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

The closing ceremony of the OES small grants program took place on Zoom on June 2, 2021. It was an opportunity for the CSO subgrantees and the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) representatives to convene and share the results achieved during the two-year program.

The program, which is funded by OES in partnership with the High Atlas Foundation, seeks to increase civil society engagement in environmental protection and promote public participation in environmental decision-making. It enabled four select CSOs, two in Jordan and two in Morocco, to launch projects in order to benefit local communities socially, economically, and environmentally. All four of the associations, including Methods for Irrigation and Agriculture (MIRRA), Dar Si Hmad Association, the AFCD Association, and Al-Fath Association, presented the objectives, results, and impact of their projects.

The Al-Fath Association for culture and development, for example, is a Moroccan CSO operating in the villages of Bouchane and Ait Taleb in the Rhamna province, north of Marrakech. Thanks to OES funding, Al-Fath was able to implement a project entitled “The Environmental Challenge” in order to contribute to the alleviation of pollution in the region and establish a culture of environmental preservation. According to Mr. Mustapha, President of Al-Fath, 70% of the objectives were successfully met. However, 30% were difficult to achieve due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its residual impact. Goals met include:

  • the implementation of a nursery and 2 greenhouses;
  • the provision of 12 agricultural farms with natural organic fertilizers;
  • the planting of 113,760 fruit trees; and
  • the provision of 3 wells with solar pumps.

Similarly in Jordan, the MIRRA Association was able to implement a project entitled “Realizing Sustainable Agriculture in Azraq” in order to overcome the problem of water pumping overuse while stimulating agricultural activities as well as economic and social growth in the area. The project implementation according to Ms. Ahlam, representative of MIRRA, ensured:

  • the achievement of sustainable, decentralized farm models in the area;
  • the reduction of the electricity bills for farmers;
  • the increase of the annual food production to meet local needs without depending on imports;
  • capacity building for farmers and students through the implementation of training and workshops; and
  • the writing of two booklets which gathered the knowledge on the application of sustainable rural agriculture in Azraq.

The impact of the projects both in Morocco and Jordan has had a remarkable positive effect on the local communities. Dr. Yossef mentioned that the support of OES in implementing these projects has built a firm basis for the growth of all participating associations while creating partnerships between the different CSOs. It was, in fact, a  meeting that marked both the closing of the program and the beginning of sustainable commitment to carry on this initiative and move it forward in order to achieve the visions of various communities on a national and an international level.

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For all the attention given to service-learning, the concept is extremely broad and can include an enormous diversity of experiences. I am passionate about the essentiality of service learning and have sought out several such experiences. In this article, I will compare three of my own service-learning experiences, analyzing both their particularities and their transcendent themes in an effort (a) to reflect on service-learning more generally and (b) to draw lessons from my experiences. 

In the summer of 2020, I served as an intern for the All-India Federation of the Self-

Employed Women’s Association (SEWA Bharat). SEWA Bharat is an organization “committed to strengthening the movement of women in the informal economy.” I worked in their social enterprise branch to support women-led cooperative enterprises, although, of course, everything took place from my bedroom in Virginia. As the internship progressed, I was fortunate to develop significant relationships with two of my supervisors—I felt that this was one of the most important factors in my being excited about the work and feeling connected to the organization. The latter state was a difficult one to reach, as I quickly realized the difficulty entailed in a remote internship. I had little context about the many environments in India in which I was supposed to be working, leading me to experience significant impostor syndrome about my abilities to contribute anything meaningful. This also resulted from my recognition and consciousness that I was but a privileged Westerner hoping to contribute in some way to this venerable organization in the global South. Given these difficulties, however, I learned a lot; these lessons were both in project-specific, technical areas (what examples exist of small-scale medical cooperatives?) and more transcendent, global themes (what are the differences in a rights-based and an outcome-oriented approach to development?). 

Then, this fall, I interned for the High Atlas Foundation. A sharp difference between the two experiences was quickly made apparent: whereas my initial tasks for SEWA felt a bit mundane, menial, and “intern-y” (the online equivalent to fetching coffee), my work for HAF immediately felt more meaningful. I felt trusted with more weighty and intensive tasks, which I really appreciated. That being said, I felt like I developed somewhat less of a relationship with my supervisors—of course, a feeling I wish was different. Despite these differences, there were certainly similarities in the two internships, the main one being my impostor syndrome, difficulty grounding myself, and struggle to contextualize my work in broader knowledge about the region and field. I’m still reflecting on to what extent these challenges were actually also helpful to my learning experience and personal growth. One thing that was certainly valuable in this area was the accompanying class—I truly appreciated having a pedagogical and experiential foray into this domain. 

