The girls from the Lalla Aouda Saadia school are proud of their emerging garden! They are dreaming of cultivating an even greater diversity of edible and ornamental plants in the beautiful green spaces that are already affording them some peace of mind and moments of tranquility.
When asked what should be the next steps, they reply in unison that they would like to see more vegetation in the empty spaces in between the orchard trees. They are keen to participate in the work it will take to finish the garden: planting aromatic herbs and flowers, weeding, painting the new benches and organizing bins for composting, and recycling at specific points on the grounds.
GDF’s project director Mohamed El Haouzi has the merit of possessing enormous faith and tenacity, qualities that allow him to love his job and believe in it passionately. Over the past four years, he has worked hard to change the forlorn landscape of this unique girls-only college in Marrakech. The school’s garden, which was a large open space littered with trash, has gone from a neglected shambles to an actual garden. Although the process has been long and onerous, there is very little left for the job to reach a successful conclusion.
Mohamed has thought out his approach carefully, creating large pathways covered with gravel to clearly define the boundaries between the garden and the walking areas. Following the advice of a landscaper friend, he has made a point of enlarging the gravel areas to delimit the green areas, and consequently decrease both the use of water and maintenance while creating more space for the girls to mingle. The Seville orange trees spread evenly throughout the garden have been duly pruned to insure that they continue growing high and strong. Eight benches have been added to give the girls moments of peace in shaded areas. Mohamed has even taken his job to another level, guiding an ethnobotanical study of local useful plants with 30 girls from the school, during which they collected specific herbs to concoct five traditional recipes to treat diverse ailments.
These steps have been possible thanks to the support of the Global Diversity Foundation. Already the girls can be seen sitting on the benches gazing pensively at the trees, waiting for the opportunity to put edible and ornamental plants in the ground and watch them grow and produce...
The second stage of the regreening of the Lalla Aouda Saadia school garden is now complete. One important progress made during this stage was the fixing of the water pump that services the school well. After discovering that cracks along the pipes caused the malfunction of the well irrigation system, 32 meters of pipes leading into the well were completely replaced with newer ones of higher quality. This success means that there is now sufficient water to irrigate the entire school garden.
Several other aspects were improved to enhance the overall condition of the garden, providing a pleasing environment for the students of Lalla Aouda Saadia. Eight new metallic benches were built and placed in the garden, increasing the number of available benches for the girls at the school. A new irrigation system was set up to replace the old one that, over time, had become old and was characterized by leaks. This new underground system is a vast improvement over the old one, which had visible pipes running along the grounds, aesthetically displeasing to the eyes.
As efforts were carried out during stage two, more components of the design of the garden, visualized by two landscape architects, have become a reality. These include the widening of paths covered with gravel, and the preparation of suitable sites between paths reserved for plants in a way that will ensure maintenance is easy and inexpensive in the future.
What remains now is the purchase and planting of a diversity of plants in the designated areas, and the painting of the metallic benches.
After months of preparation and three weeks of intense work, we are happy to report that the initial stage of the Lalla Aouda Saadia garden’s rehabilitation is complete. Our current focus is the regreening of 1800 square meters of prime garden space at the heart of the school grounds. We started with the irrigation system: a technician repaired the pump’s electrical panel and fixed all of the damaged pipes. Well water is now ready to be distributed throughout the garden. Then the 54 Seville sour orange trees in the garden were pruned to allow more sunlight to reach the ground, which has been fertilized and leveled.
The girls actively participated in the restoration of their green space. Since the space is for and by them, changes in the garden are carried out only by consensus and with their consent. Supported by GDF, a landscape architect is currently drafting design proposals. The design that is chosen by the girls and the school staff will be the basis of the next stage of the garden’s rehabilitation. The proposals include creating a new fountain in the middle of the plot, laying out pathways leading to it and expanding the underground irrigation system. Aromatic herbs and ornamental plants could be cultivated in the garden beds among the paths.
Prior to the renovation, the orange trees were the only plants in the garden, but GDF is now ensuring the garden will be home to a wider variety of species chosen by the students. It will have a dynamic educational purpose in addition to being ornamental: the girls will learn about the traditional medicinal uses of the plants and how to care for the herbs and trees. Mohamed El Haouzi, GDF’s field coordinator who is in charge of the project, has noticed another impact: the staff and students of Lalla Aouda Saadia are cleaning and planting other areas of the school grounds.
(Edited by Thaïs Martin)
The pruned Seville sour orange trees are spread elegantly across the garden, providing fragrance and shade. (Photo: Thaïs Martin)
The rehabilitation was carried out with manual labor and local equipment including this wheelbarrow. (Photo: Gary Martin)
The condition of the garden before pruning of the Seville sour orange trees began.
The new year brought a new director to the Lalla Aouda Saadia high school. He is now settling into his post, and has met twice with Mohamed El Haouzi, GDF’s Director of Projects in Marrakech. While they proceed with the consultations necessary to continue with our original garden, Mohamed has been approached by directors and teachers of many other schools – in Marrakech and its environs – who heard about our efforts and wish to rehabilitate their grounds. We are excited by this expanding interest in our ‘edible and ornamental schoolyards’ approach, and have decided to broaden our project to include primary, middle and high schools. Now we have children and young adults from 6 to 18 years old involved in our project.
In this and future reports, we will tell you about some of these new projects, while keeping you posted on developments at the Lalla Aouda Saadia high school. One school we are eager to assist is the Ecole Abou Firass primary school in the Marrakech medina. As you can see in the picture, the school staff has already prepared the garden for planting. Now that spring is arriving in Marrakech, GDF is ready to buy plants so the school director and teachers can roll up their sleeves and start planting.
We have dug into the past to reflect on the original aspirations of the high school girls from Aouda Saadia. When the rehabilitation project first started two years ago, the girls were tasked with putting into pictures their impressions of an ideal school. We posed them with the question "Out of all the areas in your school, which area do you enjoy being in the most?”
The thirty girls were united in their answers, drawing pictures of clean and scenic gardens, reflecting their need to have a serene spot to relax and gain the strength needed for their studies. This need was particularly obvious amongst those who were residents of the school.
Historically, Marrakech was an oasis dotted with traditional caravanserais that served as a resting place and shelter for merchants from southern Morocco travelling to the north (and vice versa). This oasis motivated a lot of people to come from afar in search of its tranquil grounds. The images of peaceful gardens drawn by the girls reveal a connection anchored in Moroccan culture that the people of Morocco still have with their natural surroundings.
The drawing exercise was initiated by Charles Hamilton, a Masters student in Landscape Architecture at the State University of New York, as part of his university research project. He surmised that rehabilitating the school garden would greatly enhance the learning experience of the girls at Aouda Saadia.
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