Benefit 700 Moroccan girls through school gardens

by Global Diversity Foundation
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
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
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.



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
Dar Taliba girls planting a new tree
Dar Taliba girls planting a new tree

In our previous report, we described the diverse gardens we have planted at Dar Taliba, a girls’ boarding house in the foothills of the High Atlas mountains. Just 45 minutes from Marrakech, we have collaborated with Dar Taliba’s staff and the girls in residence to create aromatic herb, ornamental and vegetable gardens along with a fruit tree orchard. As we have noted, our latest initiative is an ethnobotanical garden created with support from the Montreal Botanical Garden.

Understanding the importance of these school gardens requires a little bit of history of Dar Taliba itself. The boarding house was founded in 1999, as Morocco was going through an important transition. King Mohamed VI had just taken the throne, and one of his first official visits was to Dar Taliba in the Ourika valley. This was a symbol of his commitment to improving the situation for girls and women in Morocco, including enhanced educational opportunities in rural areas.

When Gary Martin, Director of the Global Diversity Foundation, first visited Dar Taliba in 2002, he met several girls from the first generation of students. Among them was Jamila, a young achiever from the remote village Ait Lekak nestled high in the Atlas mountains. Originally monolingual in Amazigh (the local language), Jamila went on to learn Arabic in primary school, French in secondary school when she was resident at Dar Taliba and then English in university, where she studied communications. After a few years studying in Morocco’s capital city, Rabat, and additional years working in its largest city, Casablanca, Jamila was invited to return to Dar Taliba as its new director. Martin says, “Having Jamila return to the rural boarding house where she was a resident for three years is an incredible opportunity for Dar Taliba, and you can see on the faces of the current residents that they are embracing their good fortune in continuing their studies in a nurturing environment”.

Jamila is an enthusiastic collaborator in our ethnobotanical and horticultural projects. In our next report, we will describe one of our new initiatives that she is leading: recontacting and interviewing many of the 750 girls who have passed through Dar Taliba over the last 15 years about the impact that access to education has had on their lives.  

Photo descriptions:

One of the residents in Dar Taliba takes of photo of other girls planting a new tree in the ethnobotanical garden (Credit: Inanc Tekguc). 

Dar Taliba Director Jamila interacting with members of the Pacific Horticultural Society who came to visit the gardens (Credit: Inanc Tekguc).

Jamila interacting with visitors to Dar Taliba
Jamila interacting with visitors to Dar Taliba
Play time at Abdelmoumen
Play time at Abdelmoumen

In April 2014, Abdelmoumen College welcomed 11 visitors, comprising three teachers and eight students aged between 14 and 18 years old as part of an official visit from the Department of Children’s Services, City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, UK. GDF coordinated the 4-day visit, from 22 to 25 April, allowing the foreign students to interact closely with the local students in activities encouraging healthy lifestyles. The students played football, basketball and volleyball, and worked hard together to rid the college herb garden of weeds and to plant new aromatic herbs and shrubs funded by donations received from our GlobalGiving supporters.

In a separate visit to another garden project, a group from the Pacific Horticulture Society headed to Dar Taliba on 16 May 2014. GDF Director, Gary Martin, is seen in the photo explaining the value and importance of the aromatic plants growing in the herb garden. This was followed by the planting of a Seville orange tree in the new Dar Taliba ethnobotanical garden by Katherine Greenberg, past president of the Mediterranean Garden Society and the Pacific Horticulture Society. The ethnobotanical garden, created in partnership with Alain Cuerrier of the Montreal Botanical Garden, will feature edible, medicinal and other useful plants that are important in Amazigh villages of the High Atlas mountains. The students from Dar Taliba will be able to take pride in recording the names and uses of the plants in their own communities in order to produce labels and a small booklet about the species cultivated in the garden. 

Working hard at Abdelmoumen
Working hard at Abdelmoumen
Briefing at Dar Taliba
Briefing at Dar Taliba
Planting a tree in the new garden at Dar Taliba
Planting a tree in the new garden at Dar Taliba

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Organization Information

Global Diversity Foundation

Location: Bristol, VT - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Hasnaa Benlafkih
Bristol, VT United States
$21,353 raised of $30,000 goal
239 donations
$8,647 to go
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