Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens

by Global Diversity Foundation
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens
The garden as imagined by girls from Takatart.
The garden as imagined by girls from Takatart.

During the past three months, Global Diversity Foundation (GDF) organized two workshops at Dar Taliba, involving the girls housed at the institution in hands on creative and educational activities.


Irene Teixidor Toneu, a Ph.D student from the University of Reading in the UK who is researching medicinal plant use in the High Atlas, led the first workshop on October 14th 2015. It tied into GDF’s current plans for a permaculture ethnobotanical garden at Dar Taliba and gave the girls the opportunity to actively contribute to the design and plans for the garden. The girls were encouraged to use their imagination and work in teams based on the villages of the High Atlas they come from. The result was colorful diagrams and drawings as well as a list of plants cultivated in each of the villages represented by the girls, and that they wish to include in the ethnobotanical garden. This workshop also had an educational aspect as Irene encouraged the girls to think about what made particular plants ethnobotanical or useful to people. Relying on an interactive method, she asked the girls to describe and list the different uses of the region’s most popular plants and then explained some of the basic chemical or physical properties that make these useful to human beings. Irene was a great fit for this workshop because she has spent many months living with communities in the High Atlas while conducting fieldwork and is very well versed in the ethnobotanical landscape of the region. She is also familiar with plant names in the girls’ native language, Amazigh. Meeting her also exposed the girls to one of the many applications of ethnobotany and the career opportunities the field holds.


The second workshop took place on December 16th and was led by Said Taj, a local florist and artist who often works with nonprofits and leads creative workshops for children. During his day-long workshop, he worked with 6 different groups of up to 20 girls to make floral head wreaths using a variety of common local plants; some of these were harvested from Dar Taliba’s gardens, including raffia palm, roses, oleander, bougainvillea, chamaerops palm and carob leaves. Said introduced the girls to some of the basics of ornamental plants including the symbolism associated with different colors and taught them how to make tissue paper flowers. This hands-on workshop gave the girls an opportunity to be creative and have fun as well as brought them a new-found appreciation of ornamental plants they are familiar with. It also exposed them to one of the many plant-related vocations: floristry.


By bringing activities like the Floral Wreath Making workshop and Ethnobotanical Plants garden planning session to Dar Taliba, Global Diversity Foundation is making opportunities most often unavailable to rural and underprivileged children accessible to the girls residing at the boarding house. This is an important aspect of GDF’s mission to maintain and support ethnobotanical knowledge and biodiversity in the communities most dependent on their local flora for both cultural and livelihood purposes.


Donating to our Global Giving campaign allows GDF to continue broadening horizons for the girls at Dar Taliba and enables the foundation to actively contribute to the valorization of environmental stewardship in the High Atlas. Thank you for your support!

Dar Taliba girls having fun making floral wreaths.
Dar Taliba girls having fun making floral wreaths.
Saida, supervisor at Dar Taliba, participated too.
Saida, supervisor at Dar Taliba, participated too.
Dar Taliba girls learning from Florist Said Taj.
Dar Taliba girls learning from Florist Said Taj.

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The library awaits young scholars.
The library awaits young scholars.

September has been a busy month at Dar Taliba, with staff returning to the boarding house and diligently preparing for the upcoming academic year. Now in its 16th year, Dar Taliba is a well established institution in the Ourika Valley with applicants surpassing the number of spots available. It has decidedly come a long way from its humble beginnings when only a few pioneer families entrusted the nonprofit with their daughters’ wellbeing and education. Last year, 36 girls staying at Dar Taliba graduated junior high school thanks to the boarding house’s support.

This year, the all-girls boarding school received 65 new applicants but can only accommodate half of them in addition to the returning students. This leaves the selection committee, comprised of members of the Association de Bienfaisance et de Développement du Bassin De l’Ourika (ABDBDO), the nonprofit co-sponsoring Dar Taliba, with difficult decisions to be made. As in previous years, priority is given to girls from the more remote villages of the Ourika valley where there are no education opportunities beyond primary school available within walking distance and public transport is scarce and usually beyond the families’ means. Under such circumstances, girls as young as 12 are left with no choice but to drop out of school. Driving along the roads in the area, it is very common to see young school boys standing on the sides of the roads hitchhiking their way back and forth to school; an option much less available to girls.

Before the students arrive, we took a moment to learn more about the staff and other organizations supporting the boarding house and the remarkable service it provides to the Ourika valley. Throughout the last two weeks of September, returning students and parents dropped by to register or apply for room and board at Dar Taliba where Jamila Boussata, the alumna from Dar Taliba’s first cohort who is now Director at the boarding house, holds office hours to answer questions and enroll the girls. She tells me with a smile on her face that ‘’This year Club des Clubs de Casablanca (CCC), [an association introduced to Dar Taliba through a local from the Ourika valley who works with them leading excursions in the High Atlas], has agreed to increase its support, sponsoring ten additional girls’ attendance of Dar Taliba and bringing the number up to 45 girls.’’ Despite efforts to keep costs as low as possible, room and board at the all-girls establishment comes with a 650 dhs annual fee (equivalent to $67) which is beyond the means of the area’s most underprivileged families.