I also worked part-time this fall (virtually) for an organization in my hometown; I ran a youth program focused on using creative expression and meaningful discussion to facilitate resilience and self- and community-consciousness. Needless to say, it was a very different role than the aforementioned internships. Whereas I had trouble grounding myself in my global internship work due to lack of knowledge and experience about the region, I’ve lived in this town since I was eight years old. Even with this stark difference, I found many parallels with my other roles. For one, it was an equally intense learning experience: I learned how difficult facilitation can be, about how youth experience social phenomena, and about trauma-informed programming. Additionally, HAF’s emphasis on community-centered, participatory approaches felt reinforced by my job in my own community. The emphasis was unfailingly on the thoughts, lived experiences, and feelings of the young people with whom I was working—not of some central authority. In designing curricula in cooperation with my supervisor (with whom I had a great relationship), we engaged in critical conversations about the messages we were sending relative to larger societal forces. This reminded me of how our HAF class discussed broad social theories that, while abstract, were relevant to our internship experiences. 

Though these experiences were diverse, some common lessons may be drawn from them. First, having contextualization to ground the work is important. Without it, service-learners can feel disconnected or insecure about their ability to contribute. Second, meaningful relationships with one’s supervisor facilitate connection and feelings of deeper meaning in the service learning. Third, having a pedagogical component to accompany the experiential activities can create a mutually complementary framework of experience for service-learners. More generally, service-learning offers the opportunity not only to learn more deeply about the organization and cause for which one works, but to experience profound personal growth—the kind for which I am extremely grateful.

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When people speak of the protection and upliftment of children, those in juvenile detention are often forgotten. In Morocco, children between the ages of 12 and 18 who have committed a transgression of the law are often housed in Child Protection Centers (CPCs). Children who were abandoned, had to be removed from the home due to violence, or are in an otherwise precarious situation may also be court-ordered to reside in CPCs. Living in these centers -- detached from society and from a normal childhood -- can be difficult for children. It is crucial that detained youth receive the care they need to avoid recidivism and lead full lives as adults.

What are Children’s Rights?

To get at the heart of the problem of youth recidivism, one must start with an understanding of the rights specifically afforded to children in Morocco. In 1993, Morocco ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. All countries who sign it are bound by international law to ensure children’s basic fundamental rights are protected, including the right to “life, survival and development; protection from violence, abuse or neglect; an education that enables children to fulfil their potential; and be raised by, or have a relationship with, their parents”, as long as it does not harm their well-being. In more recent years, Morocco has codified this rights framework in its national laws. Detained children have these same rights, of course, but CPCs have struggled to enforce them to their fullest extent.

Room For Improvement

According to Search for Common Ground, CPCs often lack the organization and resources to ensure that children are in a safe and healthy environment. The centers are reported to have low -- or unevenly applied -- standards of care for children, whether it be proper nutrition and healthcare, reasonable physical space, or deterrence of violence between youth. When it comes to the third issue, for example, children who have had little to no criminal involvement may be mixed in with children more prone to violence, which can have a negative impact on their socialization and physical safety. CPCs also struggle to provide children with a quality education, often failing to hold them accountable for their studies to be effective. These gaps in education are a massive obstacle to ensuring that youth feel inspired to plan for their futures and can excel in their work as adults.

Perhaps the most damaging of CPCs’ weaknesses is the lack of psychosocial support given to children. Separation from society and the various traumas that may have led them there can put a huge burden on young people’s mental health and ability to reintegrate post-release. Children in CPCs are also often hurt by a lack of contact with their parents or other trusted adult figures. Parents are essential in encouraging children’s education and development, and they can also be a grounding contact with the outside world. Moreover, for those children who did not have positive role models in the home or are permanently separated from their parents, having someone to provide them with guidance and emotional support can be especially important.

Building Self-Reliance

In an assessment of youth involvement in extremism, the High Atlas Foundation found that a lack of educational opportunities and economic disenfranchisement lead many formerly detained youth, especially young men, to become disillusioned about their futures. These challenges are an outcome of their time in juvenile detention, and when coupled with the associated behavioral issues, lack of role models, and feelings of shame, they may find little incentive to find their place in Moroccan society and thus turn to crime. This is why HAF believes that empowering youth to develop a sense of self and fostering independent skills is the key to reducing recidivism. When youth feel confident in their human potential and have the tools to seek out their goals, they are set up for a brighter future. Although CPCs lack the resources to help youth reintegrate, they have the potential to cooperate with outside actors encouraging self-reliance.

