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Women’s empowerment in Agbalo

 

 

By Gal Kamarski 

HAF Inter, Graduate Student 

 

Last week, our staff, including our trainer Ibtisam, manager Fatima-Zahra, and myself, conducted a four-day workshop with twenty women from Agbalo (اغبالو) in the Ourika valley. Women varied in ages from 21 to over 50 years old (most of them in their twenties, or forties) from three different villages.  They took part in our workshop, which was very emotional while full of laughter and joy. 

 

"We will be going on a journey"…

"The next four days will look like a journey". With these words, Ibtisam opened the first day of the workshop. She then continued with introducing the "Imagine" program, and the outlines of the workshop we are about to start, including the seven core areas of the Imagine program: emotions, relationships, sexuality, body, money, work, and spirituality. Following that, each of the participants, (including me! Though in Classical Arabic, since for now I cannot speak the local dialect), introduced herself, her personal background and her beliefs. Some of the participants were family-related, young women came with their mothers, and some other participants came with their toddlers and babies.

Adding the Moudawana, the Family Code Law, to our journey

For the first time, we tried integrating into the existing Imagine program, the local law that sets women rights, the Moudawana, which is the Moroccan family code law that is based on the Islamic sharia and the Maliki School. 

Except for one young lady that mentioned she had heard the name "Moudawana" in the news, none of the other twenty women sitting in the room, ever heard about the Moudawana in her life. Ibtisam introduced the women the Moudawana, by saying that each of the seven areas presented earlier is driven/can be found also in the Moudawana family code law. At first, we discussed the issue of rights in general, and throughout the workshop, we examined women's role and place regarding these rights. The first day was more of trying to get to know one another, ourselves, and create a "warm" environment in which everyone feels comfortable to share.

Besides the lack of awareness of the Moudawana, we discovered there were several obstacles regarding the Moudawana, for instance, the fact that some of the articles force you to come in front of a judge, which might sometimes be an impossible mission.

Emotions, not only one of the seven Imagine areas

The next day, we continued our journey, and it felt as if we were all more open to sharing. Many issues that may seem obvious to me (or us, people which were not raised in the rural area), were not very clear during the workshop. For example, it took us quite a time to explain the word vision, because some women heard this word that day, for the first time in their life. Trying to deliver what was a vision, we asked the participants to discuss their dreams, and one girl in her early 20s', shared with us her dream to become a doctor. For many of the women, discussing these kinds of issues were very difficult, since many of them are not used to put themselves in the center of the discussion. For some, mainly the older participants, it was the first time they thought about these kinds of questions. At that time, it became very emotional.

The personal journey emphasized the fact that each of us is a human being, and that gives us the right to ask ourselves these questions.  We discussed the importance of finding different rooms in our hearts for emotions, relationships, love, appreciation, support, sources of personal power, lightness, and inner guidance. Following the guided imagination practice, and drawing out our emotions, some women even started crying, as an expression of their emotions. The following activity, in couples, which was aimed to strengthen the trust between them, was also very emotional, up to a point that it was almost too difficult to continue after it.   

However, for the good, at that point, the women were much more open with the group, and some of them even shared their personal stories, they indicated that speaking it out was a great relief. Next activity was dancing. I think that dancing freely together, allowed us all to feel that we are not alone in this world and that there can be also times of happiness if, and when we allow them to ourselves.

Not only about rights, but also about feelings

Although issues such as divorce, for example, are mentioned in the Moudawana, sometimes it takes more than just knowing or following a law. As some of the women mentioned, they would feel comfortable asking their husbands for a divorce, with the support of the existing law, however, they would feel ashamed to do so in the society they live in. Discussing rights, some women said that though Islam opposes violence, many Muslims do not follow Islam, rather they follow the common traditions, in which women are yet oppressed.

Most of the women who participated in the workshop are homemakers; some indicated that their husbands and family do not appreciate their hard work within the household. For them, this situation led to a point where they do not appreciate themselves while undermining themselves not only within the household but also in society.

The next day focused mainly on the relationships, sexuality and sexual relations. Even though one girl asked not to participate, because she did not feel comfortable with her mother being there, most of the women were very open and felt comfortable to share. The younger generation shared their frustration with their parents, saying that today people want to interact sexually even if not for having children.

We concluded the workshop by thanking one another and appreciating the power that was created among us.

