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Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project

by High Atlas Foundation
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

Today, we gathered with schoolchildren from Aarabat primary school, members of the community, and Private University of Marrakech (UPM) students for our second Bureau of Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs (OES) workshop this week.  On this beautiful morning, the community, schoolchildren, teachers, and local association members welcomed us warmly, making us extremely happy and comfortable to start the first environmental workshop with the kids. 

 

In this part of the activity, we noticed amazing communication among the students and the adult community.  Then we moved to the icebreaker, during which the kids were so active in drawing their image for their school in the future (Participatory approach) and they came up with various ideas, such as including a soccer field, more fruit trees in the area, etc. 

 

The students surprised us with some songs and plays, as they were so excited to plant the fruit trees in their school.  The first tree was planted by the president of Ait Taleb commune, and a student from Aarabat primary school.  the president of Ait Taleb commune is a very kind president who always shows us the same respect and love that he has for his community!  

 

After a big breakfast, we went back to meet the local association and the municipality members to conduct the participatory environmental workshop, which included discussion on the effects on and from the environment, the environmental laws in the country, and the free trade agreement between Morocco and USA. 

 

Active participation from the attendants allowed us to conclude the workshop using pairwise ranking to figure out different environmental challenges in the area and come up with solutions.  Next, the participants voted on the priorities, and we were not surprise to see that the lack of water was the first priority, followed by the sewage problem.  

 

In fact, the problems are actually interconnected: the lack of a proper sewage system leads to the contamination of the drinking water.  The local association members were happy to fill out the project application form, hoping it will be selected to sort out the water issue and other environmental challenges in the commune. 

Errachid--HAF Project Manager and Volunteer Coordinator--gathers with the children prior to tree planting.

Over the weekend, part of the HAF team visited a primary school in Rhamna to check in with community leaders, distribute 140 fruit trees, and join in the excitement of playing and planting with energetic children and volunteers.  Activity organizers welcomed us with warm bread and tea, but we couldn’t sit still as the echoes of music and laughter pulled us back outside to join in the day’s activities.

We dug, painted, weeded, and planted, all while appreciating the enthusiasm and compassion the community volunteers emanated and the children replicated.

We recognized and admired the school’s health facilities and classrooms, but upon speaking with community leaders, we found that their current challenges included the absence of an organized parent’s association, as well as complications with securing electricity.  Normally every school in Morocco has a parent’s association to facilitate familial involvement and support of school activities; these associations typically play an important role in school dynamics.  As for the electricity problem, many community members had different interpretations of the conflict, but we ultimately deduced that the current electrical network is serviced by cables connected illegally to bring electricity to the school.  In line with HAF’s participatory approach, we asked community organizers about their goals, and they identified their priority of advocating for official electrical lines. 

The differences in understanding of the electricity problem and the absence of an official electrical line illustrate a real challenge of participatory action based approaches: they are built on effective communication.  Nevertheless, we were impressed by the vibrancy and success of this community’s initiatives, given that they had started organizing on Facebook, a testament to the commitment and insight of community-led action.  We will return to conduct participatory meetings with the community to help resolve these issues.

The energetic and vibrant atmosphere kept us smiling long after we left. Albayrat primary school exemplified the power and potential of community-based action, and we are glad that HAF could be a part of driving this progress forward.

Rachid Nacer--social work actor--entertains the children with song and dance.

As part of my field visits to HAF’s partners and beneficiaries, I had the opportunity to see and speak to teachers from two schools who are hoping to undertake planting initiatives in January, one in the High Atlas mountain community of Tagelft, the other in the flatter commune of Bouchane. Although these schools were talked about in a previous blog post, their stories, hopes and plans for these trees were so profound and heartfelt that I felt that they should be told in more detail.

Tagelft Lycée and Middle School, Tagelft

When one travels through the High Atlas, an immediate observation is the bareness of the slopes, the lack of trees, the exposure of the soil to the elements. Removal of vegetation for firewood or for agriculture, the overgrazing of steep slopes by sheep and goats has led to out-of-control soil erosion, and is a crucial problem in this region. The absence of trees and other stabilising vegetation can lead to increased risks of landslides and flooding, both of which pose major threats not only to human life, but to livelihoods and infrastructure.

