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 road to Tiznit from Marrakech runs through the mountains, a landscape that floats and rises and arcs like the mezzanines and cantilevers and walkways of what could only be a heavenly architecture. Over the red and rocky landscape, the mountains truly seemed to be the spires of fairy-tale castles, and as we progressed, the world changed from furnace-blasted plains, to mountains, to fog, and then to the coast, where the Atlas flings itself into the Atlantic.

After a five-hour bus ride across this landscape, I stepped into Tiznit hoping to explore the town, but I was forced to pause. It was quiet. Compared to Marrakech, it felt like all the pent-up energy and commotion and chaos of everyone all along the Eurasian landmass had exploded in a stampede of wild horses across the Atlas and came here to descend into the water. Maybe it was just my relief from getting off the long drive from Marrakech, but Tiznit felt harbored from all the insanity of the world.

 The Vice President of Tiznit invited the HAF team to a conference with the city government, including the head of the ministry of culture and the head of the ministry of farming. These officials were proud of their town, and the cultivated atmosphere of tranquility, and they were happy to talk with us about Tiznit. We discussed the importance of culture, agriculture, and sports to their vision of development in town and throughout the countryside.

Through culture, they hoped to identify, improve, and advocate for important sites around the area, such as Jewish and Amazigh shrines that may have been forgotten over time. Through agriculture, they hoped to expand production of commodity crops like argan, which grows best in the Sous-Massa region. But I was confused by what sports could bring to this vision. It often seems that sports can be confused with big arenas and drunk fans and riots, all consumed in big commotion and craziness that is certainly antithetical to Tiznit, and would probably belong better in Marrakech. What place would sports have here?

Then we went an hour into the country to visit a middle school. There was a big dance from skilled Imazighen professionals. There were presentations on local culture, especially focusing on music and argan. The students had spent a lot of time studying the ecological practices that benefit argan production — a big industry in the region, and a bigger point of pride for many of the people. There were presentations that detailed every step undergone in creating argan oil, workshops on uses for argan, and even a play about protecting argan trees.

I was impressed by the enthusiasm shared by the students and faculty for sharing their knowledge about the argan tree, as well as the depth of knowledge covered in middle school classes about the local ecosystem. In the United States, I learned nothing in class about the environment around me, while subjects like history and state politics were endlessly drilled every day. Although history and politics are important, I think it is important for schools to instill knowledge and respect for our environments, especially as climate change presents looming challenges to the stability of landscapes everywhere.

After the presentations, we had dinner with the kids and were shown around the campus. Pretty soon, my friends and I found a basketball court with a couple of balls nearby. We asked if we could shoot around, and the Amazigh-language teacher was happy to allow us. While getting used to the different rims, the professional dancers who had originally greeted us at the school entrance came up and asked if we wanted to play. Of the HAF interns, we were four, and of the dancers, they were four — good numbers for a full court game. Soon, we were running back-and-forth across the middle school court, the dancers moving light on their feet to get open and shoot, while the HAF interns used quick passing to try and open up lanes for flashy dunks on the short hoops.

As the sun began to set out on the west coast just beyond the school, we eight people from all around the world had been brought together by an urge that may have been more powerful than even music or food. And as we exchanged phone numbers to stay in contact throughout our time in Morocco, I think I realized why the government of Tiznit found sports to be just as important as culture and farming for the city. Something about a good game can bring together myriad people, even where language might fail.

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There was a holiday atmosphere at Al Mansour Eddahbi Middle School when the HAF team arrived on the 26th of May, 2022. Children were arranging display tables in the shade of the cloister; the eighth grade girls were just beginning to emerge from their dorms in multicolored kaftans; the schoolchildren's elected representative, a little boy, was running back-and-forth across the courtyard in his suit, giving orders in his walkie talkie; and the physics teacher, whose figure seemed to tower towards the sun, stood watching the commotion with satisfaction. The anticipation and excitement was so thick that I could practically scoop it out of the air and bottle it. There was going to be a big celebration that evening: the one hundredth anniversary of the school.   

I came to help the HAF Dakira program experts conduct an activity on the history and cultural patrimony of Morocco, a theme the school was celebrating for its anniversary. The activity involved gathering sixty students for a pre-test, a discussion, and a post-test, though because the kids were shy, we also conducted an icebreaker where everyone introduced their name and a fun fact. Afterwards, there were still a couple hours before the celebration, and the kids were allowed to ask questions and chat with Mary-Grace and me, the two University of Virginia interns. The kids were extremely curious about my hometown, my dog, and what I thought about Morocco, but they were even more interested in teaching me Darija. As students responsible for communicating in French, Darija, and FusHa at school, and sometimes Amazigh and English at home, they turned-out to be natural teachers. Surrounded by thirty schoolchildren who all wanted to be ambassadors of their country, I soon learned the right way to say too many words to remember.

Then, we joined everyone at the assembly hall to hear alumni speak about its history. It was founded one hundred years ago as a Jewish school, but it opened its doors to any Moroccan. These men and women spoke passionately about their days here, and how grateful they felt to the Jewish community for their role in empowering  the entire neighborhood. Yet while grateful for the opportunities they were afforded by this school, the alumni were most proud to speak about the Jewish history of Morocco, about new bridges being built between Morocco and Israel and the USA, about the power of interfaith dialogue, and how the school itself stands as a symbol for the patrimony between all Moroccans. After a brief speech from the director of the school, everyone went outside for the celebration.