To conclude

As for myself, spending these four days with the women of Ourika was a unique experience that taught me a lot about different aspects of women's lives in Morocco. My personal impression (also based on the feedback we received) was that the workshop had much influence on the women, and inspired them to create a change.   

 

Presenting Tororde, a village of challenges and possibilities

 

 

Jan Thibaut

HAF Intern, graduate student

 

Another pretty productive and successful day today. In the early afternoon I had a meeting with the teachers I had met yesterday at the school in the Village of Tororde in the Azzaden Valley. One of the teachers, Zahara, was kind enough to set up a meeting with people from the neighbouring Association Koutoubia pour le développement rural et la protection de l’environnement. Before I knew it I had another semi-structured group discussion going on with the two female teachers (aged 25 – 35), the president of the association (Farid, aged 32), and five male locals (aged 35 – 45).

The teachers didn’t have much to say on the situation in the village, as they were outsiders themselves, but did teach me a lot about the Educational system in rural Morocco. Apparently new teachers are completely at the state’s disposal as far as their deployment goes, including spending the entire school year living at the school in which they’re teaching. Zahara, for example, was originally from the far South of the kingdom but had spent the previous seven years stationed in the Vallée d’Azzaden. They told me this system was supposed to link the needs for teachers on a national level to the availability thereof, but both of them convincingly said it made the life of a teacher a lot harder. Based on a system of grades, marital status, seniority and others, teachers could later on in their careers have a bigger influence on their deployment, but in the beginning everyone must pay their dues. They also told me that the state provides an absolute minimum for the schoolchildren, but that often the teachers had to invest their own money in materials or ask the parents for some.

Farid Ait Said, the president of the Association Koutoubia, turned out to be really interested and motivated to start collaboration with the High Atlas Foundation. I explained him about our project in Tassa Ouirgane, the participatory meetings that led up to its implementation - building gabeons and terraces along the river and planted fruit trees and nurseries, in partnership with the UNDP.  I spoke of the commitment of the community members to supply labour and run the nursery, and the fact that this project will serve to the benefit of the entire valley. He then explained to me some more about his organisation and the work they’ve been doing. Comprised out of 13 members and three years in existence, the association worked to alleviate a variety of problems. Some of the activities he named included the provision of drinking water, maintenance of the roads, collecting money to pay for electricity of the mosque, and reparations of the bridge. When I asked him if these responsibilities weren’t up to the state or a local form of government, he said:

“En théorie, oui, mais c’est mieux de l’organiser nous-mêmes et effectivement réussir des projets, qu’attendre le gouvernement qui fait rien. Concernant le pont, ça fait des mois que j’ai envoyé des courriers à la province mais ils ne vont rien, ils ne viennent pas à voir, ils ne me répondent même pas. »

"In theory, yes, but it's better to organize it ourselves and actually have projects that succeed, than wait for the government that does nothing. Concerning the bridge, I have sent letters to the province for months but they do not go, they do not come to see, they do not even reply. "

Farid quickly turned into a key source of information about the village, being an accepted organising force in the community. He took me for a transect walk of the area, pointing out a lot of problems they are facing in the community, but also the human capital and potential in Tororde.

  • BRIDGE: The bridge connecting the two halves of Tororde, and even the road further down to Aguinane, Andras and Tikhfiste, is rapidly deteriorating. The bridge was built in 2010 as a combined effort by the Jema’a (organisation of “la commune rurale”, stemming from a Tamazight institution and comprising some 30 villages), local associations and the Al Haouz province. Farid told me that the province ran out of money before it was completed and that Nadia Aalami, a famous Moroccan actress, used her personal money to have it completed. However, according to Farid and two of his friends, the architect had made a mistake in placing it, causing the river to run to closely to one of the sides and eroding its foundation.

 

  • DRINKABLE WATER: The supply of drinkable water was identified as one of the main problems as well, on multiple occasions and probably with the biggest emphasis of Farid. Each village had to foresee in their own supply of drinkable water, stored in separate basins on the mountain slope. Tororde drew its water from a well about 4 km away from the storage, brought over to them by a system of pipes whose maintenance also fell on the shoulders of village associations. During summer the supply from the source isn’t enough, and water from a nearby well is transported into the basin via a petrol pump. This costs the village about 3500 dirham per month in gas. Furthermore, the current storage infrastructure seems to be insufficient for the town’s needs, and Farid indicated a second basin for the other half of Tororde would be necessary.

