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My first solo participatory meeting in Tororde, Azzaden Valley

My first solo participatory meeting in Tororde, Azzaden Valley

Another big day today: my first solo participatory meeting! I met up with Farid and Hamid in the building of their organisations, which doubles as classroom and day-care for the smallest children due to lack of sufficient classrooms. At first I feared it was only going to be the three of us, but I clearly overlooked Moroccan planning: meeting up at 5pm actually means all participants will arrive around 6pm. And so they did, about 15 of them. Half of the group were young people, aged 16 – 30, while the other half were in the 35 – 50 category. All of them were male, owing to the fact that organising meetings for women if the organiser and facilitators are male isn’t done in Moroccan culture.  I was willing to continue on as a start, to build on relationships I had and expand to all going forward including through women’s facilitation.  After some tea, sweets and small-talk, we kicked of the meeting.

 

First, I gave some more information on the High Atlas Foundation, the way we try to help a community identify their problems and link them with donors, our other operational projects and the outline of the project to come in Tassa Ouirgane. Afterwards it was time to hear from the participants themselves. We split up into three groups, with each group mapping out their community as it is in one colour and adding the problems and difficulties in another. Afterwards all of the groups presented their results to me and the others in Darija/tashelhit, with me getting the translation from Farid. It turned out that all three groups identified mostly the same problems, albeit in different order of urgency.

 

 

After hearing all groups present their community, its challenges and possibilities, we started the pairwise ranking exercise. The problems that had appeared were as follows: The mosque needed renovations and maintenance, most notably the toilets and electrical infrastructure. The bridge connecting the two halves of the Douar was, as mentioned before, also in need of restoration. With regards to the roads, different aspects were mentioned: the smaller roads within the douar needed to be redone in cement in order to facilitate life during heavy rainfall, while the larger roads connecting the douars needed to be restored, modernised and redirected in order to better include the village of Tororde. A next big item of concern was the need for a new well and basin for drinkable and agricultural water. Furthermore, all groups mentioned the town’s soccer field needed to be levelled out and restored in order to make it safer and more playable. Lastly, one group mentioned there was a need for more infrastructure for the local schoolchildren.

Our time in Azzaden Valley

 

By Maurice Polczynski and Jana Kaben


The Azzaden Valley is part of the El Houz region, 70 km south of Marrakech. It is near the Toubkhal national park, which is developed towards tourists. In contrast, the nine villages of the Azzaden Valley are nearly off the beaten tourist track, which is beautiful. We found the Moroccan spirit that you won't find in Marrakech, but rather in the mountains! Nevertheless, the people suffer from fundamental problems like water scarcity, lack of edu cation, medical treatment and transportation. 

 

One may assume that they have lost hope,but on the contrary, they are the most friendly, hospitable and jolly people altogether! It seems as if the inhabitants of Azzaden Valley live on another planet, one with peace and harmony. When you see the women with cows, sheep, goats wandering down the dry river and next to them, the children of all ages walking around with black lips from the blackberries, searching for medicinal plants, your heart will open! They live with no worries except the struggle for animals and trees, because everyone is a farmer,and support themselves. There is a lot of work to be done, like repairing the waterways, watering (also with pesticides), tying up and harvesting the trees, eating, sleeping and discussing, but nobody is left alone; teamwork is always in order! That is the world of the men as the women are almost completely separated; they don't work on the fields, but take care for the children and the animals, collect food for the animals, wood to cook, and also herbs for the traditional tea. Moreover, they cook and fetch water from the spring as housework. They even eat in the kitchen and not with the guests or men (besides a few exceptions)! 

We were honored to take part in both areas: First of all we had to learn to "fee a tai", the traditional way of pouring in the tea (which is made of a lot of sugar, some green leaves, healing plants that smell very very delicious and grow everywhere like weeds and then some more sugar). There is an equivalent of sweetened coffee, something like a confectionary, but the tea is sipped all day long, at least 4 times a day! The ceremony looks like this: The first three cups are poured back before the first gulp is tasted. If it tastes like sugar you say "imim" and go on with pouring the other cups. But one need a lot of skill and craft to not lose a drop when pouring back, even more to fulfill the task with enough drive and height for a nice arc. It's more or less all about the height because the aim of the ceremony is a gorgeous white bubbling foam that is achieved by lifting the teapot higher and higher while pouring in. 

