My name is Rosanna, I’m twenty-two and I come from Italy. I’ve been in Morocco for a month and I’ve been
volunteer at the High Atlas Foundation. When I decided to work here, I was very excited, because I really
admired the work they do; but later, when I had to deal with this new experience, I wasn’t so ready, I was
totally scared. I felt as it was something too big for me, something that I couldn’t handle. I was terrified of
the idea that I couldn’t make it, I felt incapable, I knew I had no useful skills. Then I started working, the
President Mr.Yossef, entrusted me with small and easy tasks, insignificant for me comparing to what
everyone else did. Little by little I began to see gratitude in the President’s eyes, and I understood that it
doesn’t matter how hard is the work you have to do, what’s important is doing your best to bring it to
fulfilment. There are two things that I will miss the most at High Atlas Foundation: the first one is people.
They are lovely, kind, helpful and always smiling; and the other one is food. Yes food, because at the HAF
they usually have breakfast and lunch all together, and I really like it. I think it’s nice that they give
themselves time to eat all together, it’s an excuse to stop for a moment and share with others how the day
is going; I think it’s also an opportunity to create relationships with new volunteers. Although I spent little
time at the High Atlas Foundation, this experience helped me a lot. It made me realize that it’s useless to
put yourself down, there’s no reason to feel insecure; I understood that it’s not true that I’m not good at
anything, there will always be something I can do. I am certainly still shy and insecure, but this experience
has helped me to realize that I must in no way let shyness and insecurity dominate my life.
Review from Guidestar
Promoting Civil Society - University Engagement in Fez
By Katie Bercegeay, HAF Project Manager
On October 10, 2019, the High Atlas Foundation kicked off a new project in partnership with the University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah (USMBA) in Fez to establish a Law Clinic and Legal Aid program which actively engages students in experiential and service learning for the greater good of the local community.
Born out of a need previously identified by students and university administration, the project, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, is “to foster greater cooperation among local civil society organizations and universities and promote service learning.” It was inspired by a similar HAF-NED project conducted at the Faculty of Law, Sciences, and Economics in Mohammedia between 2014 and 2016.
During the day, HAF’s Farmer-to-Farmer Country Director Moulay Hassan Aladloui, Project Manager Katie Bercegeay, and Volunteer Experts for Development Association President Mostafa Mouslih attended a lunch courtesy of Pr. Mohammed Bouzlafa, Dean of the Faculty of Juridical, Economic, and Social Sciences. They then visited the Abdelaziz Child Protection Center in Fez. This is an institution that is part of the Ministry of Youth and Sports and with which HAF has maintained a partnership since 2017 to establish and maintain a nursery for pomegranate, fig, a diversity of other types of trees. The youth at the Center help maintain the nursery as they build employable skills. HAF is looking to bring this program to Centers around the country.
An inaugural meeting was held with Dean Bouzalfa at the Faculty of Law. Details of the project were outlined and first steps toward project implementation agreed upon. The Dean expressed his excitement about establishing a law clinic and legal aid program at the university during his first year in this new leadership role. Such a program has been a longstanding goal of the Faculty of Law in Fez. It was decided that the best approach to be taken was first to invest in selecting and training student participants in soft, technical, and applied skills before opening for business and collaboration with civil society partners. At the meeting, all parties joined in their commitment to ensure equal opportunity for all genders throughout the course of the project and to hit the ground running.
We extend our deepest gratitude to Mr. Mostafa Mouslih and the Volunteer Experts for Development who have been integral to HAF project planning and implementation in Fez and at USMBA. Their expertise and network have given a substantial foundation to this legal aid project.
Review from Guidestar
International Day of Childhood
By Anna Ugolini
On November 20th the International Day of Childhood and Adolescence Rights is celebrated throughout the world.
The date reminds us of the day when the United Nations General Assembly adopted in 1989 the Convention on the Rights of Children and Adolescents and more than 190 countries have ratified it. The purpose of the day is to promote global togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children's welfare.
Despite the improvements in recent years, the situation remains untenable. According to UNICEF, there are about 246 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 who work, and 180 million are employed in occupations that fall within the worst forms of exploitation surveyed by the International Labor Organisation.
Naturally, the living conditions of children are not the same in all over the world and sometimes there are significant differences in the same country. This is the case of Morocco, where the gap between rural and urban areas is one of the main obstacles for the country's development.
One of the biggest problem is illiteracy. According to UNESCO, 1,137,546 children, teenagers and young people have not received a primary or secondary education and most of them come from rural areas. Many rural areas are lacking in infrastructure, such as access to drinking water, healthcare centers, electricity, public transport, and schools, which are often located many kilometers from villages.
Despite this, some progress has been made in recent years thanks to new reforms and many organizations and associations which promote the development and welfare of children. One civil group is the "Al Karam Association", which was created in 1997 by Karima M'kika and deals with the safeguard of children in difficult situation. Located in Marrakech and Safi, al Karam is an active association for vulnerable children living on the street. Its team of thirty three employees includes coordinators, educators, psycologists, animators, social workers, and trainers. At Al Karam Association, children study, take courses in English and French and improve their computer skills, they eat every day good food and spend part of their time playing with animators.
The High Atlas Foundation has the Sami’s Project that encourages children to become advocates for education, socio-economic community development and environmental conservation through the participatory approach. Through small-scale fruit tree farming at schools and children protection centers, HAF supports children’s advocacy by exploring with them the direct impact of innovative agricultural techniques on families' income. By supporting girls‘ education and basic infrastructure in rural schools, HAF creates an indespensible foundation for a sustainable and prosperous future. HAF and community partners also collaborate with schools building and refurbishing buildings, bathrooms and student and teacher housing and installing clean drinking water systems.
In conclusion, there are still many problems that the country must solve, but thanks to all the realities that are committed to ensuring the well-being and safety of children the situation in Morocco will certainly improve, inshallah.
Review from Guidestar
From Pomegranates to Pomegranates Juice
By Anne Marie Del Castillo
As a retired agricultural economist, I participated in the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID) Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program in Morocco, administered by the High Atlas Foundation. F2F's main goal is to generate sustainable, broad-based economic growth in the agricultural sector through voluntary technical assistance. F2F sponsored my travel and stay in Morocco to brainstorm with pomegranate growers on steps that could be taken to increase their household incomes and reduce poverty.
I volunteered to identify factors that keep pomegranate farmers poor and, working with the farmers, come up with measures that could improve their well-being.
Pomegranates are round fruits with hard, shiny red-yellow skins. The fruit is composed of jewel-like inner seeds, known as arils, that people can eat either raw or juiced. Not only is the fruit delicious, it also offers incredible health and nutrition benefits.
Pomegranates are a good source of fibre as well as vitamins A, C, some B vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium and iron. Two components - punicalagins and punicic acid – are responsible for most of the health benefits of pomegranate. Pomegranates also have antioxidant activity three times higher than that of red wine or green tea.
Pomegranates trees are low maintenance, offer good yields and can thrive even with limited moisture. Pomegranates are among the best high-value crops to reduce rural poverty (FAO). In Morocco, unlike in other producing countries, the fruit is non-GMO and cultivated using organic and sustainable farming practices.
The dilemma is, if pomegranates are sold in the supermarkets in the United States and Europe for over three and even four dollars a fruit, why do the pomegranate growers in Morocco experience poverty? Part of the answer lays in the fact that for that same piece of fruit, the farmer received 25 cents only. One of the reasons for this is, while the farmers are gifted and their pomegranate fruits are of the highest quality, the farmers require the knowledge and the skills to compete in today's' markets. Inexperience in marketing and finance, and limited exposure to product innovation have greatly stymied the farmers in their efforts to make a good living.
The farmers over the course of our work decided that they should embark on a program to become more competitive, add value to their harvest and launch an aggressive marketing campaign. Because of these consultations, a modernization project was designed.
First, the farmers want to preserve and promote the golden pomegranate variety indigenous to this region in Morocco and their sustainable organic farming practices. However, some fruits suffered from peel bursting. The farmers want technical assistance to eliminate this agronomic issue.
To be more effective and engage in today’s commercial activities, the farmers’ cooperative will begin to hire a small cadre of skilled young women and men, including a marketing manager, an accountant, an information and computer specialist, a mechanical engineer and an administrative assistant.
To date, the farmers only sell fresh fruits. The farmers know that if they were to add value to their harvest through processing, their returns would significantly increase. The farmers’ cooperative and I prepared a business plan for a proposal to buy the equipment to extract and bottle juice. The business plan indicates that producing and selling pomegranate juice is highly profitable. In addition, such an operation would generate employment for young skilled women and men, as well as many laborers.
Finally, farmers agreed that they needed an aggressive marketing campaign to generate demand for their bottled pomegranate juice. The marketing campaign would promote the high quality of their organic, non-GMO “Moroccan Golden” pomegranate, which uses the state of the art manufacturing equipment to make a sanitary, pasteurized 100 percent bottled pomegranate juice, available year round. In addition, the marketing manager would negotiate contracts with domestic supermarket chains, restaurants and hotels for their fruit and processed products.
A marketing survey indicated that Moroccans love pomegranate juice, but they can only enjoy juice during the three-month harvest period; between September and November. The farmers’ cooperative could become one of the very few suppliers of hygienic pure pomegranate juice year round in the domestic market. Once the cooperative has gained sufficient processing experience, it would export into the premium European and US markets.
Their proposal has already generated donor’s interest in providing the funds needed to implement their program.
Review from Guidestar
My impression from a visit at the Pomegranate Cooperative at Awlad Abdallah – Yaniv Teitel, an intern at HAF and student at the Glocal program in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
On Wednesday the 4/9 I got the chance to join the Farm to Farmer staff on their first meeting with the Pomegranate Cooperative at Awlad Abdallah. Farm to Farmer is a capacity-built program that HAF is conducting in rural areas in Morocco as part of a partnership with USAID. It was a four-hour drive for each direction, only to have an appointment of an hour and a half. I was very much impressed with the commitment of the staff towards this meeting. Especially sense the meeting was a first meeting and no body can guarantee it will lead to future cooperation's. We arrived at a modern packaging factory. Around the table were waiting for us the members of the cooperative, seven men and a woman. They told the story of their impressive social vision of the village and the role of their cooperative in fulfilling this vision. Rashid, the HAF facilitator was leading the discussion. He was trying to learn the needs of this personal cooperative. Everybody was taking part in the discussion lead very well by a young facilitator from the big city of Marrakech. It was a very pleasant environment.
They spoke about their needs and rated them from the most important to the least most important. I remember thinking how their needs sound just the same as the needs of the farms in Israel, my home country. While they are successful in exporting their pomegranates to different countries, they are not able to create a sufficient profit from this export. They know the prices of their fruit in the markets in other countries are high, but the profit doesn't reach to them and stays with the middleman. They have economic problems and regulation problems which restricts their product development. They also claim to have management problems and whish to learn better how to manage a cooperative. To me it looked from the side, that they are doing pretty well, and it was beautiful to see how they enable each to talk and take part in the management and the discussion.