 

  • HUMAN CAPITAL: Farid spoke about his community with a lot of heart and hopes for its future. Although there are a lot of challenges and problems, there is a motivated group of community actors looking to improve the situation of the village. According to him, about half of the young people leave to the big cities in search of a better job, half of them stay. On average the daily earnings of the families of the village was about 15 to 20 dirhams, but neighbours looked after each other by sharing food and support. The 200-odd inhabitants were comprised out of 4 to 5 groups of families, and shared their entire lives together. Furthermore, he seemed to see great potential in the mode of HAF finding funding and material, the local population supplying the labour. He said this working side-by-side for community improvement is already being done, and it’s mostly the many financial strains that impede local development.

 BIO: Thanks to some very helpful teachers I meet up with community actors from Tororde, a neighbouring village, who give me an idea of the challenges facing their village and their efforts in overcoming them.

 

 

Sami's Project to Empower Kids - 10 years in

Dr. Rachid El Kouhen, Sami’s father

This year we commemorate the 10 year anniversary of Sami’s passing.  We continue to remember his smile, love and beautiful memories within us and through the thousands of kids impacted by Sami’s Project.  The planting and distribution of trees with children is the foundation of Sami’s Project.  It empowers kids by providing a feeling of belonging, love, and respect.  It teaches kids a sense of initiative and increases their enthusiasm for learning.  Through the participatory approach, Sami’s project delivers transformational and sustainable benefits too often poor and neglected youth in Morocco. 

Sami’s Project was initiated in 2011, and since, it has been well received by kids, schools, and communities.  It has gained ground, year after year, in provinces across Morocco.  Thanks to the relentless work of the HAF and the help of Moroccan officials, schools, and volunteers, Sami’s Project has reached out to thousands of kids across Morocco from Oujda to Boujdour.

 As a community, we want to see our children grow into strong leaders to develop and nurture our communities further. Education and the importance of pursuing post-secondary education are vital to the development of our children and the community. However, there are many barriers that limit access to post-secondary education, especially in rural areas of Morocco. This is where we, the HAF/Sami’s Project, come in.

 By looking at all of the present barriers in rural areas in Morocco, Sami’s Project is narrowing the scope of these issues to help facilitate kids and their families through these processes. We want to provide solutions for families through existing resources, and one, in particular, is the kid’s self-awareness and development.  Through the participatory approach, Sami’s project has engaged thousands of kids and hundreds of schools and communities toward a common goal for the development of our kids, as well as the economic, health and environmental prospects.  Engaging our children earlier on is the only way to ensure that future generations will continue to flourish into a stronger and healthier community.

 While Sami’s Project has in the just last year has worked with more than 20 communes, 50 schools and 8,800 students, nothing speaks about the value of the project like the stories of these specific students. For example, Nabil is a 10 years old kid, studying in a primary school in a rural area in Morocco. Nabil was a priceless surprise during the project evaluation. He is a highly motivated student that struggles with the challenges of being deaf and mute and has become involved in the planting event this last 16th January, and that was the first time that school benefited from SAMI's Project.

 As Nabil’s teachers told us, he is a brilliant student and the environmental education of Sami’s Project has provided him with even more things for him to learn. He loves the trees that he has helped plant. SAMI's project was a wonderful surprise for him. The HAF gave more than 80 trees such as almonds, olive, pomegranate and fig to the school where Nabil is studying. His excitement for being involved in planting the trees was clear which, by the way, is even bigger and greener now. Nabil is still taking care of the trees and watering them and encourages the other students to continue doing a great job.

 We received a priceless smile coming deep from Nabil's heart when we gave him a certificate of appreciation for his active work and his big support to SAMI's project. However, Nabil is just one of the many examples of the driven students that we have worked with.

 We with Sami’s Project also helped to transform an all-girls boarding school, and these transformations were in more ways than just one. Just last January we provided an environmental workshop for the students of the boarding school, where the students had the opportunity to share with us the vision that they had for the school. Most importantly these girls wanted to be a part of that transformation. For the first time, they were given the opportunity to plant the trees themselves. In addition, to bring changes in the live’s of the students, their work has radically changed much of the space around the school into a place filled with vibrant greenery!

 The process is an ongoing one. We are constantly reevaluating our progress with the help of the students. For example, the original trees we planted included only fruit trees and now the students are finding that they want to also increase the trees to include medicinal plants. The excitement and involvement from these students is a testament to the positive changes being made in the environment around the school and the lives of the girls inside of the school.

