By Amina El Hajjami High Atlas Foundation
I was born in a modest agricultural village in High Atlas Mountains on the outskirts of Marrakech. I grew up in a small family, and we depended on agriculture for ensuring food and financial security, and also to finance my siblings’ education.
My father spent all of his life working in agriculture. He still spends all of his days in the field. When I was a child, I used to accompany him only to play, and have fun, but I was very curious about his job, knowing with time that it wasn’t easy work to do, and it needed specialized technical skills.
My father has a parcel of land where he grows olives, figs and pomegranate trees. He also plows the land to plant it with wheat, corn and vegetables. He showed me how to plow soil, making sure it has enough sun and air, to remove weeds, to water each plant in the right quantity at the right time, to use natural fertilizers and to harvest. I was helping my father during school vacations, loving the work and finding it very interesting and important to preserve nature and grow natural products. However, during my childhood, in our region deep traditions allowed girls and women to be responsible of only the household, and not to participate the field beside men. From these early days, I didn’t care and continued to nourish my desire in the agricultural fields.
In school, I had good grades in geography, as it was a source of great enjoyment for me and involved subjects related to preserving the environment and nature. With the encouragement of my teachers and my desire to have college education, I enrolled in a geography course of study, because I wanted to get more involved in the subject. This did not stop me from continuing helping my father in the field whenever I could, I found that my college studies are not different than what I learned from my father, only more theoretical.
In parallel, I was active with environmental associations, attending scientific conferences about environmental change and preservation. Also, I participated as a researcher in “Gas Ovens’” project to benefit mud workers and the inhabitants nearby also in the Al Houaz Province and in Marrakech. The project encouraged people to use gas ovens instead of large quantities of forest woods, which actually spreads diseases and negatively affects the environment. This targeted group benefited from the non polluting gas ovens, buying them at a good price, in addition to the decreased pollution in Marrakech city and nearby places, resulting in preserving the life of inhabitants, trees and forests.
After completing my bachelor degree, I taught occupational literacy for rural women, which included awareness lessons on preserving the environment, and guidance on how to manage natural resources in a sustainable way. In addition, I participated in “N’fis” Association for Socio-Economic Development for three years, guiding students and making them aware of environment issues.
As a result of my experience in the field, and attending many workshops with High Atlas Foundation (HAF) about the participatory community approach to planning development, how to create income generating projects, how to found organic rural cooperatives and their rules and regulations, and in practicing organic agriculture - all these workshops helped me to increase my theoretical and practical knowledge. Moreover, my concern and work in the field of environment, my knowledge of the Al Haouz Province, and my work for five years with environmental associations in High Atlas Mountains, all were reasons for HAF to recruit me as the manager of multiple community empowerment projects. For example, with the project in partnership with the National Endowment for Democracy, we established an organic rural cooperatives’ union, in order to reach external markets and create linkages between walnut and almond producers in Al Haouz and Taroudant provinces. Also managing Sami’s Project to plant trees in schools with the aim to invest in the sustainability of environment preservation.
Furthermore, HAF’s work in the field of environment encouraged me to get engaged with it, because it is my speciality and what I like to do. HAF works on planting trees, giving awareness and guidance in preservation, works with all classes of society, all genders, all ages in different projects, such as making nurseries in different regions, distributing trees for schools and farmers, natural dying and encouraging women in making income generating initiatives, in addition to workshops in the field of agriculture for both women and men.