We drove back, enjoying the sunset over the mountains. The ride back gave me a good opportunity to get to know the staff better and to learn more about Morocco. Everybody seemed to want to help me get started with my own project.
Review from Guidestar
My name is Nora, and I am a new intern at HAF. Over the next 4 months, you can follow my internship journey on the HAF blog. Allow me to first introduce myself. I am 29 years old, and I study International Social Work in the master’s program at the University of Applied Science in Erfurt, Germany. The third semester of my program consists of an internship abroad which also encompasses the initial research for my master’s thesis. As I am interested in Arabic language and culture and always wanted to travel to Morocco, working with HAF seemed to be a perfect opportunity to find out more about the country’s ongoing developments and social projects. So, here I am.
I’m not certain about the topic of my thesis yet, but I hope the following months interning with HAF will help to steer me in the right direction. In general, I hope to find out how to develop and implement sustainable projects that have positive effects on the environment, contribute to poverty alleviation, and improve the living conditions of disadvantaged people. HAF’s work seems highly promising to me, and I’m looking forward to gaining insight into their projects and contributing to their work.
In my first week as an intern, I was entrusted with research and administration tasks. I was ready and very excited to go on my first field visit yesterday. Together with my colleagues, Said and Abduljallil, our driver, Hassan, and Pieter, Chief Tree Planting Officer from Ecosia, I visited several of HAF’s tree planting sites.
You may be familiar with the Ecosia search engine, which is similar to Google but has the incredible advantage that the profit generated by the company is used to plant trees. If you ever wondered how Ecosia finances their tree plantings with your search requests, let me tell you a bit more about their work, as I had the opportunity to talk to Pieter about Ecosia’s projects and ask him all of my questions.
Pieter told me that the number of trees planted by Ecosia all around the world reached 50 million in February 2019. That number has already grown to more than 70 million! In Morocco, Ecosia is funding the planting of 1.2 million trees in partnership with HAF. It was really interesting for me to find out how search requests are translated into trees, mainly based on the revenue Ecosia generates from advertisements. Basically, this works based on the number of clicks per ad on the Ecosia site. But even if you never click on advertisements, you still contribute to the movement because the more active monthly users the website has, the more relevant it becomes to advertisers. On average it takes about 45 search queries to plant a tree. This number varies according to location.
To make sure that all tree plantings are measurable and traceable, sites must be carefully monitored. The methodology of doing so was a primary reason for Pieter’s visit to HAF. The purpose of our field visit was to show Pieter a number of HAF nurseries and the progress of the trees as well as to discuss future collaboration between Ecosia and HAF.
First, we visited a remote village in the Marrakech region. The trip there was amazing. The only possible way to reach the village is a curvy, bumpy dirt and gravel road. Once we arrived, the landscape was simply stunning. As or even more impressive, however, were the people and their trees. Three young men from the local farmers’ association showed us their planting sites, and we were able to converse with some of the proud owners of the land. Even Pieter, who has a deep knowledge about trees, was deeply impressed by the size and the condition of the trees. For example, some of the olive trees planted only 2 years ago are already head-high and have fruit ready to harvest. Abdeljalil, who works on-site with the farmers most of the time, told us that the progress is simply owed to the care and attentiveness offered to the nursery.
In the afternoon, we visited a beautiful garden where saffron is grown. Here, we saw how to practically use space between trees to grow high-value plants and at the same time preserve the good quality of the soil in a natural way.
Later, we visited a school, where HAF with support from Ecosia could enable children and teachers to plant shade-giving trees for the schoolyard.
It was fascinating for me to see the different planting sites and gain deeper insight and understanding into the operations of a big company like Ecosia. I still have many questions. For example, I still am interested to know how trees are distributed by HAF and how farmers are selected. Also still on my mind is water supply for farmers--a major issue and consideration in all such projects. I hope to gain a better understanding of these processes throughout my next field trips. These topics are discussed in depth throughout a HAF-Ecosia partnership.
Review from Guidestar
The HAF ''Hight Atlas Foundation'' is a great story of Love, Success, Volunteering and cooperation .
It's quite a SOLIDARITY between us.
It was the best internship I did it .
Review from Guidestar
Quote of the day: mother nature is most definitely in charge here. Approximately 270 kilometers, or 3.5 hours drive from Oujda lies Bouarfa, the destination of my first experience with cooperatives as a volunteer with the High Atlas Foundation. More specifically, the Farmer-to-Farmer USAID Project, which aims to harness the potential of these cooperatives and, through capacity-building and participatory methods, empower their members and strengthen their economic prospects. But, before I get to that, I’m going to begin a little bit atypically - with the story of how the day ended.
Oujda and Bouarfa are connected by a single roadway, slicing through seemingly endless stretches of desert landscape for a majority of the drive. On a typical day, the existence of a lone road doesn’t pose a problem. Bouarfa isn’t a city brimming with tourists or outsiders, and probably doesn’t appear on most top Google search hits for sentences synonymous with “destinations one must visit while in Morocco;” the road is quiet, quick, and functional for a city primarily made up of local farmers. So, at the end of our day, I hopped back in the car with no inklings of anything about to go amiss.
Fast forward 30 minutes and the desert highway is no longer a desert highway. Instead, it’s almost as if mother nature decided to take revenge on the road for slicing the desert in two, and in retaliation sent a rainwater river to render the route impassable. Needless to say, we were entirely stuck, and now part of a small group of fellow travelers with little else to do than laugh at the futility of the situation, take a few pictures, and enjoy the rainbow forming across the skyline to our right (mother nature signing her work?). But, standing there, awaiting a decision on whether or not we would be able to continue without the car suddenly transforming into an amphibious vehicle, the reasoning behind Bouarfa as a destination and focal point for HAF’s work that day became all the more clear to me.
Earlier in the afternoon, we’d arrived in Bouarfa for a participatory meeting of local cooperatives, with representatives from 20 different cooperatives in attendance. The meeting presented a unique opportunity: a single forum for members of a vast array of local groups to voice the challenges they face when it comes to output maximization and sustainable agricultural practices. Broadly speaking, conversation centered around three common problems in the region: 1) a lack of proper technical expertise in the realm of irrigation, 2) insects interfering with the quality of produce, and 3) the impacts of unpredictable weather patterns on agricultural cycles. Like I said, mother nature is most definitely in charge here. But remember, just because she’s in charge doesn’t mean that, if we build the proper foundations and relationships, we can’t find a way to work together and with her to achieve greater economic security.
Today, I saw one of these relationships in action, when women from Moughle Cooperative instantly recognized a member of the HAF team who had led an IMAGINE workshop with participation from their cooperative nearly a year ago. One year later, she and other members of the cooperative precisely and fondly recalled even the smallest details of the workshop, including the music choices, and over tea and dates later in the day, reflected on the positive impact the experience has had. For these women, the long-term benefits of are only at their beginning stages, and yet already include stronger self-awareness, a greater sense of commitment to their cooperative, and an impressive variety of marketably packaged products to show for it.
For cities like Bouarfa, unfrequented by outsiders, and accessible by a single road subject to the whims of nature, the path forward lies in such needs-based assessments and the work of organizations like HAF to build positive relationships with cooperatives and with the surrounding environment. While today only gave me a broad introduction to the region and the work that can be done, I’m excited to see what lies ahead (road rivers and all).
Review from Guidestar
HYDRO-PANELS: One Great Idea
By Stefano Dessena
What can you do when you can’t count on the abundance of natural resources? You
can count on the insights of creative people, and that is our case. This time one great
idea can help a lot of people in need and can change their lives.
The access to clean water is an enormous problem to the 311 children of the school
Zawiyat Sidi Boutayeb in the area of El Youssoufia, where the parents association is
facing a lot of big struggles to find a proper solution. It’s here that the High Atlas
Foundation (HAF) wants to invest in a creative and genial solution but more than
anything else in an ecological solution: Hydro-Panels.
The “Source” panels come from the Zero Mass Water company with the objective to
develop a clean and eco-friendly way to create an access to clean water everywhere
even in extreme conditions.
Hydro Panels use the energy of the sun and the air to create clean and drinkable water
even in the desert. The regular array is formed by two solar panels. They can produce
from five to ten liters of water daily and store almost 60 liters. Panels have a special
absorbing material that can take only the water particles avoid airborne pollution and
then it can be mineralized with calcium and magnesium in a special storage. The
structure doesn’t need any external electricity or water supply to work properly and can
be mounted and be operative in a few hours, even in environmentally difficult areas.
But why is this an environmental and agricultural choice? The answer is very easy. Try
to imagine having a proper source of clean water in high mountains or even in an
isolated valley but without the problems of a well (sometimes way too expensive to
create and the water can be unclean). Further, the distance from the central water
supply and the locations where people seek to drink and cultivate can be too distant. It’s
wonderful, right? That’s what HAF has seen and what it’s trying to do for the school in
the area of El Youssoufia. With this idea all the students and their families will not have
the problem of access to clean water and they will be able to cultivate and benefit from
this great creation. The panels will work for decades, save water, and help to improve
the local economy.
Review from Guidestar
Scalability and Development: The Relationship between Expansion and the Community
By Julia DiFabrizio
HAF Intern, UVA student
What is scalability? At its core, scalability is expansion, and often unlimited expansion without the need to redefine any of the fundamental elements. Such a concept enters the field of development when discussions of projects, organizational capacity, and networks center around expansion. The number of communities that participate in a women’s empowerment program may increase; a non-government organization may see an increase in its funding and then hire more staff to take on more development projects; and an organization may establish a new partnership with another organization that has similar goals in order to share resources and ideas. It is essential to take the time to process how scaling up operations could influence communities and how changing cultural landscapes in turn affect the scaled-up operations.
Project scalability requires community-led evaluation and planning in order to ensure success. Any development-oriented project should consider a community’s political, economic, and cultural landscape for the sake of the project’s success and viability in the future. The technical aspects of a development project cannot always be scalable, so perhaps we should focus on scaling up frameworks, project themes, and goals. As Anna Tsing, an American professor of anthropology, suggests, nonscalability theory defines development projects as being dependent on the historical and current lived realities of a community. Nonscalability in the context of development refers to the fact that there are elements of the cultural landscape—political, social, and economic facets of daily life—which make scaling up development projects essentially unfeasible as they do not take these elements of life into account when carrying them out. Rather than allow scalability to outright deny these realities, scaling up project operations can rely on nonscalability theory, and development practitioners can rely on both theories. Ensuring that adjustments to every scaled development project are made in order to better meet the needs of a community can create a more sustainable, meaningful community development.