We tried over and over until Maurice brought it to perfection! The next thing we dedicated ourselves to was the secret of making the traditional bread "arm". The woman of our host Ibrahim showed us how she used to bake it. At this point we needed to learn some words about our accommodation, a gîte d'étape in Tiziane, but we were more like members of the family with a lot of free space. This included a terrace where we could spend a wonderful night under the starshine, only the Milky Way above us, the moon shining and a falling star crossing the sky in front of our eyes. All our wishes were devoted to the valley and to the best of the people who so kindly took us into their rows. We neither felt like strangers, nor as tourists, but as friends, as insiders:D We owe that to Ibrahim who always made us feel comfortable! We were allowed to eat at his home dozens of delicious meals from daily tajine with bread, olives, self made butter, jam, chocolate, diverse fruits over Couscous and lenses to noodles and rice with milk. We had at least 4 meals every day; breakfast (at 11 am because we slept a lot), lunch (at 3 pm), a snack (at 9 pm) and dinner (at 11 pm). Furthermore, we got a lot of extra meals due to our trips around the villages of the valley where the hospitality had no end. When days passed, also the women who normally ate alone in the kitchen joined some meals. The youngest one taught us how to speak Berber and how to dance "afus-afus". It just was a pity that the television was their single amusement! We failed to give the children an understanding of the card game UNO, instead we had even more fun with kicking around a plain basket without touching the ground until one of the girl fell of her chair laughing! The mother laughed at her as well. We felt as snug as a bug in a rug!

Back to the bread: The wife of Ibrahim took us to the kitchen where she had prepared everything. In the bottom of a tajine she mixed warm water with sugar and yeast. Then she added flour and more water with one drop of oil. These were all the ingredients, now it came to the practical application. The dough needed to be literally grabbed, we dug our fingers into the gloop like children and splashed about with childish glee. After it got more tightly it was rolled smoothly from one side to the other until pieces could be teared off which were formed to balls. Each of the balls got with the right technic to a bread. After an hour it was baked in a clay oven directly next to the fire.

Sounds like we did only women's  work? Not at all, most of the time we hiked around to visit the different villages to gain knowledge and personal sight on the problems and needs of the communities and the rest of the time we helped Ibrahim with his work. Well that's not the whole story: We struggled a lot with completing a chess set out of wood...with 2 knives and 1 saw we carved all 32 figures just for fun between the work.

The work we did: 

1.      Watering apple trees

Sounds easy, but the waterway was handmade out of mud and constantly needed to be repaired. More problematic was the condition of the pipes because of the uncountable holes that needed to be taped with plastic pieces. A big amount of our time was spent  laughing, sitting in the sun and enjoying the amazing view over the mountain range, drinking tea as well as having lunch. Another aspect one should know, that if there is work to do, the farmers decide when and how long they want to work, after all after today is tomorrow where you can do the rest. That's the way of thinking, the way of living: Do what you have to do as long as you want. Eat when you're hungry, sleep when you're sleepy, enjoy what you have. If everybody was living this way...

1.      Watering trees

Not the same at all! Before, we were in the mountain, now we acted in the flatland. The genius construction of watering bases on wholes around the trees so that the thirsty soil won't take the water away too fast before the trees got enough (the trees never ever get enough water but like this they survive). Therefor we hacked a deepening around the trees. Maurice' effort was honored by blisters all over his hands and Jana's attempts ended up with children in her arms. All in all very successful, wasn't it! At least a great experience of a farmer's life.

1.      Tying up trees

Climbing on apple trees fits better as a description of what we did or were supposed to do. In fact Ibrahim's son replaced us after the first tree. We started to collect all the rosy apples that fell down while the action. Rapidly, we had too much to carry by ourselves and cleared off with the apples. We only left behind an arrow made of old apples we found underneath the trees. The issue reveals in the huge amount of bad apples that cover the ground. Still, we made our way back collecting wood to boil the fallen apples to purée. We thought that would be a good use instead of letting them rotten. Unfortunately, it took far too much time, required too many resources and wasn't the highlight in its result. For us it felt very ancient to cook on a clay oven with gathered wood from nearby, sitting on the ground with no light except the fire and the children around who joined us.

