Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens

by Global Diversity Foundation
GDF's new garden at Dar Taliba ready for planting

A lot has happened at Dar Taliba during the past three months. 

This past January, Global Diversity Foundation broke ground for the ethnobotanical and permaculture garden after a meticulous design process that brought together the expertise of a local permaculture consultancy and the input of local community stakeholders, including the girls residing at Dar Taliba.

GDF prides itself on adopting a participatory approach that values and applies the traditional ecological knowledge and know-how of the communities it is working with while introducing new ways of doing things to complement customary and local methods in a changing world. Introducing permaculture to the Ourika Valley through an educational ethnobotanical garden is an instance of such a multifaceted approach.

Drawing from the patterns observed in natural ecosystems, permaculture seeks to make agriculture a sustainable practice that is permanently in dialogue with its socio-ecological surroundings.

The first step in implementing the permaculture ethnobotanical garden at Dar Taliba was to collect pertinent quantitative and qualitative data. We started by interviewing Abdelmalek, a native of the Ourika valley and head gardener at Dar Taliba, about the site’s history, the soil’s nature, any microclimates within the parcel and the region’s weather patterns. Then we surveyed the 1100 m² parcel in order to understand its topography. Using laser level measurements, our permaculture collaborators determined that the plot of land 'showed a slight convex promontory profile and curved contour lines' with a very slight downward slope along the south to north axis. These naturally occurring contour lines became an integral part of the design plan and served as a framework for the cultivation beds and other elements, including the compost area and greenhouse.

Surveying the parcel also shed light on water circulation within the plot and informed our decision to place the garden’s composting area at the parcel’s highest point in order to allow for any nutrients trickling from the compost piles to be absorbed by the plants grown downstream.

The next phase in the process was to mark the parcel and start the compost heaps. Our anaerobic compost pile was made using manure, straw and plenty of water. Using manure as fertilizer is very common practice in the Ourika valley yet composting is not and it was with great interest that Abdelmalek and other gardeners and day laborers working on the garden learned about the method with the intention to recreate it for their own vegetable patches. It was particularly exciting to see local community members’ interest piqued by the composting process because one of GDF’s hopes in planting the edible ethnobotanical garden at Dar Taliba is for it to not only serve as an educational tool for the girls residing at the boarding house but also as a demonstration site that the community at large can learn from.

With the compost launched, we proceeded to landscape the parcel’s cultivation beds and build the greenhouse. We built the structure’s frame using eucalyptus poles purchased from a local wood seller and had a local metal smith make the door and window frames. We then used agricultural plastic to insulate the greenhouse and we recycled wooden pallets into potting tables. The greenhouse was also retrofitted to harvest rainfall by using a conduit to channel water from its roof to a barrel refurbished with a faucet. Through introducing simple strategies like rainwater harvesting to the gardens at Dar Taliba and thereby the Ourika Valley, GDF seeks to equip the local community with tools to mitigate the impact of climate change in an area already affected by water scarcity.

The plant nursery, cultivation beds and compost were ready just in time for the sowing season and we have since planted beets, onions, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, pumpkins, corn, and alfalfa among other things.

Before the school year’s end, GDF organized a workshop for the girls residing at Dar Taliba with the help of our permaculture collaborator. During this workshop, the girls were invited to harvest the ripe produce from the garden and water the plants while learning about mulching, composting, nitrogen fixing plants and the benefits of polyculture farming.

We hope to install a sustainable water supply over the summertime, and have the gardens ready for the next school year.

Plan of GDF
Plan of GDF's new garden at Dar Taliba
Abdelmalek and our permaculture collaborator
Abdelmalek and our permaculture collaborator
Terracing the parcel according to its topography
Terracing the parcel according to its topography
The greenhouse while under construction
The greenhouse while under construction
Dar Taliba residents pleased with their harvest
Dar Taliba residents pleased with their harvest
The girls and our collaborator during the workshop
The girls and our collaborator during the workshop
Group photo from GDF
Group photo from GDF's workshop at Dar Taliba


As supporters of this project know, Global Diversity Foundation is a longstanding sponsor of the Ourika Valley’s Dar Taliba. The all-girls boarding house now enables over 120 students from remote villages in the High Atlas Mountains to continue their schooling every year. With your help, we support the institution’s commitment to making education accessible to young women from rural Morocco, all the while nurturing environmental stewardship and conserving traditional knowledge in one of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots.

Located at the foothills of the High Atlas, Dar Taliba serves an area populated by North Africa’s indigenous Amazigh communities whose livelihoods and cultural heritage are closely linked to the local flora and the traditional ecological knowledge they hold. Within these communities, women have represented an important vector for the transmission of ethnobotanical knowledge for centuries, as they shared the practical and ritual uses of plants from one generation to the next.

In recent years, however, much of this knowledge has come under threat, and needs to be both preserved and valued. As part of its mission to conserve biocultural diversity and enhance socioecological wellbeing of communities, GDF has established a comprehensive gardening programme at Dar Taliba which provides the girls residing at the boarding house with extracurricular activities aimed at actively valorizing traditional ecological knowledge and conserving local plant species. In previous years, GDF planted an aromatic plant garden, an ornamental garden and established a herbarium on-site.

This year, we are creating an ethnobotanical and permaculture garden. The first of its kind in Morocco, the Dar Taliba ethnobotanical garden will contain wild plants from the area and will serve as an educational tool for the girls residing at the boarding house as well as the community at large. Our goal is both to highlight the richness and importance of traditional Amazigh plant knowledge and increase Dar Taliba’s food sovereignty. Dr. Alain Cuerrier, an ethnobotanist from the Montreal Botanical Gardens and expert on the use of plants among Canada’s First Nations communities, is collaborating with GDF on the project, which will also produce a booklet documenting the names of plants in Amazigh and their uses.

The ethnobotanical garden at Dar Taliba is also accompanied by a permaculture initiative. GDF and local collaborators Radiant Design have introduced the permaculture design to the institution to increase the amount of produce grown on the grounds for the kitchen and strengthen the girls’ connection to the source of their food. It is our hope that ethnobotanical and gardening activities will become integral to the girls’ stay at Dar Taliba, bridging the widening gap between older and younger generations of women in the communities and preserving biocultural diversity even as girls access other forms of knowledge and opportunity through formal secondary schooling.

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.


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.
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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Global Diversity Foundation

Location: Bristol, VT - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Hasnaa Benlafkih
Bristol, VT United States
$21,314 raised of $30,000 goal
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