Take the High Atlas Foundation’s tree nursery initiative as an example of more successful scalability of development projects. Using organic agriculture as a means to address food insecurity and rural poverty in Morocco, HAF assists communities in establishing tree nurseries through participatory development methods. HAF has aided in building 13 nurseries located in seven provinces in Morocco, yet no two of these sites look exactly alike. Community needs and realities are addressed throughout the planning process, leading to the scaling up of project frameworks rather than all technical elements of the project. In some rural communities, only women run nursery operations. Some nurseries focus on growing cherries, while others grow olive trees, and others grow different types or a variety of cash crops. While the framework remains the same—employing organic agriculture as a means of addressing community needs—each iteration of the project is adapted to the realities of the community, with each community expressing their support for the nursery.
Can all scalability be successful? The short answer is no. Yet, this does not mean it is all unsuccessful. Scaling up networks and basic frameworks of projects rather than all technical details may be solutions to the rigidity of scaling up certain community development projects which made the cultural landscape an afterthought. The scaling up of development projects can be successful, but practitioners must keep the lived realities of communities a priority throughout the process.
Review from Guidestar
In the Hospitality of HAF Nurseries
By Hajiba Boumasmar
I had the pleasure of accompanying Said, HAF Project Manager; Hassan, an assistant; and Tobi, a teacher at United World Colleges, on two nursery visits in the Marrakech region. As someone who has always been passionate about agriculture and the environment, the nursery visits had a positive impact on my choosing the High Atlas Foundation to continue my professional career, after obtaining a master’s degree in biotechnology and sustainable development of agro-resources.
The Imegdal nursery is under the supervision of Hassan, a skilled technician also competent in the manufacture of compost made from hay and manure. Hassan spoke to us about transplanting the tree saplings and watering techniques. This nursery - initially funded by the Global Diversity Foundation and the Darwin Initiative - includes several types of plants such as: argan, carob, cherry, almond, and walnut because of its agricultural, economic, environmental, and health importance. Additionally, the High Atlas Foundation wants to protect the agricultural heritage of Morocco and provide a sustainable environment for the growth and development of these plants. Further, these varieties keep the soil fertile while avoiding the use of chemical fertilizers that cause adverse effects both on the quality and health of groundwater.
The Tadmamt nursery is the result of a partnership between Morocco’s office of High Waters and Forests and the High Atlas Foundation for tree planting; its initial funding came from the United Nations Development Program. This nursery, which mainly cultivates almonds, cherries, and walnuts, is under the supervision of Omar. Daily maintenance of the nursery organized by Omar, as well as the grafting technique utilized here, is the best solution to ensuring high quality fruit and profitability of crops.
These nurseries contribute substantially to the sustainable development of local areas. Specifically, they provide a significant number of carob, argan, and walnut plants throughout the year to the inhabitants of the region including landowners and farmers as well as new and old agricultural cooperatives. Ultimately, the nurseries help local communities, particularly those involved in agricultural activities, while keeping our agro-resources.
Review from Guidestar
THE POWER OF IMAGINATION
Carol Ma Yau Ka
HAF intern, CUHK student
On 27th July, I had the opportunity to visit one of HAF’s “Imagine” workshops, organized in the valley of Ourika. The workshops aim at empowering women both financially and personally, providing a space for learning, discussion and inspiration. It was the first time that Rachida, apprentice trainer of the program, had the chance to hold a workshop, under the guidance of HAF staff Ibtissam Niri.
The workshop started with an introduction of the Imagine program, then a brainstorm on the ideas of “empowerment” and “the growing edge”. Participants associated them with concepts like “control”, “expression” and “strength”. Conversations started to heat up as the women went on to share their own learning experiences and difficulties faced in various aspects of life.
Aicha, mother of two children, shared that she once wanted to quit her job at the cooperative because she was pregnant. However, after discussions and affirmations at the workshop, she decided to take the challenge of work and take care of her children at the same time. And, she did it. For her, the cooperative was more like a family. She could take a break from work every few hours to breastfeed her baby at home, or even take her baby with her to work. These are possibilities that she would never have imagined in other places.
Another participant, Fatima, told the story of her first time putting on make-up for a friend’s wedding. She was so scared and embarrassed with the make-up that, she couldn’t help covering her face with her scarf. After a while, with all the music, dancing and conversations, she let down her guard, and forgot completely about the scarf. Unexpectedly, she was told that her face was beautiful. Tears came down her face as she realized that she could be proud of her appearance. “I cried so much that my make-up was ruined!” A wave of laughter filled the room as Fatima told the hilarious story.
The experience visiting the Imagine workshop was very different from what I had expected. It was surprising for me how confident Rashida was, and how eager the participants were to share their stories and thoughts. For these women, the workshop was not only a classroom, but also a social space – a space not easy to find elsewhere. The family-like environment allowed them to feel comfortable sharing any thoughts, weather big or small, weather feasible or not. That is, to IMAGINE. By having their voices heard, and by hearing other women’s voices, they had their imaginations recognized, and were inspired to see new possibilities.
Review from Guidestar
After a windy uphill journey to Aguerzran, a small village nestled within the High Atlas Mountains, we reached the building where we would be conducting workshops. The small rectangular building, painted in sun-faded pink and green, overlooked the lush valley. My colleague explained to the group, over thirty women of varying ages, the purpose of our visit: to conduct both a cooperative building workshop and a women’s health discussion. As we waited for women to fill up the desks of the primary school, I asked the women why they felt health was important to them.
“Without health, we have nothing,” one woman proclaimed. The conversation naturally continued, as every woman reiterated the same sentiment.
Within minutes, the mood within the room shifted. One woman, a matriarch in the village, spoke through tears about challenges her community faces in accessing healthcare. Aware of her heart disease, she was unable to leave the village to take any action towards treatment. With merely one ambulance in the municipality, it is both physically and financially inaccessible. Aguerzran’s nearest health clinic is located in the Imlil Souk L’Aarba, three hours away by foot. Workshop handouts and diagrams originally brought to discuss nutrition, exercise, and hygiene were important, but not adequate
The problem does not lie in the do’s and don'ts of health. The issue lies in addressing economic stability, education systems, the built environment, and community context; all of which are social and structural determinants surrounding health in Aguerzran.
Three months prior to our visit, the women went through an empowerment workshop conducted by the High Atlas Foundation. The workshop aims to cultivate visions women have for themselves within different spheres of personal development including money, spirituality, emotions, and the body. During our visit, facilitators conducted follow up interviews with the women to track their progress in actualizing their goals. The women expressed feeling more confident, advocative, and self-aware. Yet, their perception of taking care of their personal health and wellbeing was defined simply by “working hard.”
Measured by means such as healthy lives, education, and standard of living, Morocco ranks 123rd on the United Nations Human Development Index out of 189 countries. Although this indicator is widely used to gauge the country's progress, it may not capture severe regional disparities and intersectional inequalities. Nearly forty percent of Morocco’s population is rural, and women make up half of the population. With the implementation of Moudawana, the Moroccan family code, and the National Initiative for Human Development, Morocco has made strides towards improving social and economic development. However, empowerment is not the only means to development; and improved health is more than a result of development.
Health, empowerment, and development have a symbiotic relationship. Significant strides in development should be holistic, and include the reduction of health inequalities in order to achieve sustainable change. Morocco faces the double burden of communicable and increasing non-communicable disease. A 2015 study published in BMC Cancer found that rural Moroccan women are at higher risk of late diagnosis for breast cancer, the most common cancer amongst Moroccan women. Illnesses such as tuberculosis are also often detected at late stages in rural communities. According to the World Health Organization, non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease make up nearly seventy-five percent of all deaths in Morocco. Coupled with inaccessibility to clinical care and monitoring, rural communities are increasingly susceptible to undetected chronic diseases. This epidemiological shift is indicative of unresolved structural inequalities that exacerbate rates of non-communicable diseases.
Physically and figuratively on the margins, rural women face a two-fold disadvantage. Weaker education systems in rural communities do not address health education, and weaker health systems can prevent women pursuing their education. Additionally, physical distance from health centers is discouraging and compromises safety. Women in Aguerzran expressed that heavy lifting and labor causes intense aches and pains. If left unaddressed, these pains can increase the risk of serious injury, halting their ability to work. Addressing the mutual relationship between these determinants will lead to better long-term health and equity outcomes for rural women and their communities.
When in Aguerzran, Marrakech, or anywhere in between, the crucial role of women in their communities and families is undeniable. The migration of rural men into cities has increased women’s agricultural labor and domestic care responsibilities, occupying a rural woman’s ability to give attention to her own health. As epicenters for their families, evidence suggests that the educational success and overall well-being of children is positively correlated with educational attainment and health of their mothers.
Fostering comprehensive women’s empowerment not only encourages internal progress but also paves the way for better future generations and communities. Empowering rural women through health provides the foundation for improved human capital, capacity building, and better long-term economic outcomes through participation in activities such as cooperatives.
Talking to the women in Aguerzran brought forth the importance of including health in an empowerment context. Since health seems to truly be everything for these women, it should also be an integral part of empowerment and development methodologies. Just as empowerment programs may inform women of their societal rights, the right to health should also be progressively achieved through increased data, awareness, and advocacy. Not prioritizing the wellbeing of the most vulnerable populations will prevent sustainable development from becoming a reality.
Review from Guidestar
Participatory approach was a vague concept for me before the activity of High Atlas Foundation and AFCD association.the activity was beyond my expectations. Everyone was relaxed , happy and active .So , we felt confortable to share our thought and views .the articipatory approach was easily illustrated with various examples in the first day . In the day after , we had the community maping in which we applied what we learned the day befor on our community hence we came up with a list of our essential priorities . The last day was for proposing projects we had in mind . During the whole process , we had the chance to discover our essential needs in Ait ourir , but more discovering our selves and enhancing our abilities in different sides . Finally , i want to warmly thank everyone who took a part in this activity , i will keep the honor of working with my entire life .
It was a good experience for me. I discovered a foundation that works for prosperity in a quite large sense. Agriculture, water, women's empowerment, educaton,... Always with a participatory approach. Good persons, I could go to the field, I just regret not to speak arabic, that could make me able to speak with local people. I had like to be more involved in reflexions for the different projects, but there was work of execution to do and I did so. Otherwise people were always available for answering my questions and make me discover the diferent activities. Thanks to them !
Here, an article I writed for their blog.
A day in the Atlas
Narrative and impressions of a French man in the Moroccan mountains
Hugo Dubois, volunteer in the High Atlas Foundation
Marrakech, 9am. My first field trip.
We boarded the vans that would lead us to our hosts for the day. We had two hours of travel through the Atlas Mountains ahead of us to reach Tassa Ouirgane; a village perched somewhere in the mountains. We left the city, its constant noise and movement, to discover the quietness of the fields, villages and people that populate the surrounding area. Soon, we are at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, ready to begin our winding ascension.