So, 112 girls will be arriving at Dar Taliba on 5 October when Jamila will assign them to the 14 rooms in groups of 8. They will be introduced to the house rules, including an 8pm curfew. Saida Marzoug, who has been supervising the girls at Dar Taliba since 2011, and Aicha Outghould, head cook at Dar Taliba since it opened its doors in 1999, will work with the girls on a clean-up and cooking schedule. With only 4 permanent staff members, the boarding school depends on contributions from the girls, who make their beds every morning and do their dishes to help the house run smoothly.

In addition to the co-ed middle school neighboring Dar Taliba where the girls presently study, a high school is currently being built within walking distance and will open its doors to students next year. This will vastly improve the local youth’s educational opportunities, eliminating the need for many of them to move or commute to the nearest high school at present, 20km away in the town of Tahanout.

The staff shared that Dar Taliba and its gardens have become a space for a variety of uses, including hosting local school camps. One camp saw students staying on the grounds this summer for two weeks in August. Abdelmalek Ait Mojaaddark, gardener at Dar Taliba since it first opened, told me they, too, had made a contribution to the garden. He pointed to two young olive trees the schoolchildren planted with him during a gardening workshop he led during their stay. Dar Taliba is also open two mornings a week to two groups of 15 preschoolers, whom we hope can also enjoy and learn from the garden.

On a less positive note, Abdelmalek said that as of this summer, Dar Taliba no longer benefits from the free water that was once donated by the commune, cutting water to the grounds by half and putting the garden under particular stress during dry seasons. Though the garden is designed to be highly drought-tolerant, GDF plans to dedicate a portion of the donations to this project to restore part of that water flow to the garden, especially during peak dry spells. With new garden users on the way, we are excited to continue growing our relationship with Dar Taliba. 

Jamila speaks animatedly with Abdelmalek.
Jamila speaks animatedly with Abdelmalek.
Students arrive back to Dar Taliba on 5th October.
Students arrive back to Dar Taliba on 5th October.
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Dr Alain Cuerrier visits herb garden at Dar Taliba
Dr Alain Cuerrier visits herb garden at Dar Taliba

Our next endeavor is a model ethobotanical garden: a green space that people can depend on for food, fodder, medicine and fuel. The garden will be located at Dar Taliba, an all-girls boarding house set up to enable students from remote villages of the Ourika Valley to continue their education beyond primary school. The Global Diversity Foundation (GDF), which has been sponsoring the institution since 2002, has already supported the creation of an aromatic herb garden, fruit tree orchard and ornamental plant garden on the grounds.

In coming months, GDF will develop an ethnobotanical garden on the school grounds in collaboration with the girls currently in residence to help them learn more about Amazigh indigenous plant knowledge from their communities, which are located in the High Atlas mountains. Dr. Alain Cuerrier, an ethnobotanist from the Montreal Botanical Gardens who specializes in plant use among Canada’s First Nations communities, is collaborating with GDF, the girls and local communities on the project. During a recent visit to Morocco, he noted, “I could sense the enthusiasm of Jamila – the director of the boarding school – and of the girls that I spoke with about the new useful plants garden. They are keen to make it a space that contributes to the living knowledge and traditions that Amazigh communities hold about their environment”.

GDF has adopted a participatory approach for all the different stages of creating the ethnobotanical garden. The Dar Taliba girls will engage with local biodiversity conservation efforts and rediscover local cultural heritage related to plants, which is rapidly falling into disuse and is in need of preservation for future generations. GDF plans to organize hands-on educational activities as an integral part of the project. We will offer horticulture and botany workshops for the Dar Taliba girls, encouraging them to bring seeds and cuttings of useful plants from their villages to enrich the ethnobotanical garden. The Dar Taliba girls will work with their families to document Amazigh names of plants, their various uses, traditional classification and associated beliefs about the natural world. These will be compiled in a booklet the girls at Dar Taliba can share with their communities.

The ethnobotanical garden at Dar Taliba is becoming an excellent example of the exchange of information, awareness of traditional knowledge and collaboration that GDF seeks to foster throughout its biocultural diversity conservation efforts.

(Full) photo captions:

(above) Alain Cuerrier of the Montreal Botanical Garden visits the Dar Taliba aromatic herb garden with Jamila, the boarding school director.

(below) Alain takes time to smell the onions of the Dar Taliba vegetable garden as gardener Abdelmalek looks on.

