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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

Errachid with rural primary school students, conducting an environmental workshop in Ait Hamou municipality in the Marrakech region (Photo by Nisreen Abo-Sido; January 2019).

Yossef Ben-Meir

President, High Atlas Foundation

Marrakech, Morocco

Tel. +212624596622

September 16, 2019

Errachid Montassir of Morocco, a project manager of the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), was recently accepted to attend the first ever UN Youth Climate Summit in New York City on Saturday, September 21. The special event will be a platform for young leaders who are driving climate action to showcase their solutions at the United Nations, and to meaningfully engage with decision-makers on the defining issue of our time. It will be the largest gathering of young climate leaders at the UN in history. 

Over 7,000 young people between the ages of 18 to 29 applied to attend the Youth Climate Summit. Errachid Montassir was one of 500 hundred young people from around the world selected to attend the Summit after demonstrating their commitment to addressing the climate crisis and displaying leadership in advancing solutions.

The Youth Climate Summit will feature a full-day of programming that brings together young activists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and change-makers who are committed to combating climate change at the pace and scale needed to meet the challenge. It will be action oriented, intergenerational, and inclusive, with equal representation of young leaders from all walks of life.

“Youth are showing us the way on climate action,” said Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Action Summit, Luis Alfonso de Alba. “I am eager for young climate leaders from all over the world to take their rightful place on the global stage and participate in this historic moment.”

Errachid Montassir is a highly valued member of the HAF team, and is an example of the transformative experience that this foundation can have on youth. Errachid began with HAF four years ago as a student intern, during which time he demonstrated exemplary leadership and professionalism. Errachid was then hired to be a full-time staff member at HAF, managing Sami’s Project, which is designed to improve the learning and environmental conditions for youth across Morocco.

Furthermore, Errachid has been trained as a facilitator in participatory community meetings, allowing him to assist local populations in urban and rural settings to develop action plans for their priority projects. Errachid has been a project manager for three years, vitally contributing to programs’ expansion, and is currently a key team member of USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer program that benefits schools and cooperatives. 

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I went to Ait Ourir, a city about 30 minutes outside of Marrakech to visit the Riad school. The school is surrounded by a six-foot wall that is covered by murals mainly pertaining to environmental issues. The school currently has 1,222 students, with boys and girls ages 5-12 years old, 480 of the students are girls. There are 30 teachers at the school who teach every subject from Arabic to Ecology. The school built in 1981 heavily emphasizes recycling and environmental consciousness, the tables and chairs in the courtyard are made from recycled tires and old wood. The Riad school does not only recycle, they also grow olive trees and orange trees in the hopes of selling the fruits of their labor. When I asked the headmaster Housine what the greatest challenges facing the Riad school where he told me they were lacking a proper irrigation system and its bathrooms were inadequate given the amount of students he had. A proper irrigation system would cost around 15,000 dirhams or $1,500 dollars with the bulk of the cost going to equipment.

It is evident how invested the faculty is in their school and their students, especially when you meet one of their Arabic teachers, Omar. Omar is born and raised in Morocco and recalls having a passion for teaching from the time he was “small” as he words it. He teaches children Arabic and Grammar who are 6-7 years old and he has a smile on his face that is brighter than a lighthouse. At the Riad school it is not just education as usual, it is education centered around sustainability and environmental consciousness.

The purpose of our visit was to demonstrate how sustainability is established and how to utilize time and relationships to our benefit. As an icebreaker each person had to find two people to form a group of three without making eye contact or searching for a specific person. The purpose of this was to demonstrate that a productive approach to sustainability requires actors to be versatile and creative. Sustainability is about collaborating with others and working with what you have available, not what you desire. Following the icebreaker the students divided themselves into four groups to discuss what they believed would be most beneficial for their community in the future.

Their suggestions included a community garden, a reliable form of transportation for students to go to the University, a library and a cultural center. Each suggestion seemed to be equally desired among the students which made it difficult to determine which addition to the community would be most needed. In response the students debated based off of the extent and range of the benefits provided by each suggestion, followed by a democratic vote to eliminate other suggestions. I was taken back by how cordial the students were in their debates and how well they articulated their thoughts to defend their suggestions. They were so persuasive and pragmatic in their arguments that it actually made it difficult to decide which idea to support. At the conclusion of the day I had a better understanding of the importance of consolidating ideas and it was evident that the students did too.

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On Wednesday 26th of June, the group accompanied by HAF Project Manager Errachid Mountassir visited a primary school in Bouchane Rhamna, where the children are learning about environmentalism. The pupils presented for the audience a play in classical Arabic. It was about forgiveness and tolerance. I was astonished how skillfully they played and how perfectly the story was portrayed in spite of the modesty of the costumes, accessories and stage setting.