The road follows a narrow, precious stream that winds through a gorge. On the right, appeared the first village; donkeys, men, land, the rurality is apparent... Going up the river, the landscape opens up a bit, and gives way to a valley, narrow and green, descending from the mountains between the bright red mountain sides. Emerging from this oasis, a few slender white creatures fly over the valley. The contrast is striking and of a singular beauty; here, water is scarce, and one can feel it.
We will stop in a lively village upstream. The cool mountain air is cut with the smoke from the fresh lamb and chicken being cooked. The stillness of life is replaced with the lively bustle of the souk. Men are agitated in front of the stalls, they want to sell us a bracelet, a stone, a meal; offers abound for visitors like us, all with the promise of “For you, I give good price.”
Wandering away from the souk, I found company in the big trees along the road. On my right, I had a nice view into the lush green valley. I advanced slightly, finding myself immersed in the scent of almond trees and the sounds of white birds. I felt for a moment the intensity of this prosperity- the rareness of it- considering its value in these desert mountains.
We continued our journey through several more villages, valleys and landscapes, all equally as breathtaking... The road soon led us to a dirt track, on which we drove following its gentle curves and marveling at nature’s decor. The higher we went, the more rivers became streams; everything was affected…
Finally, we reach a quaint, sleepy village, near an empty old building in mud bricks. It is here, or rather slightly below, that we will stop. Down a narrow path, we walk through olive plantations in terraces on the hillside. Theshade is nice, and one can almost feel the resilience they have shown to thrive here.
A little ahead, we stop for a time to visit the nursery where a great number of olive saplings (their little brothers) are kept in black plastic bags, all ready for planting. We could feel the release of energy of an organized life, the will to raise and create prosperity was palpable.
This was an opportunity for us to meet one of the villagers. Through the translation of his Arabic, he told us about his situation, concerns, and vision. This man seemed torn about his rural roots in his way of expressing himself, his modern features, expressed in his appearance, perfectly trimmed beard and modern clothes, came in sharp juxtaposition to the rural village and setting to which he called home. In the discussion, he stressed the importance of the plantations for him and his community. It was not a question of purely agricultural notions, it was a question of prosperity, future, and quality of life for himself and his family.
We walked down to the heart of the village, stopping at an orchard overlooking the valley. The charm was there, and the trees gave away their fruits with little effort.
We then met a group of women, all dressed traditionally. A deep gap seems to separate them from our western group. Through their words, we could easily discover that their lifestyle, their concerns, their expectations were rather different from ours. However, something still seemed to connect us. Despite their relative isolation, they are rather content and feel comfortable in the place that is theirs. A singular humanity emerged from them.
Later in the afternoon, they invited us to join them in a large room, where we shared a traditional meal of couscous. We sat together on the floor in more or less mixed groups, the room was filled with a good atmosphere rich in discussions and sharing. The food was delicious steeped in the flavor of tradition.
I alternated discussions with colleagues in the room and going outside to escape the noise. Curiously enough, it is outside that I engaged in the most contact with the local people, exchanging with them through brief discussions. A simple and authentic connection was established. For a moment, I stopped and sat down to admire the place and the mountains. There is something slow, static and great; feeling that time is passing beyond us, flowing slowly, surely and peacefully; one should only let go and be carried away by this flow and merge with it.
At a street corner, I met some children, laughed with them, and then passed a mosque where women go for their prayers. Here, there is not much, and the weight of tradition is present.
I finally joined the group, where a final dialogue and a farewell took place. It was a pleasure to share a moment and a slight emotion of benevolence. We left our hosts leaving them to their peace and boarding our vans to go back to town. It was a visit rich in feelings and impressions.
Thanks to the United Nations Development Program, which funded the nursery, the village irrigation system and gabion baskets to prevent erosion of the river; not to mention the empowerment workshops in Tassa Ouirgane.
Review from Guidestar
Obscure and Marvelous Possibility
HAF Intern, UVA Student
“EVERYONE IS THE SAME.” Lalla Fadma, the eldest woman in the village, kept repeating this phrase to me in Arabic the whole way up the mountain. Just moments before, I turned my back to the valley—where we spent what felt like an unthinkably stretched amount of time at—to walk back up the mountain trail. Her hand, still clutching mine so tightly, moved from her chest to the space in front of her. To the world around her. “Everyone is the same,” Fadma echoed, pulsing our hands in rhythm with the words. “Everyone is the same,” I kept thinking. Really? After getting into a momentary existential crisis with myself about essential goodness and nature versus nurture, I wondered, How many times do I need to repeat this phrase until the tick that is my incessant need to establish identity politics and uncrossable barriers between marginalized and centralized groups in conversation stops? Not as many as I thought. Something about being down in the valley with all the girls, from the village and from our group, was profoundly unifying. Maybe it was the circumstances. We were all young women—and yes, with Lalla Fadma tugging at my hand by the time we got to the top of the mountain trail I certainly count her as one sprightly, youthful woman. Is it not inevitable that we felt an unspeakable unity amongst ourselves? Is it—not to be dramatic—not the most awe-inspiring thing to see women of all races, ethnicities, education levels, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds just enjoy each other’s company at the bottom of a valley? Truly, the number of young women gathered with the purpose of reconvening in a mountainous valley felt epic and vast. Perhaps there were thirty of us total, but it felt infinite. And as I looked around at the towering mountains, the nursery way off in the distance, and the crystal-clear stream flowing right through my fingers, I knew that this was a land of obscure and marvelous possibility. Only time can tell us how much longer we have left until a feminist revolution occurs. One is imminent, anyways. With all the young women gathered there during those two days, learning about feminine health, cooperative building, business strategy, and internal growth, the phrase, “Everyone is the same,” doesn’t seem like such a hollow farce now.
Review from Guidestar
This article highlights the potential of women in the Middle Eastern and North Africa region,
specifically Morocco, when given a platform, such as a cooperative, and resources by which they
can carry out economic activity. The article has not been previously published.
HIDDEN GEMS: THE MEANING OF COOPERATIVES ON JULY 6TH
How cooperatives may be a key factor in social and economic empowerment in the Middle East
and North Africa
A member of the Cooperative Aboghlo Women’s of Ourika is cheered on as she writes her
name in Arabic for the first time (Photo by Fariha Mujeebuddin).
To many people, this coming July 6 marks the passing of another Saturday. But to over 1 billion
people, July 6 is of tremendous significance as it marks the 25th United Nations International Day
Twelve percent of humanity contributes to one of the over three million cooperatives on earth.
Cooperatives not only stimulate local economies but also act as a vehicle for bringing opportunity
and profit to people worldwide, who otherwise would not be actors in the formal sector. This
tangible empowerment is perhaps best embodied by the Cooperative Aboghlo Women of Ourika.
Just a short thirty-minute drive outside of Marrakech to T’nine Ourika in the Al Haouz province,
located across the street form a furniture store is a deceivingly unremarkable storefront. Peering
through the glass display case you will find packages of couscous and dried herbs sitting alongside
bowls overflowing with chocolate, pistachio, almond and walnut cookies. All of which is made
from local Moroccan ingredients.
But this is not the real gem found inside the Cooperative Aboghlo.
The true beauty is hidden away on the second floor of the co-op, where 23 women, sit in circles
and talk back and forth. They are not making casual conversation, instead, they are debating
various aspects of the internal and external marketing for their cooperative. For hours, these
women engage in conversations about how to better spread the word about their product, how to
enforce the timeliness of each respective worker, and how to resolve problems of communication
and organization - issues every business must grapple with.
This in itself is remarkable, but it is even more so when one is reminded of the context. The
discrepancy in opportunities and education of women compared to men is widely experienced in
our world. This creates an uneven playing field for women - from the time they are little girls they
are not given the same support as their male counterparts. The distributional consequences are
crippling: the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has the lowest rate of women
employment in the world; seventy-five percent of MENA women are excluded from the
workforce. Most women in the co-op could not read or write Arabic, now they are taking literacy
classes at the co-op and are able to write their names and read street signs.
When considering these astonishing circumstances, it is obvious these women, who are
successfully managing their own well-established cooperative, are extraordinary exceptions. But
that should not be the case. It is just and right to commend the women of this cooperative, but
the ladies of the Cooperative Aboghlo are a much-needed reminder not only of what is possible
but of what should be.
The cooperative started in October 2016 with ten women from one village. Now, there are thirty-
three women from five different villages actively participating. In addition to selling from various
products from their brick and mortar site, the co-op exports directly to major internationally
recognized cosmetic companies. These women set an example of what is possible when given
education and opportunity.
Women’s active participation in the labor force can have a tremendous positive impact on the
developing economies of Morocco and other MENA states. The McKinsey Global Institute found
that supporting women’s economic advancement could add 12 trillion dollars to the global GDP by
2025 and grow MENA’s economy by eighty-five percent. The World Bank estimates that higher
female labor force participation rates could lead to a twenty-five percent average increase in
The root of the issues of female participation in the labor force lies in inactivity - not
unemployment. Family opposition and traditional gender roles create rigid barriers for women,
especially in a rural setting, their domain is confined to that of the domestic. However,
globalization and increased pushes for equality have ushered in a new wave of changes.
Moudawana, or Morocco’s family code addressing gender equality and rights by raising the
minimum legal age of marriage and limiting divorce and polygamy terms, among other terms, thus
giving back the innate rights of women that have long been forgone. Morocco decreased barriers
to form cooperatives further encouraging women’s involvement in the economy. This is a huge
step forward for Morocco in addressing the systemic inequalities that are so deeply integrated.
This progress, though commendable and remarkable, is just the first step. The path to sustainable
development and equality is one that is not easily trekked. Through their partnership with the
High Atlas Foundation, a Moroccan NGO, the cooperative was given a platform and the skills
training necessary to grow tremendously. The cooperative embodies what is possible with this
support and facilitation of development.
The time for these changes is long overdue. The time for these changes is most certainly now. It
starts with the simplest action - it starts with the women of Cooperative Aboghlo Women of
Ourika taking initiative, the children of Morocco attending school, and most importantly, it starts
with the education of the marginalized people.
The future should not be a mere continuation of the past. It takes a single lifetime of empowered
women to spurn generations of empowered girls.
Sarita Mehta is a student at the University of Virginia studying Politics and Economics,
Review from Guidestar
Aboghlo women’s cooperative and their business partnership
On Monday July 1st, a group of students who are on a conflict resolution and peace-building class at George Mason University (GMU) and their professor, accompanied by HAF President Dr. Yossef and HAF Director of Project Ms. Amina, visited the Aboghlo women's cooperative in T’nine Ourika. This cooperative could be stated as one of the success stories that HAF is proud of. In fact, after great efforts and continuous work, these women are now in partnership with an international French cosmetic company. This makes them the first women’s cooperative in the whole area to sell its product directly to a trading partner without going through intermediaries. This way the value added coming from growing aromatic plants goes to the producers.
