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Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco

by High Atlas Foundation
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco
Plant Trees to Empower Farming Families in Morocco

We have learned so far what we seek and practice: that ingenuity, faster responsiveness, and tailored solutions are driven by communities and leaders more directly around us; and that absolutely essential material and informational support come from national initiatives and leaders and global experience. An amalgamation of people empowered to act with broad societal upliftment – therein lies sustainability, and survivability.

HAF staff is working full-steam, at home, to take care of themselves and families, and for Moroccan people’s own sustainability, to help reverse the wave of troubles we all see ahead. Farmers in their own fields are planting still, and rural women in full adherence with required safety and hygienic protocols, are producing in their homes dried food to enhance their own and others’ food security.

We wish everyone the best in taking care of themselves and each other, in meeting the full needs of the personal and communal, in orchestrating the unity of the bottom and top, and loving all and one – as always.

We will post updates, when commensurate with this time.

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On February 28, I went on with HAF staff member Hajiba and Mohammed, another volunteer, to the Illou private school to present two workshops on global warming. We were welcomed by the Director, Mrs. Illou, before going to a classroom where we met about 30 second-year students. During the workshop, Hajiba presented the different aspects of global warming and its effects on the environment, such as the higher temperatures that cause drier summers and therefore wildfires. The eager students participated actively in the discussion by evocating terms with which they are familiar: CO2 emissions, recycling, renewable energies…

After this first workshop, we went straight to another room where a group of primary school pupils was waiting for us. Mohammed led there his very first workshop in front of a passionate young audience. At this age, the schoolchildren have only a bit of an idea of what global warming is, but they still have already heard about it, thanks to awareness campaigns, television, or their family. None of them were afraid to take part into the dialogue; they were all eager to participate.

After this second activity, we planted trees in front of the school with both classes. The children were very happy to put into practice what they had just learned: some were digging holes, some watering the plants, and others planted the trees and flowers.

As part of a series of plantings executed during the green week (from 24 February to 1 March), initiated by AESVT Morocco, the goal of this event is to raise awareness on the importance of trees and their roles in ensuring revenues for rural families or creating oxygen from carbon dioxide.

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[Jingxin is a college student from China who attends school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the United States. She is currently on a “gap year,” volunteering with HAF.]

The trip to Nzalat Laadam was just like any other. If it weren’t for the ever-so-imposing red in the background, we could easily be driving to the grocery store in downtown Philadelphia, not on a volunteering mission through the High Atlas Mountain. The laughter in the car, the comfortable silence, the occasional friendly quarrels about what route to take… all of it screamed “familiar.” Well, except for the thumping heart in my chest – this was my first-ever field trip with High Atlas Foundation, and I had no idea what to expect.

We were going to conduct a workshop on sustainable development and our destination was an “integrated pedagogic complex,” a cumbersome phrase in French meaning the school covered everything from kindergarten to high school. As one stepped in, what seized one’s eyes immediately was the complex builders’ generosity with colors – the light red façade, the lilac inner walls, the cyan columns… It took some getting used to when one was accustomed to the imperial red of Marrakech.

“Look,” Léo, my fellow volunteer from France, said as he tapped me on my shoulder while I was still admiring the building’s architectural merits, “they put our names on the poster, too.” I looked at where he was pointing and saw that even Léo’s middle name was printed there. This turned out to be only the prelude to their unrelenting hospitality. The school principals as well as many senior teachers were all there to greet us, shaking our hands and muttering welcome in three languages. Then there was tea, another round of handshaking, and a photo shoot – the first of many.

The French teacher introduced us to an always-smiling middle-aged man with full beard. The whole time we were there he never took a rest, always carrying chairs and equipment around and making sure no one was neglected. The teacher told us this man poured his heart and soul into the school, that he had laid its every stone. Quite literally, for even the traffic sign was hand-made by him.

The sustainability workshop was conducted in the open air. Students of all ages – about 80 of them – attended, and everybody was standing. Our project manager, Imane, won the crowd immediately with her characteristic charm, as per usual. She used every chance to engage with the students, playing games and asking questions, and she kept walking around to make sure that she was addressing everybody. Having just entered the wonderful age of adolescence, some girls were clearly struggling with their newly-developed self-consciousness and got intimidated by the crowd. But every time they spoke, Imane would ask for their names, and dedicated to them a round of applause when they finished. Soon enough, everybody was participating. As the discussion was in Arabic, I didn’t understand much of it. But the laughter, the enthusiasm and the warmth transcended all linguistic barriers. It was a language understood by all.