Looking into their eyes sparkling with joy and pride of what they have accomplished was the highlight of my day not to say my whole week. I would never forget the faces of those little girls with their bright, vivid eyes. They were so happy to see a group of foreign students visit their school and watch them play.

I could not help but notice their teeth and how severely damaged they looked; ten/eleven years old kids with brown teeth barely holding on. My eyes filled with tears as Nadia said to me “I thought you were one of the UVA students, your teeth are very white. Are you truly Moroccan?”All I was thinking about at that moment is how unfair life can be, and I wished sincerely I were able to find a way to help them in any way.

I have heard before about excess of fluoride in tap water and how it affects teeth. I lived for nine years in Khouribga, which is a part of phosphate plateaus, but I have never realized the extent to which people could be affected by it.

Those children all looked like six/seven years old and I wondered if the excess of fluoride was a factor for their small stature or was it due to malnutrition. People there suffer from countless problems, I felt hopeless and helpless and I got overwhelmed thinking about how complicated things are. I saw issues at every corner; they are suffering in every way.

Afterwards, I come to learn that HAF is partnering with KIDS (Kids International Dentist Services). In March 2019, seven dentists from the United States are coming to Morocco for one week, and will spend a day in Bouchane to treat hundreds of children, including the ones whom I was so happy to meet.

I am very grateful for what High Atlas Foundation is doing for them. The activities carried out with the local government and civil society partners are fructifying and are showing positive effects on them. I wish new actions could be launched to increase awareness about the health effects of fluoride excess on growing children and to fight this threat.

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Some of the kids want to travel the world. Some of the kids want to start a business. One kid wants to play soccer AND own a bakery. These are lofty and ambitious goals for juvenile delinquents. But not for the boys at the Center for the Protection of Children in Fes. At this center, along with 20 other centers in Morocco, young people dream of their futures - and there’s a good chance these dreams will come true.

Children are usually placed in the care of the Centers because of crime or unstable family conditions. But the goal is not to punish. It is to prepare them for reintegration with society. The staff at the Centers work hard to collect information about the children and create a report. This report helps a judge make the decision that most benefits each individual child. While under the care of the Centers, the children are given an abundance of education opportunities. Again, this is an effort to prepare them for reintegration with society by teaching important and employable skills. This includes classes, metalworking and painting workshops, and agricultural training at the Center’s tree nursery.

During our visit last week, we got to meet some of the boys. We asked them lots of questions about life at the center and what their futures look like. We even got to practice a little bit of Darija and told them where we are from and what we do. As we walked through the Center, the boys happily showed us their metalworking projects, the shop that they had painted, and the trees they had planted. They made sure to point out all the grapes, pomegranates, and olives we passed. We could tell they were proud of themselves. The nursery allows them to practically learn about the importance of agriculture. They learn how important trees are, watch them grow in the nursery, and pick the fruit themselves. By learning practically, the boys quickly become experts. They are encouraged because they know they are learning employable skills.

Thanks to the Center for the Protection of Children and partners like HAF, a marginalized portion of the population has an opportunity to become productive members of society. While these children may not have the brightest past, they have hopeful futures.

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On Monday, April 22, 2019, the HAF visited three schools in the province of Rhamna in the Marrakech region, two in the commune of Aït Taleb and one in the village of Bouchan, this time with the theme of health. Which subject in particular? The oral health of children in the region, some of whom may require dental care and regular follow-up.

Today's mission was therefore for dentists on the move to observe the condition of children's teeth, and to determine whether or not care should be prescribed. This visit therefore made it possible to establish a range of children in need of care. The dentist Dr. Eli Davidyan from « Kids International Dental Services », his wife and their two sons came to Morocco and have been able to examine 600 children (323 boys and 277 girls) in just one day, which shows how successful the day was.

The association had already travelled the day before, this time to the Atlas Mountains. These two visits were a first step in determining what the material and quantity needs would be for the next visit, as the aim was to come back soon for this time to provide care for the children. We had the opportunity to meet with the city's municipality to discuss the next steps in the process. From this meeting, the idea even emerged of training several people from the village so that they could later perform simple dental treatments themselves, which would allow children to have regular follow-up on their teeth.

This day was quite impressive for me. The dentists observed so many children, that I felt I was witness of a successful challenge but I felt also that this day, and globally the entire project was really going to make a difference for the children of remote villages who will finally be able to benefit from access to proper health, at least for their teeth.

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @haffdtn
Project Leader:
Fatima Zahra Laaribi
New York City, NY United States
$40,325 raised of $50,000 goal
577 donations
$9,675 to go
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