During the presentation made by the cooperative, Dr. Yossef told the women that visitors may think that this place has always been this way: nicely painted and looking like a business place with glass display windows in the front and a sign etc. The project took time and patience to grow and advance until the cooperative now cultivates, dries, and exports plant products to France. Preparing soil by plowing, sowing seeds and taking care of the crops was and still is a male domain in Morocco. However, these women did everything themselves including plowing, seeding, caring, harvesting and post harvesting. They are proud of it and all they want is to see their efforts fairly rewarded.
As one could expect in any partnerships, conflicts may occur between partners. During this visit, women raised the question about the prices if their product. The discussions engaged between the women, Dr. Yossef and Ms. Amina were a good opportunity for the GMU students to witness how they discussed the issue and how they worked towards a solution and a compromise to settle the problem.
It was interesting to observe the approach and technique used by Dr. Yossef as a facilitator, including asking personal questions, building trust, initiating conversations between GMU students and the women. Within the process, it was such a nice coincidence to find out that the students’ supervisor and Rachida-the president of the cooperative-both have eleven years old daughters.
It was a good sign of group wisdom to hear one of the women members of the cooperative say: "In these situations it is normal to have these kinds of exchanges between us but always at the end we come together and settle on a compromise that serves the collective interest".
In the end, we all shared a meal prepared by the women of the cooperative and shared laughter and smiles as one of the GMU students stated: “We don’t share the same language and it can be difficult to communicate, but a smile is worth a thousand words and it speaks more than words can ever do”. One thing that we could agree on is how delicious the meal was;I couldn’t resist not buying their cookies before leaving.
Review from Guidestar
A Visit to Tassa Ouirgane
HAF Intern, graduate student
On a sunny Friday morning, the High Atlas Foundation took us on a field trip to the village of Tassa Ouirgane in the Al-Haouz province. Our small but very international group consisted of students from the George Mason University in Virginia, student volunteers from all over the world, and staff members of the HAF.
Our first stop was about one kilometer before the village of Tassa Ouirgane. We were led down a small path and found ourselves in the middle of the tree nursery of the village. 40’000 olive tree saplings, funded by the United Nations Development program, are grown here right at the border of the Toubkal National Park. HAF has assisted the village community both in implementing various community projects, including in irrigation, erosion prevention, and with a women’s cooperative. With partners, the village has managed to build a well, has developed a system to avoid the erosion by the river of their farming terraces, and in advocacy by and for the village towards Moroccan and international agencies.
After the visit to the tree nursery on the terraced fields, we continued our way into the village. Our group was warmly welcomed by the members of the local women’s cooperative who hosted us in the village’s school building. The Tassa Ouirgane cooperative is open to all unmarried female members of the village community and currently counts 14 members who meet on a weekly basis. The cooperative generates income by collecting, drying and selling wild medicinal herbs such as thyme. In addition, the women produce pastries and collect Ghassoul (natural mineral clay found in the High Atlas used for cosmetic purposes) for sale. After we got the chance to taste the homemade pastries, HAF director of projects Amina El Hajjami then held a workshop with the cooperative members in which they discussed the current agenda of the cooperative, such as electing their officers and having all members apply for identify cards so that they can be included in the official registration. All cooperative members participated in what appeared to be a lively discussion.
It was time for lunch. As it was a Friday, our hosts had prepared couscous that was greatly appreciated by the guests. The group was curious about the content of the workshop. What challenges do they face? What have they learned? What are their plans for the future? HAF president Yossef Ben-Meir acted as a translator from English to Darija and vice versa to initiate a conversation. It appears that the main challenge the cooperative is facing at the moment is internal communication. There is a need to find a system that updates the whole cooperative about the activities of the individual members and defines responsibilities. In this way, the coordination of work can be enhanced, and duplication avoided. They discussed as well that the working time of members should be recorded to have an overview of the effort that goes into the cooperative. In the future, the cooperative hopes to upscale its activities regarding the sale of wild herbs. The aim is to also offer herbs in the form of essential oils, for which a much higher quantity of herbs is required. However, the cooperative needs to develop a partnership agreement with the national park authorities to allow the increased collection of wild herbs. This is where HAF can also be helpful, through assisting their communication with this and other public agencies.
One further point in the discussion was to schedule an election for the presidency and other positions of the cooperative. An election or vote is only held when all 14 members are present, which to me pictures a very democratic understanding of the cooperative, in which all members have an equal say.
The Tassa Ouirgane women’s cooperative to me marks an impressive example, of what becomes possible when young people bundle their capacities and work together. It seemed to me that the cooperative is proud of its activities and has found a way to contribute to their community in a way that empowers the individual members.
Review from Guidestar
Revitalizing the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development
Morocco is on its way to being the hub of solar energy in Africa.
Brooklyn Wenbo Wu
Promoting the use of solar energy is an effective way which not only provides more access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, but is also a feasible method to address climate change. However, immature photovoltaic technology, low conversion rate in practice and high installation and maintenance cost frequently block the technology from being widely used, especially in Africa. Surprisingly, supported by the Ministry of Energy, Mining, Water and Environment of Morocco, the Institut de Recherche en Energie Solaire et Energies Nouvelles (IRESEN), in Ben Guerir, Morocco, has made good progress in innovation and social application of the solar energy use. Through promoting global partnership and increasing multi-stakeholder engagement, IRESEN has made a solid step towards the hub of solar energy use in Africa.
Aiming at build the bridge between scientific, technological and research communities in solar energy use, IRESEN attaches great importance in the engagement of national universities and institutions. Relying on the platforms of numerous universities and institutions in Morocco, IRESEN is able to build research and test platforms nationwide, as well as collect relevant research from different institutions and academies. For instance, constructing next to the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, the Green Energy Park is responsible for massive of IRESEN’s photovoltaic technology and solar panel development programs. Every year, the Green Energy Park receives more than 100 of interns from universities and institutions all over the world, and jointly promote cooperative research projects with universities and research teams in Morocco. Today, using the facilities of different universities, including the University of Hassan II in Casablanca, Mohammed V University in Rabat, and the Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech, solar data of major cities and regions across the country are gathered and analyzed in the Green Energy Park, to help with the development of solar panels. The involvement of universities and academies significantly break the boundary between academic and technological communities, thus offered global talent and a broader experimental platform to the solar energy research.
In order to support its research and promote the practice of solar energy in industrial productions, IRESEN established global partnership to gather global resources and try to contribute universal solutions to global issues. Working closely with the EU, IRESEN receives both financial and political support for their projects and proposals. Despite this, IRESEN also established partnership with other governmental sectors. For instance, Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) contributed a technologically advanced experiment chamber to the Green Energy Park. A joint call for energy technological cooperation was also initialed by IRESEN from Morocco and Center for Development of Industrial Technology (CDIT) from Spain in 2018. In 2013, IRESEN worked with Bureau of Architecture and Energy of Germany and initialed a project aiming at Promote the innovative use of solar energy in electrical appliances. Global partnership significantly strengthens IRESEN’s ability both in academic research and practical application. In fact, IRESEN’s solar energy project is also a hub and a typical example of North-South cooperation, where not only European, but developed countries globally engaged in the sustainable development process of Africa.
Serving as the hub of solar energy use in Africa, even for the world is the long-term vision of IRESEN. Although IRESEN has made significant achievements in solar power using in Morocco, there still much work to do to actually generate a driving effect and lead the clean energy business of Africa. To address this issue, IRESEN is now working with 15 African countries including Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Niger, Ethiopia, Guinea, and Chad. Not only to encourage and promote both governmental and private sectors’ engagement in solar energy use, but importantly, to test the solar energy products under different climate and environment conditions, thus to improve the solar panels and help to better integrate photovoltaic technology with local industry development. This vision also co-responded to the United Nations call of ‘Sustainable Energy for All’, and could effectively address the Sustainable Development Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Therefore, it could be predicted that the solar energy development of IRESEN will provide a strong impetus for sustainable development in Africa, and could truly become the hub of solar energy use in Africa.
Generally speaking, engaging global and regional partnership truly put the solar energy project onto a new stage. In the deepening trend of globalization, the human race is facing numerous of global issues, among which climate change and resource exhaustion are the main problems of human destiny. Therefore, this age needs the revitalization of global partnership and the sense of shared responsibility of mankind more than any other ages do. Not to mention that by engaging global partnership and involving multi-stakeholders, projects aiming at addressing global issues could be better supported with finance, academic resources and political attention. With international and regional cooperation in multiple levels and fields, the solar energy project of IRESEN can benefit local development to a great extent. People should not be surprised when Morocco truly becomes the hub of solar energy use in Africa one day in the future.
Review from Guidestar
I began to understand the reality of fetching water
By Caroline Kirk
HAF Intern, UVA student
Stepping onto the campus of the American School in Marrakech was like being transported to a completely different world than what we had thus experienced as High Atlas Foundation interns the past three weeks. After visiting women’s cooperatives, speaking to young women who stop their education at primary school, and witnessing adult women write their name for the first time, the monetary donation received felt like so much more.
Receiving a check from these elementary students, Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, the President of the High Atlas Foundation, said, “Because of you, there will no longer be parents who have to decide whether to send their daughters to school or to fetch water.” Because of a school walk-a-thon, a major barrier to development and education will be systematically overcome in some capacity. Hearing this, I was filled with a weight, knowing that Ben-Meir’s words speak to a developmental reality and dynamic partnership at work.
The High Atlas Foundation and the American Schools of Marrakech have important common objectives of expanding the environmental education, spreading the green fields in rural schools, providing clean drinking water for schools, and developing rural school infrastructure. These nobel goals and alignment of values were evident in the conversation led by the Head of School Jean Brugniau in the ceremony at the end of the year celebration. He spoke directly to his students and parents, encouraging community participation and engagement. The picture perfect setting and positive commitment to excellence stood out to me as unique to this country and the Moroccan priorities that we have come to understand as interns and students.
What felt like a Hollywood movie school set with smiling parents, dancing young children, and a field of happy and sweaty soccer players, quickly became the backdrop to real, tangible change. I cannot even remember what my own elementary school walk-a-thon raised money for. This schools donation is a true testament of hard work, community support, and the participatory approach beginning from integral fundraising and passion.
Review from Guidestar
The door is always open at the High Atlas Foundation. Often, it is literally open in an attempt to generate some airflow in the office. It is also open in the sense that people are constantly going in and out. My friend Shermeen says it’s like a talk show and you never know which guest will next walk through the door. During my week’s time at HAF, I’ve met staff members and volunteers from Morocco, France, Germany, and more. I’ve met journalists from Germany and anthropologists from Spain. I’ve also met Moroccan farmers who tend to tree nurseries high in the Atlas Mountains.