 The success of Sami’s Project is due to a number of factors, from the constant efforts of the HAF, staff and volunteers, to the warm welcome and support to Sami’s initiative by Moroccan officials, schools and communities, and last but not least, the generous monetary support of many people around the world that is critical to the success of Sami’s Project.  All of these factors are focusing on children’s development in systematic and sustainable approach. 

 We are so thankful to all these parties for embracing Sami’s Project and marching together in this exciting journey.  It’s a project where we all win, and will continue to honor Sami’s love and life, by reaching out to new kids and areas across Morocco.  This work would have not been possible without your commitment and support.  It is greatly appreciated.

 

 

 

Community Assessments in the Vallée d’Azzaden.

By Jan T. 

HAF Intern 

Rachid and I visit the often overlooked villages of the Vallée d’Azzaden and meet with local people.

Efforts to coordinate actions and stimulate cooperation throughout the Vallée d’Azzaden are starting to take shape. To facilitate our communication, we decided to host a breakfast with community members (some of whom are members of civil associations) of the twelve villages along the valley. The setting: the Saturday Souk in Asni, a weekly market where items for sale range from fruit and vegetables to cows and donkeys, spices, clothes, household utensils and everything in between. Most people from the nearby towns make a trip to the market anyway, so it gave us the perfect opportunity to have a sit-down over some eggs, bisara (a thick bean soup with olive oil) and msemen (thick, pancake-like bread with honey or crème cheese).

During the meeting with the members of the different villages, we agreed that Rachid and I would come and visit them during the next week to hold participatory meetings and discuss their challenges and opportunities. Early morning several days later, we set out from Ouirgane for a couple of days of community discussions on the past and future development, and intense hiking through the beautiful valley while meeting incredible people along our way. The first stops were Augni, Amras and Tikhfiste, this last one being a remote village perched on a lone peak. However beautiful the views up there might have been, their location did not make their situation any easier: schoolchildren had to spend two hours a day hiking up and down the mountain to go to school, 120 hectares of fruit- and nut trees were dying due to insufficient water infrastructure, and getting to a doctor proved to be a difficult task for the most vulnerable members of the community.

After spending the night with my host family in Tassa Ouirgane, Rachid and I headed out to explore the even more remote side of the valley. Currently, the first five villages of the area are connected to Ouirgane and the main route by a dirt road just big enough for cars and camions to pass and transport supplies. However, this road stops in Azerfsane, after which a mule treks lead to seven more villages hidden deep in the High Atlas region. After conversations with inhabitants, it becomes clear that these villages seem almost overlooked and forgotten, causing problems for mobility, economic possibilities, government support, and education.

However urgent the problems for these villagers and their way of life may be, inhabitants of the villages are gearing up to face them head-on. In every community we visited, we found people had already founded organizations, requested funding and proposed projects aimed improving life in their village. More than anything else, it is this incredible human potential that will enable these communities to adapt to the challenge posed by climate change and improve the quality of their own lives.

 

FRÉ AND HAF PARTNER FOR WOMEN’S CULTIVATION AND OWNERSHIP OF ARGAN TREES

 

By Max Bone

Social Media Team Memeber 

 

The High Atlas Foundation is thrilled to announce a new partnership with FRÉ, a company that uses organic argan oil to offer a skincare solution for women who work out, formulated for skin that sweats. FRÉ uses argan that is harvested and processed in Morocco, and they are committed to giving back to the communities that make their world-class product possible.

 

FRÉ and HAF are working to empower women. Having extensive experience working with argan nuts, FRÉ understands the crucial role that rural Moroccan women play in making their first class product available to world markets.

 

FRÉ and HAF will plant argan trees in the Province of Essouira that will be cultivated by women’s cooperatives, and we will assist the organic certification and sale of their product in local and international markets. This will be a fundamental change for the women’s cooperatives: as instead of processing the product of others for an excruciatingly low salary, they will now be able to cultivate, process, sell, and receive the entire profits from their own argan.

 

HAF and FRÉ are also teaming up in order to expand environmental education and preservation with women and youth groups. Environmental preservation is a cornerstone for both FRÉ and HAF. Our partnership with FRÉ will allow us to plant trees at public schools to encourage students to be empowered environmental stewards, and make all of Morocco a greener place.

 

The High Atlas Foundation is grateful to FRÉ, and all of the partners who enable us to carry out our work driven by Moroccan communities to brighten the future of women, children, and the entire world.

 

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