After the discussion, we started to plant trees. The holes were already dug out and were carefully aligned at even intervals. I was in charge of 10-15 girls, who, after a quick exchange in Arabic, promptly decided to name the tree Jingxin. Sure, as kids, we seldom dream about having a tree named after us 10,000 miles from home, but the moment when the girls pointed to the fragile sapling and shouted my name (not the correct pronunciation, but who cares?) felt more like a dream-come-true than any other. Later, a girl showed me a collection of her artworks. They were all abstract splash-inks, and they came in the wildest combination of colors. You never know underneath the monotonous red of the High Atlas mountain there lies the surging black, the blossoming orange, the pouring blue and the burning yellow, all of it stirring and igniting a young girl’s heart.

At Nzalat Laadam, I was impressed by many things: the astonishing organizational efficiency, the compassion and mutual respect, the dedication to service, and of course, the splendid colors of the High Atlas Mountain. Trust me, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

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Rural Moroccans, in reckoning with their environmental degradation, have turned to an unusual source to restore their prosperity: tradition.

Two weeks ago, I set out with three of my colleagues from the High Atlas Foundation (HAF, Marrakech) to the village of Gourrama in the Moroccan Middle Atlas Mountains. Our journey, from sunrise to sunset, took us across rugged terrains and through communities of all sizes. I reveled in the beauty, both natural and created, that flashed by my window as we drove. Each of the passing images aroused in me the innocent excitement one feels at seeing a place for the first time, if even just for a moment.

Solitary concrete buildings partitioned the flowing green fields we slipped through. Washed in fading emeralds, reds, pinks, and oranges, in profile, they appeared as stooped faces, their heavy-set brows animated by the soulful eyes of lit windows. They, witnesses to the passing lives and journeys of all, were solemn and resolute in their observation. Other constructions lay further back from the road, their glossy tin roofs peeking out from the verdant seas beside which they stood. The space between these oases of life and color did not feel hollow or maligned. It existed alongside the same expansiveness with which the blue sky above stretched up, out, and around us, without limit.

Upon arrival in Gourrama, we met with local representatives to drop off several hundred walnut and almond saplings at surrounding agricultural associations. These were only a fraction of the thousands of fruit trees we had carried with us, tightly packed in the back of our vehicle beside our luggage. One such representative, Tarik Sadki, head of the local association, gave us a tour of the property where we would be staying. Among the many buildings of mud brick and reinforced straw we walked through, one room, in particular, was a source of pride for Tarik. Here, he had curated a museum space over the past 20 years, dedicated to the preservation of the region’s history dating back a millennium, containing dozens of Amazigh, Arab, and French artifacts, from ancient tools and weapons to contemporary pieces of artwork.

This first morning in Gourrama, we distributed trees to 32 local farming families. Men, old and young alike, arrived wearing customary earth-toned djellabas to stave off the morning’s chill and protect their eyes from the rising sun. Excitedly, they hoisted their sapling bundles onto the backs of waiting donkeys, with visible pride and purpose.

In the late morning, we drove to a nearby town for further tree dissemination. There, I asked a handful of farmers about the effects of climate change on their livelihoods. In response, one man named Mustafa said that he has noticed a precipitous drop in rainfall, leading to reduced land quality. This dearth of rain, he revealed, has also impeded communal efforts to expand cultivation range, stabilize income fluctuations, and sustain local apiaries and flocks. One solution that he and others have found for this issue has been to build dams and canals to divert water from rivers to their fields. Moreover, during a dry year, he explained, farmers must plant more drought-resistant staples of barley and corn, even when these crops do not provide enough self-sustaining income.

Similarly, another farmer named Hasan recounted that, since a 2008 flood, all of the almond trees have been dying in the region. Because of this difficult reality, farmers seek more environmentally resilient varieties of trees that will flower later in the season, during a time of greater rainfall. Unrelated to climate change, Hasan expressed that a lack of fundamental agricultural training has also been responsible for diminishing yields. He believes that these farming practices, wherein people plant their trees and leave them without care, are a consequence of this deficient education.