Outside, there were presentations from the robotics club, Moroccan desserts prepared by an alumna, a family life club, a glass-making club, and an electronics club. I was especially impressed by the students' pride in learning  about Moroccan culture — plants from many climates across Morocco were grown by the ecology club as an exercise in respecting the cultures and practices that correspond with these regions; even the kaftan worn by the eighth grade girls were representative of each region. While schoolkids, HAF workers, teachers, alumni, and government officials all congregated in the courtyard, I lingered under the shadow of the cloister, exhausted from the long day. There, the president of HAF, Dr. Ben-Meir, stood lost in thought. We were speaking about the clubs and the speeches and especially the desserts when music suddenly began to play, and all the kids gathered to dance in a circle whose circumference was bound only by the limits of the courtyard. I listened without speaking. Dr. Ben-Meir's face lit up, almost as if a golden light had dawned on him.

"It's a Moroccan-Jewish song," he said, speaking not necessarily for my sake, but out of some impulse. "It's a traditional song, centuries-old, and they're celebrating the school's anniversary with this."

We stood and listened. Then he continued, "Instead of focusing on the present, they're honoring the past. Not even the schoolchildren have forgotten."

Then, Dr. Ben-Meir smiled. The first shivers of dance were working up his body. Clapping to the beat of a song written generations ago, he left the shadows of the cloister and joined the circle.

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On Sunday, May 15, HAF team conducted environmental activities with 52 students and 4 teachers from Groupe École Asâada pour L'enseignement Privé, a private school located in the city of Taza. The team began the workshop with an introductory presentation of the High Atlas Foundation, including its goals, objectives, and programs. The workshop's facilitator, Aziz, then explained to the students the significance of forests and trees in nature, likening the different functions of a tree to the different functions of a human body; just like us, trees can eat, drink, and breathe.

The facilitator ended the workshop with a discussion of the important relationship trees have with humans and animals. By the conclusion of the activities, the students had gained a newfound understanding of the important role trees have in nature and in our lives, as well as an understanding that trees must be respected and protected. 

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Planting has always been an interest not only for adults but also for younger kids, and this is what our visit to Dar Tifl Marrakech showed.

HAF’s Farmer to Farmer (F2F) team, alongside the U.S. Volunteer Mrs. Stenstrom, paid a first visit to the Dar Tifl Orphanage in Marrakech. The purpose of this visit was to meet with the kids and the staff there and get a better understanding of the activities being undertaken at this orphanage.

The place is spacious enough to shelter up to 400 kids, and it consists of residential units for boys and girls, dining rooms classified by ages, study rooms, a sports room, an arts and crafts area, an environment club, a pedagogical farm, bathhouses, and a mosque. Therefore, the kids have a variety of daily activities they can pursue in addition to their studies.

The F2F team and the staff at Dar Tifl had previously discussed the possibility of conducting a planting workshop with the kids, which had indeed been implemented the next time the team and the volunteers visited the orphanage.

U.S. Volunteer Afra Stenstrom started her workshop by asking the kids some planting-related questions, and to our surprise, the kids seemed to already posses a great knowledge about planting trees. This contributed greatly to everyone’s enthusiasm during the workshop. After a brief tutorial by Afra, we soon began planting the trees, which were provided by the High Atlas Foundation for the benefit of the orphanage.

The second section of the workshop consisted of teaching the kids how to germinate the seeds using tissues and plastic bags. Germinating the seeds using a damp paper towel speeds up the sprouting process of the seedlings; it starts by wetting the tissue well and then spreading the seeds inside. The third step consists of wrapping the tissue twice before sealing it up in a plastic bag, which should then be put in a place that is accessible to light. These steps were clearly understood by the children who were fully engaged and concentrated on Afra during her explanation.

The outcome of this germination experiment can be seen shortly, and then when the seeds sprout, they can be moved to small pots first and then bigger ones as they continue to grow. These fun activities allow the kids to discover the process of germination and planting trees, and opens the door for young, new gardeners to grow. 

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March 26, 2022—As part of the activities carried out by the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) in partnership with the BeGreen program, the HAF team revived tree planting with some schools in Casablanca province. There, over 1,300 male and female students at Al-Farabi Prep and Ibn Battouta High School had the opportunity to replace their pens with shovels and planted 100 trees of various types for the improvement of the climate and environmental conditions. The HAF team took the initiative to introduce the institution and its programs, as well as a practical explanation of the correct way to plant trees and ways to take care of them. 

It is clear that the city of Casablanca is the economic capital of Morocco, and as such it is more vulnerable to pollution than others. Such activities give it some life and some hope. One can see the joy of the glimmer in children's eyes as they touch the dirt and plant for the first time. This in itself is something to be proud of. It is essential. There should be a green space and environmental activities in every school in particular to maintain clean air for these children and provide a healthy, comfortable and positive school environment.

All students, teachers, and directors showed appreciation, enthusiasm and gratitude for this wonderful opportunity, expressing their urgent need for such activities as well as their desire for more trees. The day ended with hope and enthusiasm for the future, and agreements were concluded for more of these effective activities. The HAF team looks forward to continuing to work with these schools to make a difference in the lives of these communities, and of course to see the flourishing of these trees, which were small seedlings that signified hope.

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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
$52,600 raised of $100,000 goal
790 donations
$47,400 to go
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