The remote mountain community of Tagelft is hoping to start combatting this problem by commencing a tree-planting project in both its Lycée and Middle Schools, which are frequented by children from 5 local rural communities.

After observation, it was determined that the sites could host in excess of 500 income-generating trees, including olive, orange and fig, provided by HAF, in combination with forest trees, provided freely by the Moroccan High Commission of Waters and Forests. Fruit-tree seedlings would then be sold to local farmers at a symbolic price, to help supplement their incomes and instigate a culture of tree-planting in the region.
 

Other beneficial outcomes of this would be the stabilisation of eroding soils, bringing back biodiversity to Tagelft and combatting monocultures, as well as contributing to the promotion of economic prosperity and food security in the High Atlas.

It will also provide the schools the opportunity to deliver workshops on environmental education, engaging and raising awareness of the importance of trees for mountain communities and the negative effects of deforestation. The teachers emphasised that the children would be given responsibility for taking care of the seedlings, led by their Environmental Clubs, which will help to improve the children’s organisation, leadership and motivation skills.

However, on asking further questions, it became clear that for this community, the trees are more than just an economic venture or a symbolic environmental act.

The schools want to improve the learning environments and provide positive educational spaces for their children, to boost productivity and to help motivate them to attend their classes. Not only this, but a “more beautiful” school is hoped to attract more teachers to the Tagelft area. The beneficial impact of trees and green spaces on the children’s mental health, as well as the cooling effect of vegetation in making temperatures in classrooms more comfortable in summer were also discussed.

It is clear that the income generated from this project, in co-operation with the High Atlas Foundation, will make a big difference for these schools. Tagelft Lycée’s principal hoped that in future, the extra money would go towards building a well for the school’s water supply, solar panels to provide the classrooms with electricity, and importantly, to provide extra income that is independent from the Delegation for Education’s funding.

In contrast to Tagelft, the small town of Bouchane finds itself in much flatter, more arid country. What they do share however, is a lack of trees and vegetational cover, similarly caused by excessive land clearing and cattle grazing in the past. 

Currently educating 1102 students, Bouchane school is a previous beneficiary of HAF projects. In 2014, HAF helped the school to plant 300 olive, pomegranate and lemon trees as well as herbaceous and medicinal shrubs.

It now wants to expand its project by starting up a pilot modern tree nursery for the region, which would be equipped with a greenhouse and with water-saving measures. The school’s water reservoir would be connected with the greenhouse to provide drip-feed irrigation for the seedlings. There is also ample space to expand the nursery, if the project succeeds as hoped.

The school has the first three years of the nursery mapped out already: in year one, each student will be given two trees to plant in their own homes or communities. In the second year, plants would be distributed to all schools in the region, and finally in the nursery’s third year, they hope to provide their trees to those who need them across all Morocco.

The school decided to focus on planting primarily olive and carob trees, as they are both suitable for the dry soils of the province, but also generate good income. This money will then be used to reinvest in other projects which will benefit the school, and give them independence from the state education budget. There was also some discussion of planting forest-tree species after this three-year period.

HAF will support Bouchane’s project by providing trainings, funding and follow-up checks of the trees to ensure that they are healthy. 

One teacher spoke of his idea within the project, which would see each of the three school tiers take ownership over one of the three tree strips in the nursery and would provide a competition for which tier could take best care of their trees. The overall nursery would be overseen by the school’s Environmental Club. He was excited at the prospect of increasing the young people’s awareness of their environment, and to give them a sense of ownership in the nursery. He also spoke of giving a prize to the student with the best tree.

When asked why they feel that a tree nursery is important for their school, the teachers immediately spoke about the lack and the unreliability of rain in recent years, and how the communities have had to dig their wells deeper to find water. One outlined how hot years negatively impact local people’s incomes, and how the trees could help to bring back water to the area. The trees are also important to increase benefits from traditional agriculture, by diversifying farmers’ sources of income, he said. Another described how trees decrease carbon dioxide in the air and make the school’s environment more attractive, to make it a good place to learn. 

What was inherently clear from visiting both Tagelft and Bouchane was the sense of pride that the teachers felt when talking about their schools, and their immense desire to improve the lives of not only their students, but the lives of people in their wider communities too. Their visions for their respective tree projects were inspiring, not just for the number of seedlings that they wished to plant and how well thought through their ideas were, but for the educational activities they wished to conduct, the opportunity that they saw to increase skills, improve incomes and to reverse the environmental degradation in their localities.