At midday, after all farmers had received their trees, we led a discussion on communal wants and needs for the future. Through this conversation, we learned that rural Moroccan farmers often struggle to find the “right” domestic market for their products, toiling to make enough money, even in plentiful years. The majority of their crops are exported raw to European countries, to be processed and sold at high prices for the benefit of large corporations, instead of for their original growers. Moroccans want to access the international organic market, but rarely can because they lack adequate resources to effectively plant, grow, harvest, process, and distribute their produce. Some farmers have taken this challenge head-on, successfully managing the “seed to sale” value chain themselves. In this regard, a few in Gourrama have made moderate gains processing local olives into olive oil.

Beyond this, the group discussion brought forth two final issues: the inadequacy of young children’s school facilities and sweeping rural joblessness. Employment outside the field of agriculture is difficult to come by in this area, and the only occasional jobs available are in animal husbandry and beekeeping. Subsequently, we emphasized that HAF will remain a part of their entire development process, from the distribution of seeds to the certification, processing, and sale of produce, assisted by the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer program. To conclude, we completed a ceremonial tree planting, fertilizing the saplings, freshly laid to rest, with the traditional practice of spreading ash on the topsoil to deliver vital nutrients to the tree roots.

Following a typical late Moroccan lunch, we traveled to a 20-hectare communal farm on an immense plain bordered by low, rolling mountains. It seemed an impossibility, with the wind whipping through our scant jackets and clawing roughly against our flushed cheeks, that anything could flourish amongst such tumult. Yet, we learned, adversity and perseverance, like that which we had seen throughout our visit, was acutely woven into the very essence of the place we stood. This project was created by the local agricultural cooperative with a government land grant, providing jobs for unemployed individuals lacking viable professional prospects, and keeping them from succumbing to the tide of rural emigration.

Ingenuity in the face of hardship is commonplace within this community and the thousands of others in the High and Middle Atlas Mountains. Climate change is just the latest challenge they face. Oftentimes, people find themselves returning to tradition when they encounter problems of modern creation. On our last day in Gourrama, we came upon a small stand-alone corn processing facility where hydropower is used to churn grain into flour. This generational self-sustaining practice has yielded years of profit for the community. Its industrious design and the myriad of aforementioned examples serve as remembrances that, despite an ever-changing world, those who work in symbiosis with their environment will have their dedication reflected and returned.

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Every third Monday of January, HAF takes the initiative of planting trees in different places around Morocco. I heard many positive things about this special day back when I was a volunteer. And I wished to be part of it one day!

President Dr. Yossef, USAID Driver Lahcen, the volunteer Giovanni, Tree Monitoring Officer Hajiba and I headed towards Lala Takerkoust to the Ajbane Al Olfa Cooperative that produces goat cheese first before planting trees with the farmers. We met with the president of the cooperative, who shared with us glimpses of their daily hard work, such as feeding 60 sheep every day for six and a half dirhams per animal. 

Hajiba and I started the activities with a speech about HAF and its missions with Moroccan communities, how it is important to plant trees around Morocco, and why HAF is working on this project. We talked with farmers, who freely expressed their gratitude towards us. They talked about the problems that they face daily, and we shared information regarding planting pomegranate trees.

After finishing the workshop, we gave the one thousand trees to the farmers. With the help of Mr. Hassan Chaarouf - to whom I offer sincere thanks for transporting us to the beautiful planting sites - we drove to see the first farmer and to plant the pomegranate trees. I saw the farmer’s strength and his love towards his land. In fact, he told us that he had previously refused many lucrative offers to sell his land for buildings.

We continued planting trees for two other farmers who lived far from each other, approximately 5 to 10 kilometers away. I was delighted at the sight of the silky soil and its color that matches the color of the mountains. It was an enjoyable atmosphere with hearts full of hope for how these trees will prosper in the future.

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @haffdtn
Project Leader:
Yossef Ben-Meir
President of the High Atlas Foundation
Gueliz - Marrakech, Morocco
$31,483 raised of $50,000 goal
 
360 donations
$18,517 to go
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