Alain smells the onions in the vegetable garden
Alain smells the onions in the vegetable garden
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Fadma speaks on supporting a community nursery
Fadma speaks on supporting a community nursery

Mohamed El Haouzi, Moroccan Projects Director for GDF, takes pride in his experience building school gardens with children in Marrakech’s public schools. The gardening activities he leads are participatory and play an important role in getting children involved in conservation efforts from an early age. Mohamed believes that “nature needs to be understood in order to be preserved” and that gardening activities serve as a platform for explaining the natural world to children. To him, gardening represents a holistic and hands-on learning experience during which students work as a team, learn skills and become knowledgeable on irrigation techniques and plant names all while having fun.

Mohamed laments the fact that gardening activities are not institutionalized and not included in public elementary school curricula. One of the challenges Mohamed has to repeatedly overcome while initiating gardening activities is the public school system’s lack of a standard procedure for implementing such activities. He has had to work with every school on a case-by-case basis, catering to the different circumstances of each administration and student body. Mohamed is also very much aware of the potential lack of maintenance threatening the gardens after the initial excitement of their inauguration wanes and the schools can no longer fund their upkeep.

Despite the challenges, lack of funds and dependence on personal initiative and volunteers, Mohamed is thankful to the dynamic and motivated school staff he has encountered during his work and their commitment to providing students with gardening activities and the green spaces these produce. He is grateful for the support of like-minded individuals who understand the educational value of gardening activities and the learning benefits associated with exposure to green spaces. Most importantly, Mohamed is happy the students and dedicated public school staff are able to find an ally in the Global Diversity Foundation, which is invested in continuing to provide children with gardening activities.

Here is a short excerpt (translated from French and edited) of some of Mohamed’s own reflections that he shared during a workshop on best practices in biodiversity conservation and local livelihoods in Morocco held from 27-29 May 2015 in the High Atlas mountains:

“School gardens are no small task! School gardening is a complex notion because it involves many factors, including students, teachers and the administrative staff, all with their own circumstances. In all schools, participants are always enthusiastic and embrace with wide open arms the creation of a new garden within their establishment or the restoration of an already existing one. However, the enthusiasm expressed when creating or restoring a school garden is one thing and the maintenance of these gardens through the regular gardening activities necessary is another!

Some teachers are very dynamic and highly motivated regarding educational gardening activities (which encourages outside partners to invest, both emotionally and financially, in activities related to the environment), but others are less so and some aren’t at all (they consider such activities more work!).

Fortunately, the administrative staff of some schools considers gardening among the institution’s priorities. In these cases, we see very clear participation on the part of both the school’s teachers and students. A part of the establishment’s budget is devoted to gardening or at least great efforts are made to forge partnerships with funders and non-profits like GDF. In these schools, we are able to establish and maintain green spaces that enhance the learning experience of students.”

Mohamed, pioneer of our school gardens project
Mohamed, pioneer of our school gardens project
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Dar Taliba all-girls boarding house residents
Dar Taliba all-girls boarding house residents

Mohamed El Haouzi, leader of the Global Diversity Foundation’s school garden projects, is launching a comparative study that will provide much needed information to assess the impacts of the Dar Taliba boarding house in Ourika since it first opened in 1999. He has developed a questionnaire with Dr. Mohamed Cherkaoui, a human ecologist from University Cadi Ayyad, Marrakech’s leading university. The comprehensive survey covers diverse topics ranging from the socioeconomic backgrounds of students who previously resided at Dar Taliba Ourika, the skills and knowledge they gained, and how the experience impacted their life today.

The current director of the boarding house, Jamila (an ex-student herself, who benefitted from GDF’s school garden projects over the years), is confident that carrying out the survey will open up opportunities to network with former residents and encourage action to inspire environmental initiatives borne from knowledge gained during their time at Dar Taliba. She highlighted the annual Cultural Week that takes place in the middle school adjoining the boarding house, saying “Participation by our residents in environmental activities carried out during Cultural Week is a direct result of the importance placed on environmental education at Dar Taliba. Residents are taught to respect nature, manage rubbish properly and use water wisely, among many other initiatives.”

Our ambition is that GDF’s long-standing support for environmental education and wellbeing at the school continues to ensure a strong legacy among students for responsible and respectful engagement with the environment.

This project qualifies for the We Believe in Girls campaign!

To celebrate International Women’s Day, GlobalGiving UK is launching their We Believe in Girls campaign on Monday, 2nd March. Every donation will receive a 50% top-up (until the fund of £18,000 runs out). Please do consider making a donation to support the girls of Dar Taliba.

DONATE HERE

 

Descriptions of photos:

Fresh faces of the Dar Taliba all-girls boarding house residents, always eager to learn new skills and knowledge.

Dar Taliba was built near a middle school to accommodate girls as they continue their studies beyond primary school.

A new ethnobotanical garden is under development at Dar Taliba to allow girls to exchange knowledge about local useful plants, including ones used for food and medicine.

Dar Taliba was built near a middle school
Dar Taliba was built near a middle school
A new ethnobotanical garden is under development
A new ethnobotanical garden is under development
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Global Diversity Foundation

Location: Bristol, VT - USA
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Project Leader:
Pommelien Da Silva Cosme
Canterbury, Kent United Kingdom
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