 

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE) have been partnering since July 2018 to promote an environmental campaign and to provide clean drinking water for nomadic communities in the Boujdour province. The project’s mission is to build a canal of 520 meters to cool down the water and enable animals (camels, sheep, and goats) to drink. The project has been beneficial for the community as two drinking towers with pumps and motors have also been built in the Ahl Atriah and Khotot Hbia areas. In addition, four solar panels have been installed in Byar Triyeh, Khotot Hbia, Amat Sfia, and Toukb Jrifia. The HAF-SGRE partnership also facilitated several environmental campaign activities in the province on the ninth and tenth of October in Boujdour.

 

On Tuesday, 9 October, the campaign took place in Awziouat Beach in Jrifia Commune. Approximately 100 local people--teachers, female and male students, women’s and men’s cooperative members, representatives of the local authorities, people from the media, and public social service workers--attended the event. The event started with a Koran recitation about water, the sky, land, and the stars. HAF and SGRE then spoke about how to protect the environment and diminish pollution. “We have to reduce using plastic, including plastic bottles, as plastic takes 450 years to decompose,” said Sonia Adnane from SGRE. Representatives of the students, teachers, local associations, and the environmental delegation of Boujdour also shared their thoughts on the campaign’s importance, and how unique was this day.

 

The students participated in educational drawing and singing activities, and were having fun learning more about protecting the environment. The event carried on with a beach cleanup. According to Mouhssin Allouch, a Boujdour native, the environmental campaign is crucial as people in the area are not aware of the negative impact of plastic, human health, and even that tourism can have. Amina El Hajjami, HAF’s Director of Projects, concluded the event by reminding students to be ambassadors of the environmental campaign to their peers.

 

After the memorable event, HAF and SGRE continued the environmental campaign event on the following day at Al Masira Khadra and Annahda primary schools. The students from Al Masira Alkhdra primary school were taught the vital importance of recycling and created decorations from the recycled materials, such as paper and bottles. They also learned how to plant trees correctly before singing a song regarding the importance of environmental protection.

 

At the second school, Annahda primary, students learned how to prune and plant trees, collect waste, and paint vases. The 10th was another successful event as the teams from SGRE, HAF, local authorities, and school members had a productive discussion on how to create sustainable environmental changes at the school. HAF and SGRE will continue to facilitate participatory and environmental actions with the students in the remaining 15 schools of the Boujdour province. 

 

Finally, HAF and SGRE colleagues were fortunate to be able to visit the progress of the pump and motor installation in Om Rjilat, located 72 km from the city of Boujdour. The objective of this project is to provide drinking water for nomadic communities and the families in the province. Clean water also prevents the herds from thirst and is used for cooking and washing. In addition, solar power is also being installed near the water source to provide light, making the water accessible for everyone who lives in the desert. Mr. Laarousi, one of the nomads who was born and lives in the area, thanked SGRE and HAF for the project initiative as they no longer need to keep moving to find water. According to him, the community in Toukb Jrifia also considers the project well done because the water sources are easily reached. Also, Mohammad, who is responsible for the pump, expresses his gratitude as he finds the machine provides a convenience.

 

It has been a beautiful three days for us at HAF and SGRE. The two-day environmental campaign became a starting point to keep Boujdour clean. We are hopeful that targeting the campaign for the youth would be beneficial as they will make it a habit and pass the legacy to the next generation. Furthermore, we understand that water is a crucial aspect in a nomadic community as they count on water accessibility the most. Together, we continue our movement to protect the environment and provide water for everyone in need.

 

At the end, we would like to thank so much our amazing partner, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, and especially Sonia Adnane and Basma Lahmine for the great job that they did from the very beginning of the project. We wish to work with you and everyone at SGRE on other projects in the future.

Ask an American college student what they want to do in their life and inevitably, at some point, they will say some version of “to make a difference.” Ask a young professional why they are transitioning in their careers and you are likely to hear “I want to find more meaning in my work.” Despite high levels of education, we young Americans struggle to find opportunities to create positive change in the world.

 

In 2014, Unesco ranked Morocco among the 21 poorest countries in education. According to USAID, the likelihood of a first grader going on to complete high school is less than 15 percent. But there is no shortage of opportunities to create lasting change here. This week, on a volunteer trip with the High Atlas Foundation to distribute school supplies donated by Fre Skincare, I had the opportunity to meet a woman who was doing just that.