Today, I had the pleasure of meeting 14 high school students from Richmond, Virginia, travelling to Morocco as a part of Envoys travel programs. Their exploration so far has consisted of stops in Rabat, Fes, traditional Berber villages, and now Marrakech. When Dr. Ben-Meir asked what they felt was the purpose of their trip, students had answers such as increasing cultural awareness and sharing awareness upon their return. They also spoke about personal goals like challenging their own comfort zones. The goal of their visit with HAF was to have discussion about integrating education and development.
Spurred on by thoughtful questions, Dr. Ben-Meir explained what development means to a foundation like HIgh Atlas in a country like Morocco. A connection was made between the “experiential learning” the group has had in Morocco and the “participatory development” of HAF. The purpose of participatory development was defined as “helping people solve their own problems.”
This is what has stood out to me the most about the mission of HAF: empowering people to make their own decisions and truly see themselves in the outcomes. Much like how the office door is always open, the High Atlas Foundation has opened many doors for development across Morocco.
Essaouira may stand as a great example to the world for how religious diversity should prevail: Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities have historically co-existed in Essaouira peacefully. While other regions of the world are endlessly fighting over religious matters, it is both interesting and delightful to observe how the Essaouira people get along with each other so well.
I am Peter Wu, a Chinese student currently studying at Western University in Ontario, Canada. During my third week in Morocco, I was brought on a journey with the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) to the city of Essaouira.
So, what was my expectation before the trip? Frankly speaking, my knowledge of the area was so limited that I had no sense of what to expect in Essaouira. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a very insightful experience; even with no expectations to fulfill, there was still a sense of fulfillment in the journey.
Morocco is an Islamic state—a fact that was rooted in my mind. Therefore, it was a surprise to me in Essaouira that the land is not only home to Muslims but also Jews and Christians, whom equally enjoy everyday life and have the right to practice their own religions. A Christian church was the first place we visited; then we went to a mosque, where we sat on carpets and listened to a choir of local Moroccan kids sing. Lastly, we visited a Jewish museum where Jewish ancestors’ histories were commemorated. “Rich history rich culture,” I thought.
What could I relate to from this journey?
I grew up in Guangzhou, China, a megacity located in the country’s southern region. People there are kind and welcoming, and many hold a sense of pride to their hometown. Guangzhou is home to a unique language spoken only by locals, and which is relatively distinct from Mandarin (China’s official language): Cantonese. You get used to people not speaking Cantonese on the street. Locals of Guangzhou are proud of their culture, but that is not the only thing that makes the city special. Guangzhou is fast-growing—the population continues to increase. As a result, car traffic is congested, leading government leaders to constantly look for new solutions to alleviate it. However, attempts to avoid the traffic by taking public transportation has resulted in crowds at the train station to pour in and out like water flow when a train comes by. Also, on the streets, large crowds quickly walk by Canton Tower every night, resembling ant colonies. Insofar, sometimes you might wonder if Guangzhou has changed from the culture and the distinct linguistic feature it once represented.
Nevertheless, I am glad that the city in which I grew up has a value of tolerance for all, just like Essaouira. There was never hatred for newcomers or outsiders from Guangzhou; the city welcomed all people with open arms. Guangzhou is not fearful of others who try to settle and be a part of the city—the culture continues to absorb and to renew itself from “the new.” People have mutual respect for each other and try to understand the differences between them without judgment. Perhaps this is why the city is always marching forward: it gains strength from new people, and when those people become a part of the city, Guangzhou is strengthened as a whole. Of course, there are problems and disputes at times, but the city’s attitude is always positive.
Guangzhou is great, but there was something else I was lacking the knowledge of when I grew up. Guangzhou believes in diversity, however, you rarely witness diversity of religion there. As you can guess, this is the aspect I liked about Essaouira: a perfect example of what I had previously been unexposed to, where the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people are living harmonically in the same city.
There are 77,966 people living in Essaouira—a small population—making it unusual to see such a religious mixture. While it is a small region, I feel a much greater sense of inclusion. I suppose people in Essaouira are living happily. Vivid proof, to me, includes the people I observed walking the streets before Iftar and the peddling vendors by the roadside. One question I have to ask is: did the peaceful and happy lives of people in Essaouira bridge the gap between religions, or did the religious harmony provide the foundation of pleasant life? In other words, which of the two came first in Essaouira’s history, and which of them is more of a determinant?
This may be a tough question to answer, but regardless of what you think, the reality is that communities in Essaouira enjoy cohesion and peace. Therefore, the question I posed becomes less significant. The message many other parts of the world could take from Essaouira is: let the people have a good quality of life and embrace the diversities in their religions. After all, we are all the same in that there is no real difference among us in the existence of humanity.
RURAL WOMEN ACHIEVE THEIR SELF-EMPOWERMENT IN TAALANIT VILLAGE
By Sanae Benaadim
On April 4th, HAF and local Moroccan women embarked on a new, exciting adventure! HAF's team, including Fatima Zahra Laaribi, Amina El Hajjami, Houria Chouhab, Martine Roberts, and myself, went to Taalanit, a small village located in the Setti Fadma commune of the Al Haouz Province. As we approached the hillside, we passed by fascinating landscapes riddled with marvelous changing colors.
The first day of the Imagine four-day empowerment workshop began by meeting the rural women next to a local café. It was facilitated by Amina EL Hajjami, HAF's Director of Projects. Amina led this training, with the aim to help women of Taalanit empower themselves and better their livelihoods.
Amina started the workshop in the local language of Tashelheit with a brainstorming activity of introductions, challenges, motivation, and available solutions. This method had an effective way of breaking the ice with the 46 participants aged between 16 and 60 years old, most of whom do not speak Arabic. Although there were no responses at first, caused by a lack of understanding regarding new concepts and words such as “training,” one woman had the courage to take initiative in answering some questions. As a result, others were encouraged to participate in the discussion as well.
As discussions unfolded, women spoke up about the different factors controlling them, such as traditional rituals and social norms in their community. The following statements particularly caught my attention:
“Whatever we do, men do not give verbal recognition of our hard work.”
“When [men] just speak, we fear.”
“We are selling ourselves to men.”
“Men are not normal if they help their wives.”
In my opinion, male domination is highly prevalent; they have the upper hand in rural areas of Morocco. I have been told that most rural Moroccan women have only two advances in life: the first is to move from their parents’ house to their husband’s; the second is from their husband’s house to the grave.
The second day of the training was a surprise to us as the participants enthusiastically arrived full of wonder and ready to explore. This time, they had the will and passion to make progress in their lives. Amina led a “room exercise” for determining the women’s weaknesses and strengths. We found that sources of personal power are commitment, discipline, inner guidance, a support system, lightness, love, and finding your own truth. Additionally, any activity we need to accomplish requires the power of imagination, which fosters passion to achieve dreams and, thus, leads to happiness.
Education is also very important in life. Notably, I observed that in every meeting we facilitated, most women we spoke with asked about education. Especially after learning more about Amina’s academic and professional experiences, participants developed a strong belief in a need to be educated in order to get a job and earn money of their own.
One of HAF’s important objectives is to empower rural women, guide them in having a clear vision of their lives, and to make a positive impact on them. It is often difficult for others, particularly men, to have insight into the value of women’s daily work both inside and outside of the house. The participants had voiced this value as a result of the workshop, and affirmed that if they give themselves value, then men will do the same.
Before leaving Taalanit, we asked the women what they learned from the empowerment training to which we received many positive responses. One participant said, “Unlike the past, our eyes and brains are opened now.”
Review from Guidestar
Be environmentally friendly !
On Tuesday, April 9, 2019, the HAF went to Tassa Ouirgane, a rural commune located in the Atlas Mountains 90 kilometers away from Marrakech to carry out an activity under the theme of the environment. The purpose of this visit in partnership with the United Nations Development Program was first to raise awareness of ecology among a young public, then to support them in collecting waste and finally to create a compost that they can then maintain in the municipality. This day was supervised and animated by Amina El Hajjami (Project Director) who was accompanied by Ilyas Dkhissi (social network manager, photographer and film director), Fatima-Zahra Lahrire, Rachidelouah Soussi, and myself currently in internship with the foundation.
First of all, we were given a wonderful welcome by the women of the village who had prepared a breakfast for us. In the morning, Amina first focused on raising children's ecological awareness. She defined the concept of environment, asked the children about their knowledge on this subject and what it meant to them. They were then able to work together to find out what the causes were, what solutions could be found to these problems and also to consider how they could protect the environment, whether with small actions or more important ones. At the end of the presentation, the children were able to evaluate what they had learned and sign an attendance sheet, which was for them a synonym for making a commitment to the environmental workshops.
The first concrete action took place in the afternoon. Some children went looking for the best places to collect waste while we were preparing the material for the collection. All the children and ourselves then equipped themselves with gloves and garbage bags to collect as much waste as possible. The children were then able to see the large amount of plastic in the nature and all the garbage bags were filled at an incredible speed, as the children were bursting with energy and saw this action as a real challenge.
When all the garbage bags were full, Amina started a composting activity. She explained to the children the difference between all types of waste and asked them to collect weeds, bark and soil to start composting. The children were asked to guess whether this waste was composed of nitrogen or CO2. Overall, the children were very involved from beginning to end in all activities, both in terms of awareness and concrete actions.
This visit to Tassa Ouirgane was not the first since the HAF had already visited this commune before with agriculture as a theme. The aim now being in the future to create a women's cooperative in this commune in order to empower them in this theme and to create a responsible agriculture. It was a very rewarding day on a human level, and seeing how grateful children and young women were for the foundation's activities was a goal in itself.
Review from Guidestar
True to the Roots
By Houria CHOUHAB
One of the good feelings is walking into a place for the first time and having flashbacks to childhood memories, and this is exactly what happened during my visit to the MOGADOR Cooperative.
The Cooperative is in the center of Ounagha, 25 km from Essaouira, and it is surrounded by Argan trees which give the Cooperative a special charm. When you first step into in the building, you see different products on the roof: Argan oil with its main forms, pure honey, and Amlou. Each roof tells stories of multiple steps, manually most of the time, to obtain an organic edible or cosmetic product.
The women who work inside of the Cooperative respect certain steps in order to produce Argan oils. The first step lies in harvesting the Argan nuts and this step itself can be done through two ways: the first and common way is to collect the Argan nuts that fall from the trees, and the second method is to collect the nuts which goats spit out after eating the fleshy layer of the fruit. This step is done either in July or early August.
Once Argan is harvested, they get dried in open air and then get crushed between two stones in order to reach the outer of the Argan nut with its hard brown skin. This gets manually cracked as well between two hard stones to get to the kernels where the amazing oil sits. Then, there is the step of separating the kernels from the cracked layers so as to start the extraction process. It is necessary to note that there are different extraction methods according to the type of oil wanted. Extracting the edible Argan oil demands roasting the kernels while the cosmetic does not.