How NGOs Are Helping

Non-profit organizations like the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) are doing their part to help enrich children’s lives and craft creative solutions to reduce recidivism. In a partnered effort with Association Bayti, HAF has proposed adapting its “Imagine” women’s empowerment workshops to the context of children in CPCs. The initiative’s aim is to empower and strengthen the capacities of detained and at-risk youth toward greater self-reliance and self-confidence. The workshops would last over a span of four days, educating youth on their rights and human potential, as well as helping them process the difficult emotions surrounding personal and relational challenges. This impact carries over into the long-term as the children are guided in creating “life projects”, or essentially goals for achievement and personal growth in various areas of their lives. These projects are sustained by the help of mentors and, when needed, one-on-one psychosocial support that is lacking within CPCs. It is HAF’s hope that they will be able to implement this project in Moroccan CPCs and that other NGOs will consider similar empowerment efforts for youth development.

Due to the crucial role of parents in reducing youth recidivism, legal family mediation can also prove to be a useful form of assistance from NGOs. HAF’s Clinique Juridique de la Faculté de Droit (CJFD), run in collaboration with the University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah’s Faculty of Social, Juridical, and Economic Sciences in Fez, offers family mediation within its repertoire of free legal aid services. Funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative, the CJFD  supports the process in which families can dispute financial and child arrangements when going through separation or divorce with the help of a neutral “mediator”. Sometimes, it can even succeed in keeping parents from separating. Mediation has proven beneficial for children’s mental health, as it spares them from the stress of a tense formal legal case and helps preserve a stable living situation with their parents. By limiting children’s exposure to the psychosocial and economic challenges associated with family disputes and separation, mediation can prevent children from having to be removed from their home in the first place or from falling into crime.

HAF has also established two of its widespread tree nurseries at CPCs, which not only provide youth with agricultural training, but foster human development. Programs such as these are proven to provide youth with a sense of purpose in applying tangible, valuable skills and forging a deeper connection with their environment and communities. Not to mention, they replace the idleness common among detained or released but unemployed youth that can so often lead to radicalization or backsliding into crime. Therefore, community-driven agricultural initiatives can reduce rates of recidivism and violent extremism in youth.

It is important that CPCs make an effort to improve their conditions by whatever measure possible to better the outcomes of detained children reentering society. Still, NGOs continue to prove their value in protecting vulnerable communities as they see the potential in troubled youth and turn it into action. When children in CPCs are afforded the rights to education, development, and a full life, they will recognize their potential as well and thrive.

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On Friday, March 27, I was honored to accompany my colleagues, the President of the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), Dr. Yossef, and HAF Program Assistant, Lahcen, to the regional coordination meeting on the provisions of law 51-17 relating to the system of education, training and scientific research at the Wilaya of Marrakech-Safi. At the meeting, HAF President and Cadi Ayyad University (UCA) President Moulay Lahcen took part in the signing of a partnership agreement on behalf of their institutions. A number of governmental and academic leaders were present for the signing, including the Minister of National Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education, and Scientific Research, Mr. Saaid, the Minister Delegate in charge of Higher Education and Scientific Research  in Morocco, Dr. Driss, and the Wali of Marrakech-Safi Region, Mr. Karim.

The main objective of the partnership between HAF and UCA is to develop fruitful cooperation in the advancement of their shared aspirations and common interests. Specifically, we will together create and implement programs that provide rich knowledge and opportunities for experiential skills-building to UCA students in sustainable development, participatory approaches, and gender and youth empowerment. HAF and UCA are dedicated to the enforcement and strengthening of students’ capacities, volunteerism, and the socioeconomic integration and employability of young people, all of which will impact their abilities and confidence to pursue their chosen endeavors in the future.

I would like to sincerely thank Professor Fatima Zohra for all her efforts to make this partnership happen. In this beautiful life, I have had the opportunity to meet two great professors, Pr. Iflahen, when I was a student at the university (UCA), and Dr. Yossef in the last two years through my work with HAF. I am grateful to them both. I believe that this partnership will give great benefit to the next generation of students at Cadi Ayyad University in the coming years.