 

In the 1990s, Lalla Fadma Abjar moved from the city to Tidzi, a small village in the semi-desert Sous valley of southern Morocco, 25 km from the beach town of Essaouira. At that time, just over a quarter of women in Morocco were literate, and this was of course much lower in the rural areas. Lalla Fadma was one of the few.

 

Around the same time, Moroccan professor Zoubida Charrouf recognized the extent of the decline in the ancient, hardy Argan tree, whose dry bark is reminiscent of a juniper and whose fruits could be mistaken for olives. While it once covered all of North Africa, preventing desertification and providing many benefits to communities across the region, by the 1990s the Argan tree could be found only in the Sous valley. To motivate local communities to protect the argan forests and to empower women, Professor Charrouf began developing women’s argan cooperatives and marketing and raising awareness of the products internationally.

 

In 1998, UNESCO declared the argan forest in the valley to be a biosphere reserve, and a movement began. As one of the few literate women, Lalla Fadma was sought out to establish one of the first cooperatives in the region. She bought the land herself and, with a small group of women, created the Cooperative Feminine Izourane Ouargane and began processing the “liquid gold.” For the first time in their lives, they earned income and had a place to socialize outside their homes.

 

Now, Lalla Fadma’s daughter, Lalla Amina Amchir carries on her mother’s work, expanding the opportunities for women and their families. There are now 40 women in the cooperative, most of them widows or divorced. In the last 2 years, Izourane women’s cooperative was able to plant 2,000 new trees thanks to the partnership with HAF and Fre skincare. In addition to the income that these trees will help to generate, the partnership provided training in women’s empowerment, educating the members about their rights, and provided school supplies for their children, to help combat the high dropout rates that are still pervasive in rural Morocco.

 

With only a third-grade education, Lalla Amina administers the cooperative herself. She proudly showed us the impeccably organized cabinet where she stores the financial records. She explained how she has worked hard over the past two years to complete the seemingly endless series of paperwork required to become certified by the ONSSA which would enable the group to access a more consistent and reliable market, with greater guarantee of payment. Hopefully, the Izourane cooperative will receive the certificate soon, as this will also help to differentiate them from the many argan shops lining the road, which Lalla Amina explained are actually for-profit enterprises masquerading as cooperatives, but which do not truly support the women.

 

While the argan industry has become increasingly established over the past two decades, Lalla Amina and the other cooperative presidents have done all of this work with very little support. The Ministry of Agriculture provides some trainings on administrative matters, but these are offered only in French, a language not spoken by most of the presidents. Similarly, while an association of presidents exists in name, no activities are carried out to enable the presidents to practically support one another.

 

While she perseveres through these challenges, Lalla Amina sees the fruits of her efforts and the benefits of the support of partners like the High Atlas Foundation every day. She explained that earning income brings women purpose in their lives, and invest their earnings in their homes and in their children. In addition, the provision of school supplies, donated by Fre Skincare helps to ensure that kids go to school and have the resources that they need to learn.

 

As we distributed backpacks and notebooks to the 30 children on our visit, Rachid, a HAF project manager, asked each child what they want to be when they grow up. Most aspire to be teachers or doctors. Thanks to Lalla Amina, as well as the support of HAF, Fre Skincare, and Izouran’s other partners, these dreams are increasingly likely to become a reality. When they do, whether the children will know it or not, each of them will carry a piece of the dedication, work ethic, and empathy of Lalla Fadma and Amina, and they will continue to change the world.

 

Photos that could be included:

P1010212 (Note that Lalla Amina is on the far right)

 

 

References

 

http://www.highatlasfoundation.org/blogs/939-the-journey-of-empowerment-in-the-oriental-region

 

http://www.euricse.eu/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/1331560843_n1986.pdf

 

http://www.wipo.int/ipadvantage/en/details.jsp?id=2656

 

https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-cooperative-movement-cooperatives-as-a-means-to-developing-local-economies-and-alleviating-poverty/5646300

 

 

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High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @haffdtn
Project Leader:
Fatima Zahra Laaribi
New York City, NY United States
$37,452 raised of $50,000 goal
 
523 donations
$12,548 to go
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