All these processes came to my mind as I was promenading through the Cooperative and projected the old memories onto the actual space. If you stop by the roof, chit chat will grab your attention and invite you to check its source, to find yourself in a hall with about ten women intensively working and engaging in talks at the same time. A traditional mill attracted me and I wanted to bring those memories back to the present life, so I decided to enjoy grinding the kernels in the mill. The smell of the roasted kernels reinforces this charm and reminds that we are taking a clean air in place of the pollution of the city.
Processes of grinding and extracting Argan oil
In order to keep the continuity of these magical moments, the High Atlas Foundation partnering with FRÉ Skincare offered 100 Argan plants to this Cooperative, which was glad to receive them. Women left their hall and joined us in front of the cooperative to plant an Argan tree.
Before departing from this joy, my eyes spotted two beautiful twin girls playing around the roof peacefully. Watching these two identical girls made me reflect on my two identities as both Swiri [from the Essaouira region] and a Marrakchi girl. Thank you HAF for giving me the opportunity to revisit my roots.
Review from Guidestar
I was an intern at the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) in 2015, and as time goes by, my time there becomes more and more valuabe. As an intern at HAF I sent funding applications to donors, using Results Based Management (RBM) as my method. Today I am working at the Swedish International Deveopment Agency (Sida) and I am assessing applications for funding, and evaluating wheeter the applications do have a co-herent RMB approach or not. When working with assessing applications for funding, having myself been a fundraiser, my time at HAF becomes a very meaningful and helpful experience.
Intern at HAF: 2015.
Review from Guidestar
I was an intern for this non-profit during 2015. Having an academical degree in Development Studies, this was the perfect real life working experience for me. I was a fundraiser, and managed to gain significant funds from Moroccan and Swedish donors. I visited several of the projects that the funds went to, and these included tree planting, water and sanitation at primary schools, employment opportunities for youth and access to clean water in rural areas.
This N.G.O is truly dedicated to the development of Morocco, in multiple areas.
I would highly recommend any volunteers, job seekers, interns and donors to support this organization.
This foundation dedicated to sustainable agriculture in Morocco has an excellent record of building on its achievements and is experiencing a remarkable period of growth and recognition nationally (in Morocco) and internationally. It has grown a talented team of volunteers, project managers and administrators that keep it dynamic and on the move on various fronts.
Review from Guidestar
Happiness inside the High Atlas Foundation
(Happy International Day of Happiness)
By Houria Chouhab
Hey! My name is Houria and I am a masters degree student at the Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences in Marrakech. At the end of the third semester (the end of January), I had to apply for an internship that will be the base of my graduate research. I quickly found myself holding an administrative position in a company, but after one week, I decided to look for another internship because I simply was not happy there! When I joined the High Atlas Foundation, I easily integrated with the team as well as the activities that demand to share parts of your days with others.
I read once that the beauty of life does not depend on how happy you are but how happy others can be because of you, and HAF lives by this concept while sustaining prosperity around the country. Among the activities that I run within the foundation are distributing and planting trees in rural primary schools. It is a special feeling when you visit a school and meet the students, talk to them about the environment, encourage them to take care of little things and then plant trees with them. This exact act of spending time with them and bringing new notions to their world makes their day, and this is truly something to live for. At the end of the day, you get a sense of accomplishment and purpose to know you have made a change in someone else’s life.
Another act of making others happy is meeting and fulfilling the young people’s needs and priorities. HAF has always aimed to address water access challenges for rural schools and communities in Morocco. Since its start, HAF and its partners have built 24 clean drinking water systems in Morocco’s remote villages, benefiting approximately 5,500 people. These include digging wells, building water towers, and installing solar pumps and gravity flow systems, which deliver safe drinking water to communities.
Sustainability is also about sharing moments with others, and HAF’s happiness lies in making its staff, volunteers, and interns experience this joy by giving them a chance to do so. Give yourself that chance and be happy!
Review from Guidestar
As part of our interns trip of the GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit mbH) to Morocco we have chosen HAF as one of our project visits. Their idea to apply the participatory method in all its projects has caught out attention. After we contacted Errachid to ask if a project visit was possible, we were warmly welcomed by the HAF team in November 2018.
At the beginning the founder of the NGO, Dr. Ben-Meir Yossef, gave us a first overview about the mission and vision of HAF, their partnerships and their current projects. Afterwards we got the unique opportunity to visit and get to know two projects on site. First we went to the House of Life in Akrich, Al Haouz - an inter-religious partnership that combines a Jewish burial site with a tree nursery for neighboring Muslim communities. Second, we visited a women's cooperative with an integrated kindergarten where women weave carpets. All in all, HAF and its team gave us an extraordinary opportunity to experience their successful project work in the communities.
HAF is a NGO truly dedicated to promoting prosperity and supporting the sustainable development of Moroccan communities - successfully in many areas from multiculturalism to youth and women's empowerment. We highly recommend a visit or an engagement with HAF.
Review from Guidestar
Continuing the Five-Day Tree Planting Campaign in Meknes
New adventure. New excitement. After an amazing day in Skoura M’daz, part of the HAF team continues the five-day tree planting campaign. We met farmers from Azrou, in the Amghas commune. Abdelilah accompanied us; he is the caretaker of the HAF Ifrane nursery which is located at the Salaam School. We spent the afternoon distributing the trees to the farmers. In total, we distributed 275 fruit trees, 225 almond, 10 fig, 20 pomegranate, and 20 quince trees.
One of the farms where we planted in the Amghas commune
We finished our afternoon of planting and conversing with the farmers of the region. They thanked us for all our effort and expressed hope that we will continue HAF activities together.
On the next day, we travelled to Meknes. In a program from the Leadership Development Institute at Akhawayn university in Ifrane, the Cemetery Workers Association from Meknes was rewarded almost 2000 trees last year for being the best association in the Fes-Meknes region. They decided to distribute those trees to several institutions in the region.
With the lead of Si Hicham (the association’s president), our first step was to visit the Ibn Zaydon Elementary School where we planted about 125 almond trees. According to the director, most of the students are orphans. He also explained the proper way of teaching future generations and guide them towards a better future. He passionately believes that to prepare our students for the future, we must prepare them for change by teaching them to inquiry and think, and to adapt with new circumstance as well as explains how the school system works, and which activities children do in the school.
All the children participated in the planting, they watered the trees they planted and promised to watch over them.
We moved on to another school nearby (the Ibn Outman High School). We spoke with the director and Said, HAF Project Manager, explained everything about the High Atlas Foundation. The director was very happy and welcoming and in return, he explained everything about the school and how grateful he is that the school is going to be more beautiful with the trees which are going to be planted there. On this day, the students planted 40 almond and 10 pomegranate trees.
The director and Said initiating the planting activities in the school.
In the next two days, Si Moha, from the Moroccan High Comission of Waters and Forests and combating Desertification joined us. We went from one school to another, to a health care center, a cemetery, and to the Office of Professional Formation and Promotion (OFPPT). We planted 318 fruit trees in total (259 almond, 30 fig, 10 carob, 9 pomegranates, and 10 quince trees). Si Moha explained to all the children and the participants how to preserve the environment and the trees which give us so much in return. Moreover, by planting a tree, we are all contributing to the word’s balanced environmental system.
Si Moha explains and helps the children planting a tree in a proper way
We can be a problem of the environment, by polluting and not careing for it. However, we are also it’s solution. By planting trees, we are preserving the environment which takes care of us, thus healthy environments create healthy societies. As a popular saying says “They planted and we ate, we plant and they will eat.” We are planting trees for the next generation so they can benefit from them as we did from the past ones.
Thank you to Si Hicham from the Cemetery Workers Association for the most welcoming hospitality. I hope we can meet again someday! Importantly, a big thank you to the High Atlas Foundation and to ECOSIA (a green search engine and the investor in HAF nurseries) for the amazing opportunity for helping to make the environment a better place and meeting great people on this journey.
Review from Guidestar
Here’s what makes a day in the region of Tassa Ouirgan exceptional!
By Fatima Zahra LAHRIRE
Early morning on Tuesday, February 19th, we went to Tassa Ouirgan passing by the magnificent view of snowy mountain peaks, wildflowers, and small hills. At a distance of approximately 70 kilometers from the ochre city, Marrakech, the Tassa Ouirgane village stands in its beautiful Azzaden valley.
The day started with a meeting next to where the HAF-community olive tree nursery resides. The meeting was facilitated by Amina El Hajjami, HAF’s Director of Projects, with the farmers from the region. It started with a brainstorming of the achievements, challenges, and recommended solutions. The farmers planted almond and walnut trees and they planned to plant more olive trees. Thus, the challenge is finding high-quality cuttings. They suggested to bring the cuttings from the surrounding farms and they thought that they may plant lemon trees as well.
We met village members, the UNDP’s National Coordinator Badia Sahmi, the UNDP’s Legal Counsel Najwa Alyassari, and Zahra Alyoubi the UNDP’s Assistant, in addition to Soufian Msou, a member of the Moroccan Association for Environment Protection and Human Development.
The meeting was followed by a traditional lunch meal prepared by a local family. We were warmly welcomed by the family members and served tea and nuts as soon as we took a seat. After lunch, mineral water from the well in Tassa Ouirgane was served. The members of the committee had another meeting in a nearby village and so they bade us farewell.
At the same time, a group of girls and young women were waiting for us at the office of the local association of Tassa Ouirgane. It is like a classroom with desks and a blackboard. The light of a sunny day, that the various windows of the classroom allowed, was reflected on their enthusiastic faces. The workshop was facilitated by Amina who succeeded in brainstorming ideas and pushing the girls and young women to speak up and voice their opinions.
Review from Guidestar
Morocco of the 21st Century
Intern in HAF
The 21st century is a unique that celebrates novelty, creativity, collaboration as well as other modern values in all spheres of life. The aforementioned qualities are a competitive advantage for countries to stand out among others socially, economically and in terms of education. In fact, they are not only ingredients of success in the modern world but of survival of the world’s serious issues such as: climate change, global warming, extremism, unemployment and school dropout. Morocco as a developing country in North Africa is concerned by these issues as well as others. This demands that the kingdom allocates human, media and financial resources to tackle them and to stand out as a model for other countries in terms of sustainable human development in the 21st century. High Atlas Foundation is among the leading non-governmental organisations in contributing to creating sustainable human development in Morocco by adopting a participatory approach.
High Atlas Foundation works in different domains such as environment, education, youth and women’s empowerment among others to bridge the existing gaps and build a sustainable future for Morocco. I have had the chance to be part of this life changing journey with the foundation during the first days of my MA internship. Being involved in human developmental projects with both the High Atlas Foundation and Cadi Ayyad University will certainly have positive impacts on the Moroccan and global community in the short and the long term. Cadi Ayyad University also has always been among the leading institutions in the African continent to support human sustainable developmental projects and programs. The university does this by giving trainings, opening new educational programs (ex. The Master Program of “Economie Sociale et Solidaire”...). So, being part of this human developmental project leaded by two honourable organisations is an experience to be remembered.