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Before I begin, I have a simple request to ask of you: take a moment to step outside into the natural environment and look around. What is one issue that you notice and how would you go about fixing said issue? Keep that in mind as I continue forward.

On February 23, 2021, remarkable individuals based in Morocco were called upon to share their inspirational stories of positivity and social empowerment via an online event hosted by the Generation Share Changemakers World Digital Tour. Benita and Sophie, co-authors of the incredible book Generation Share, have spear-headed the digital tour series to introduce the world to these inspiring tales. In these stories, viewers were able to not only visualize a Morocco that is teeming with power and immense potential, but we were also provided insight into what shaped the paths of each Changemaker, and how we, too, can facilitate positive change in our respective communities. Change in Morocco has focused primarily on building sustainable infrastructure and improving agroforestry, as well as improving education and literacy rates to the degree in which Morocco can be a self-reliant nation one day. Self-reliance from an economic standpoint is the goal, but these Changemakers have proven that this idea extends to social interaction and community empowerment.

Meet the Changemakers

Larbi is high school English teacher and a longstanding member of the Morocco Library Project, an organization founded by Barb that constructs English libraries in under-privileged Moroccan communities to facilitate social equity and educational development. Arbaoui is credited with developing the Short Story Writing Competition. This competition allows high school students to produce original stories that are rich in culture and meaning. The 2021 competition is currently underway with a theme titled “Life in Morocco” and can capture any aspects of Moroccan life.

Mouhcine is a teacher of languages and the founder of English Street Class, a project that provides free teachings of many different languages, such as English, French, and Spanish. His initiative is unique in the fact that it actually takes place on the streets of Essaouira in an effort to change the narrative about “street life” to be one that focuses on growth, knowledge, and community.

Amina is the Director of Projects at the High Atlas Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to facilitating sustainable development in Morocco. She oversees projects in the following areas of HAF’s mission: sustainable agriculture, education, health, women’s and youth empowerment, and capacity-building. Amina has been a key figure in the immense progress in women's empowerment projects for Moroccan communities.

Leila is a musician and the founder of Crescendo, a musical workshop that allows children of young ages to discover the world of music. Children are accompanied by family and learn the basics of music and instruments. By using the art of music, Lebbar hopes to solidify the Moroccan identity and love for the nation of Morocco.

Lucas is a travel writer, photographer, and the Managing Director of Journey Beyond Travel, a tour operator that provides private tours of destinations all across the incredible Moroccan landscape. In this role, he seeks to provide a cultural immersion that changes how people imagine Morocco.

Yossef is the President and co-founder of the High Atlas Foundation. He developed HAF in an attempt to facilitate sustainable development in Moroccan communities. Yossef oversees a dedicated team as well as volunteers and interns who use participatory methods to understand how to best serve Morocco. His organization hopes to inspire positive change in the African continent, the Middle Eastern region, and the greater global society.

Global Change Starts in Morocco

As Dr. Yossef mentioned during the event, Morocco is positioned at the forefront of sustainable development. At the moment, many organizations, community groups, and individuals nationwide are dynamically changing the scope of Moroccan society. Though significant progress has been made, Morocco has a lot more room for improvement. Education has been prioritized as the starting point from which the economy and other facets of life will follow. The process of implementing participatory methods in development has major implications to how other countries view their development. Also, with the steady emergence of Changemakers, Morocco stands to see dramatic changes in the coming years. The vision is to become a nation that is self-sufficient, but also able to influence the global market. Morocco already exists as an immense cultural hub teeming with potential. If everything continues trending upward, the sky's the limit in terms of Morocco’s future.

Am I a Changemaker?

Now, please recall the answer you determined from my question. I dare you to act upon it, there is nothing to lose...only something to gain. This is part of being a Changemaker. Changemaking is simple in theory but may be challenging in practice. Simply put, being a changemaker means envisioning change and then acting on that vision. You can make a difference no matter where you are or what you do. Changemakers have a capacity for love and positivity. They are brave enough to follow a road less traveled. They are willing to share knowledge and resources. They can adapt to ever-changing situations. They are always thinking of what the future holds. This is the message each of the panelists made clear during the digital tour. This is what Benita imagined when she began her journey and created Generation Share. Be the change you want to see. Morocco depends on it. Africa depends on it. The whole world depends on it. 


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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
$48,744 raised of $100,000 goal
723 donations
$51,256 to go
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