects when the people in these jurisdictions have never gained the opportunity to learn how.

The projects people most need and want require funding, even when beneficiaries provide some in-kind labor. Therefore, the National Initiative for Human Development, Morocco’s flagship development program for people’s projects, should increase its support of municipal council initiatives once people’s participation in the design has genuinely occurred.

Morocco’s model today, in a nutshell, is to implement community development ideas for change along with public and private partners. A new model cannot escape implementation of the first one. Therefore, I will certainly take more comfort if the basis of model two were to emerge from almond growers in Taroudant, nomadic communities in the south, cumin harvesters in the east, women and girls of mountain communities, artisanal food processors in Azilal, recent high school graduates in Driouch, and youth living in potentially-limiting remote places. I hope it is a model composed by the people for whom it is intended.

Then, we will learn the composite of ways we can align resources with community actions for empowerment, decision-making, implementation, and transformation. After all, worthwhile models are those that reveal the means of securing support for communities to gain control over their livelihoods and future.

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High Atlas Foundation in Morocco is involving all of society’s parts and actors to help establish sustainable development and build a shining future where everyone gets the right support needed. As an example, to fight to show this vision, the HAF team is preparing each group of youth, those who are in the schools, universities, associations, and youth centers… They can change the future of their community and families… But how can this be happening in Morocco?

With positive thoughts, engagement, and encouragement, HAF is using simple methods and ways to motivate and involve Moroccan youth. For example, the Child Protection Centers receive children of different ages and different cases, many of whom have no familiarity with growing trees, or that from a seed we can have future trees for Moroccan families. This is what we experienced with those kids and youth in one of those Child Protection Centers here in Morocco. To practice agriculture means, to many of the kids in the Fez Center, that you will feel messy and dirty! This is how they were thinking when the idea of building a fruit tree nursery at the same center came true with HAF and other partners. A few of them joined the new agricultural workshop in their centers for the first couple of weeks, and later the HAF team who took care of the nursery project invested more effort into having the young teenagers explore and change the routine that they may have had before.

Day by day, they built a team involved in learning and discovering a new life that was established around them. It was waiting only for who was going to take the initiative to bring that young generation all together to a special place in a social environment. 

The kids are having the chance to learn how to plant seeds and to take care of the saplings, by weeding out the weeds, installing the irrigation system, grafting, and growing trees organically. More than that, the children will build a good relationship with the environment where they live because of the education and the lessons they learn from the nursery activities. 

The working program at the beginning in this center is to keep the kids with the nursery team watching the progress of building the nursery and preparing the land. Within a few days, the natural world that was scaring them became an open space with new activities, preparing the soil, installing the irrigation system, preparing the seeds to be ready to go in the soil, and dealing with the surrounding plants and existing trees.

In just one month of working hard, planning, and encouragement, more children wanted to plant seeds by themselves and come to the garden each day to make sure the seeds received enough water and to remove the weeds. A child of 15 years old left the center, and when he came back four months later, the seeds he planted by his own hands had become saplings and even taller than he is. This was very surprising and served as a big motivation for the young child and his friends to be engaged in planting seeds and learn with the High Atlas Foundation about agriculture and how we participate in protecting the local environment. More than that, all the children at the Abdelaziz Ben Driss center, were able to see most of the seeds become future fruit trees that will go directly to their families and community.

This is an example of how HAF is engaging a group of youth to be part of society even though they are confined to the center. Thank you, Ecosia from Germany for choosing Morocco and High Atlas Foundation as one of your partners to plant trees and serve the local communities with all the environmental, economic and social supports. Thank you to all those using Ecosia around the world.

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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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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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