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

When you think about successful associations and the faces behind them, what are the first things that come to mind? Is it the meticulous business plans that, at some stage or another, came into fruition? How about the scrupulously drawn out financial projections that laid the foundation for future budgets and operations? The early marketing strategies that may have emerged in the form of business cards, social media posts, or flyers and phone calls? While each of these play a critical role, small or large, in an organization’s journey, there are three ingredients that are far more essential on the path to success: participation, passion, and persistence.

On September 22, I had the pleasure of attending a talk led by HAF President Yossef Ben-Meir at a gathering of driven and enthusiastic youths taking part in a Y-Peer Workshop in Ait Ourir. Y-Peer was designed as a youth-to-youth initiative that supports and promotes civic engagement and responsibility, with participants coming from across Morocco and other parts of the continent and the world. These workshops are a unique and incredible opportunity for these University-aged students to ideate, learn from each other, and gain empowering knowledge to drive them forward on their missions to develop associations for the betterment of their communities and themselves.

“If you’re not given the opportunity to voice your opinions, that environment has to change, or you have to change it,” this is only one of the inspiring messages Yossef delivered to these students during the hour and a half discussion; the importance of being heard, and recognizing that that inherent power in ourselves is paramount in becoming the change-makers of today and tomorrow. The workshop participants were eager and responsive, heavily identifying with this message, but also moving further to discuss their fears and individual goals. One of the women present stressed the importance of believing in our failures and learning from our experiences in our journeys through life, while also keeping that youthful spark of energy constantly alive and burning. We each have within us the energy to make a change for ourselves and others, and with enough hope and the right ideas, plans will emerge and communities can be formed.

Yossef ended the talk with stressing the importance of keeping in touch and maintaining the communities we form; it is through our connections with others and the world around us that we’ll find the most success in what we do. Participation, persistence, and passion are what drive us forward and build the foundation for positive impact. Of course, we can’t be on fire everyday, we’re all only human beings, but with enough motivation, grit, persistence, and passion, we can always keep the desire and spark of change burning brightly within ourselves and those around us.

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What can you do when one cannot count on the abundance of natural resources? You can count on the insights of creative people, and that is our case. This time one great idea can help a lot of people in need and can change their lives.

The access to clean water is an enormous problem to the 311 children who attend the school Zawiyat Sidi Boutayeb in Youssoufia province, where the parents association is facing a lot struggles to find a proper solution. It’s here that the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) is investing to create a genial solution, but more than anything else, an ecological solution: Hydro-Panels.

The “source” panels come from the Zero Mass Water company with the objective to develop a clean and eco-friendly way to access clean water everywhere, even in extreme conditions.

Hydro-Panels use the energy of the sun and the air to create clean and drinkable water even in the desert. The array includes two solar panels. They can produce five to ten liters of water daily and store almost 60 liters. Panels have a special absorbing material that can take only water particles, avoid airborne pollution, and then it can be mineralized with calcium and magnesium in a special storage. The structure does not need external electricity or water supply to work properly and can be mounted and be operative in a few hours, even in environmentally difficult areas.

But why is this an environmental and agricultural great choice? The answer is very easy. Try to imagine having a proper source of clean water in high mountains or even in an isolated valley but without the problems of a well (which is sometimes way too expensive to build and the water can be unclean).  Further, the distance from the central water supply and the locations where people seek to drink and cultivate can be too distant. It’s wonderful, right? That’s what HAF has seen and what it is trying to do for the school in El Youssoufia. With this idea, all the students and their families will not have the problem of access to clean water and they will be able to cultivate and benefit from this great creation. The panels will work for decades, save water and help to improve the local economy.

All great ideas need supporters.  In this regard, HAF is so very grateful to the American School of Marrakech and to Bruno Mejean for their contributions that have made this new project possible.

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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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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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