The journey of the internship with the HAF involves many places and a dedicated staff. The cooperative of Aboughlo in Ourika is the first place we visited. It is a cooperative run by local women in Ourika specializing in producing and making agricultural products. Women in the cooperative are motivated and determined to succeed so as to help their families and be a role model to the rest of the community. The HAF works to empower women in the cooperative by doing trainings and workshops for example about problem solving and product marketing. Passing by Sti Fadma all the way to Asni is the second destination for collecting and distributing different types of plants and trees. These trees and plants are to be planted in different parts of Alhouz region and in different schools. By doing so, HAF contributes to preserve the environment and ecology. These projects go alongside the vision of the kingdom as in its official frameworks such as The National Initiative for Human development (2005), The Municipal Charter (2010) and The Decentralization Roadmap (2008) about development and human development specifically. In fact, these developmental projects that HAF works on make Morocco up to the demands of the 21st century.
Review from Guidestar
First, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Yossef and the staff, volunteers and interns for the opportunity to join HAF’s work on bettering the lives of rural people in the Kingdom of Morocco. I valued every minute of my time assisting the organization with sustainability assessments, training, proposal development and grant-writing. Having lived in Morocco 30 years ago, it was heartening to see some changes with regard to a new consciousness about sustainability and resiliency, an acceptance of and adaptation to climate change and women’s rights. I know how much HAF has been an integral part of those changes in the last few decades, witnessing your work firsthand.
Following is a summary of my work over the spring of 2016 as well as some personal observations and recommendations.
IDRAREN - HA3 (High Atlas Agriculture and Artisinal), Asni
Organic Almond and Walnut Oil Processing Factory Cooperative
Here, I interviewed a group of 6 women workers and one male director of the factory (April 19). This was my first opportunity to ask questions around the perceived impacts and benefits of working at the factory, where the goal is to develop and market a value-added product for sale in the US, i.e. organic walnut and almond oil. The oils and process have been certified organic through ECOCERT. HAF provided the trees to local farmers to produce the raw product as well as training of the women using the Participatory Approach. It should be noted that the Participatory Approach and local decision making led to the idea of this particular enterprise in Asni.
The interviews with the women led to some interesting insights about perceived benefits and impacts. The interview process was very informal and encouraged the women to speak openly about the project. Responses were noted based on the relative category of sustainability indicators - environmental, economic and social impacts. This categorization of impacts allowed me to see where the greatest impacts were occurring. For example, the economic benefits of being employed at the factory were noted by the women as having an impact on their ability to afford books and materials to send their children to school and how the money earned by the cooperative was being used to help improve local infrastructure. Social benefits that were noted described how the women now had an opportunity to come together, not just for work but socially, and to participate in local politics. From an environmental standpoint, participants were keenly aware of the fewer agricultural inputs required to raise almonds and walnuts as compared to apples. This raised the possibility of pursuing organic certification for apples. The interview also provided the chance for HAF staff to hear about issues affecting the project, such as the need for refresher training from HAF and the competition with apples in the region. Please refer to the link above to view all the notes.
Men’s Association for Environment and Rural Development, Tassa Ouirgane
Tassa Ouirgane is located in the Azzaden Valley and is adjacent to Toubkal National Park. The Association overseas community water distribution and olive oil production. HAF has provided trees, a breeding bull, and training for men and women in the Participatory Approach to identify critical community needs and to start a girl’s cooperative (now defunct). Income earned by the Association’s activities (like sales of olive oil) stays local for schools, food, roads, improvements to the local mosque. In 2012 HAF held extensive workshops with men and women’s groups to identify their top priorities for the community. The women’s top priority was literacy for young girls, which has since been achieved by a grant from the men’s association, to pay a teacher. The men’s top priority was to address soil erosion and the restoration of farm fields in the river bottom that were lost to flooding in 1995 and subsequent floods due to climate change. HAF has applied for several grants to outside organizations to help with this issue, with no success in obtaining funding.
My visit to this site (April 19-21) provided an opportunity for the men’s association to reiterate and reconfirm in a group setting (13 participants) their number one priority of reestablishing farm fields and controlling erosion in the river bottom.
As a former Peace Corps Volunteer in this site, I am familiar with the issues related to the Toubkal National Park and the environmental degradation that has contributed to more extreme flood events and soil loss. I used this opportunity to work with the community over several days to identify specific ag fields for restoration and the potential strategic location of gabions to redirect flood flows and to map these areas.
Commune d’Ouirika Nursery (Haj Abdelkabir) and the Women’s Cooperative d’Aboghlo
This women’s cooperative, 60 members strong, splits their time between working in a tree and plant nursery and working at home making couscous (semolina) from organic wheat and barley, while also growing medicinal plants for sale. I was able to interview members of the co-op in two separate locations – one group working at the nursery, and the other half of the co-op at a meeting hall in the nearby town of Tnine Ourika. All in all, 43 women participated in the two group interviews (April 26).
At the nursery, a piece of land was generously given to the women’s co-op by Haj Abdelkabir to grow almond trees, pomegranetes, zatar, calendula, verbena and irises. This project was facilitated by HAF through the participatory approach, and chosen by these women as their own endeavor. HAF has provided additional training in things like organic production. The women work here once a week tending to the plants and trees, weeding, watering, etc.
While the women have an agreement with the French company, L’Oreal, to grow organic verbeena, zatar, calendula and irises as part of their sustainability initiative, no income has been realized yet since the production is still in the early stages of cultivation. Nonetheless, the women are willing work without wages to wait the 6 years they project it will take to have enough product for sale. In my assessment/interview with this group at the nursery, it was evident that the women have a strong understanding of the environmental impacts of their work, such as going pesticide free, pulling weeds by hand (and using them as fodder for livestock) and using compost as fertilizer.
Their responses were also strong in the social impacts of their work as a co-op. They noted how the experience has taught them a great deal about organic cultivation, being outdoors, and being a unified voice for their community. Until this co-op was formed, these women were very isolated in their homes and had little social interaction with each other. They now feel like a ‘family’ and support each other.
My assessment/interview with the other members of the women’s co-op was held in a separate location. The co-op started with a few women and the idea of needing to pass along traditional couscous making (forming semolina from wheat and barley grains) and the cultivation of medicinal plants to the younger women as they were losing this skill. It was then decided that they would form a co-op to provide a vehicle for earning income from the sale of these products. Again, HAF facilitated this through the participatory approach whereby the decision to pursue a co-op and teach couscous making was their decision. The assessment/interview revealed that their economic prospects from this endeavor are marginal unless they can step up production, address appropriate packaging and market their goods. Right now they only sell the product among themselves and a little at the local souk (market). They are inspired to broaden their marketing, and from a social standpoint, want to serve as an example to the rest of this community and region of women’s empowerment and cooperation.
The women’s responses in this group reiterated many of the same social impacts revealed by the women in the nursery. Their work as a co-op in the nursery and couscous-making has provided them with the opportunity to be a unified voice, support each other in women’s issues, and serve as a model for other women. They also noted that their coming together physically entails a 4 kilometer walk for many of them, and has improved their overall health and weight loss. Before, they said, they were isolated at home, watching television and having little to no social interaction. The co-op has provided them the chance to know other women from nearby villages. The interviews also identified some issues for HAF as new projects. For example, packaging and marketing the products of the co-op are an important priority for these women and could help them realize more economic benefit from their work. Secondly, transportation was an issue for some in terms of getting to work at the nursery or coming together as a group. Training in marketing is something that HAF could provide to the co-op, as well as some ideas on packaging. HAF has strong partnerships in and out of Morocco, that may foster some assistance with these issues.
HAF’s stated cornerstone of their impact is the application of democratic planning and assessment methods. This reinforces citizens’ ability to play an active role in decision-making, empowering communities with self-reliance and agency. The application of assessment methods in their work with communities applies as well to HAF staff that implement these programs. Having a coordinated and uniform process for planning projects before too many resources are invested is good business management and enhances HAF’s ability to seek contributions and partnerships toward any particular project. Lastly, the practical application of a sustainability assessment, through an annual interview with the groups that HAF works with helps to track progress
Review from Guidestar
The start of a five-day tree planting campaign in Fes, Sefrou, and Meknes
By Youssef Moussaoui
I have been volunteering for the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) for nearly a month now. Every day is a new experience, and the excitement never seems to end. This time, HAF planned a five-day tree-planting campaign in Fes, Sefrou, Azrou, and Meknes. Project manager Said Bennani and I travelled from Marrakech all the way to Fes. After a long drive, we arrived in Fes, safe and sound, hamdolilah (thank God). We met with Said’s old friends from when he lived in Fes; they were very nice people. Old friendships were rekindled.
Early morning on Monday, February 11, we went to the Abd Elaziz Ben Idriss Children Protection Center, where the HAF tree nursery also resides. We started with meeting the director; he welcomed us and expressed how happy he was to see us. Then he took us to see the children and they were very happy to see their good friend Said once again.
Some of the children’s metal work under Si Hamid’s coaching
We didn’t have so much time, so we decided to take plants to Skoura M’daz commune, and this is the first time HAF is implementing tree-planting activities in that region.
Khalid, the nursery caretaker, decided to come with us too to help with the process and learn more about the area and children there. After an hour drive, passing beautiful green hills filled with life, we finally arrived at Chariff Idrissi High School in Skoura M’daz.
We met with the Peace Corp volunteers; who came to learn as well. We conversed with everyone, including Khaoula Goumni, the person in charge of the planting. Every one introduced themselves and explained to the children how to plant trees and how to keep the trees healthy; they were very keen to participate.
Said introducing the High Atlas Foundation and its objectives
The planting began afterwards. Everyone planted their own tree, and we planted 33 trees in total: 9 almond, 9 fig, and 15 pomegranate. The Peace Corp Volunteers didn’t hesitate to get their hands dirty and help with the process. After we completed planting at the high school, we then went to the elementary school right next door to do their share of planting as well.
In contrast with the high school students, elementary school students were very curious and kept asking so many questions about nature, trees, and HAF. After all the questions had been answered, we began digging holes for the trees.
Even though the students are still very young, they were very hard workers. They dug most of the holes themselves. After we finished planting all the trees, the children thanked us for improving their school and vowed to watch over the trees until they grow. One of the students there approached us on the way out and said, “We are very sad that you are leaving but at the same time, we are very happy that you made our school more beautiful.”
At the end of an amazing first day in Skoura M’daz schools, we headed back to Fes with beautiful memories and so much gratitude for ECOSIA (the investor in HAF nurseries) and to HAF for this amazing opportunity. With the student’s kind words in our minds, we look forward to the new experiences and excitement tomorrow might bring.
Review from Guidestar