1.      Gathering information

The hardest part! It combined hiking (one village took us one and a half hour to get there) with a lot of body language to deal with (and a lot of tea and food of course). The difficulty looked like this: The inhabitants spoke Berber, Darijap and Arabic. We on the contrary speak German, English and French. Nevertheless we got along; we just watched wherever something came into view, touched and tested it afterwards. An example: We caught eye of some farmers who didn't water the trunk but the leaves. So we took it ourselves (it smelled strange), afterwards we wanted to try some apples but weren't allowed to. The gesture was hand over throat and the tongue outside. Any guess what that means? 

In many cases we just visited the beautiful agricultural plantations, ate a lot of fruits (apples, plums, walnuts, passion fruits, prickly pears), scribbled down the needs the inhabitants could communicate with finger pointing (mostly about lack of water and destroyed water paths) and admired the big tomatoes, potatoes, onions, zucchinis, beans, hot peppers and other stuff we weren't accustomed with but looked like grown out of nothing (in one village it wasn't some vegetable that astounded us most but a 113 year old guy, sitting in the corner still alive!!). To our luck we discovered two English speaking people who could answer some of our questions. However, looking, taking pictures and walking around was the best strategy! 

We really saw a lot! Accidentally even the cemetery (a normal house) with all the dead people laying under blankets. We saw schools, painted kindergartens, mosques, Hammams, children jumping into brown water basins, future olive oil production, ...

Last but not least we experienced the seldom honor of taking part in a traditional dance with a traditional band and customs! Than, we really felt acquainted, when after ten days our adventures ended. Just one last adventure waited for us on the next morning! We had to get up at 5 am, took all our luggage to the road and waited for the truck to take us back to Marrakech. A Christmas train appeared out of the dark, bright front lights that blinded us, red lights on both sides rattling directly towards us. The best end for such an adventure; a truck full of boxes with apples, goats, luggage and people crowded together on the loading space. Vehicle documents that were passed from an approaching truck on our way and a winding road that was more a hiking path than anything else, everything rumpling upside down. That was fun! 

That was amazing!

That was unique!

Thanks to HAF which enabled us to go there and even more thanks and cheers to Ibrahim who let all the experiences come true! 

 


                 

 

 

Ecosia's recounting of their trip with HAF

The green hills that used to surround the Moroccan cities of Fez, Ifran and Oujda have turned amber. Years of intensive grazing have depleted the soil of its nutrients. Only the oldest villagers remember that their home used to be green, and cooler.

The absence of the ancient forests is so real, so striking, that it’s almost a presence.

One of our planting sites, adjacent to the Jewish community of Ouarzazate.
We travelled to Morocco two weeks ago, in search of a solution. Here’s what we’ll do: your searches will fund six new tree nurseries around Fez, Ifran and Oujda. These nurseries will yield, in a first phase, 1.3 million fruit and nut trees. Thanks to the solar-powered wells, the nurseries will be entirely self-sufficient.
Tanzania
This nursery in Fez will be managed, in part, by school children.
Tanzania
The Before of the Before-After picture. Our biggest Moroccan nursery is located on the grounds of the Al Akhawayn University.
The fruit trees will, in time, restore the hills of Northern Morocco to their original fertility, and they will do so sustainably: fruit trees are an economically attractive alternative to goat farming, one of the main causes of the region’s ecological decline.
The farmers from Taroudant have largely transitioned to fruit tree farming.
A project this ambitious, and this new, needs a manager as experienced as The High Atlas Foundation. The Moroccan-American foundation’s 17-year track record leaves no doubt of its integrity and talent.

In Tadmant, we saw that no amount of rocks can stop The High Atlas Foundation from building a thriving nursery.
In the village of Taroudant, where The High Atlas Foundation launched its first project, we understood how fruit trees can help a community help itself.
At the Hasan II University, we learned how The High Atlas Foundation shares its knowledge with Morocco’s youth.
The High Atlas Foundation convenes a course on participatory management of environmental projects.
A nursery in Ourika, run entirely by women, reassured us of The High Atlas Foundation’s ability to empower marginalised groups through environmental projects. ‘Two years ago these rural women would not have dared to be photographed,’ Amina, the project’s manager, told us. ‘Being in charge of such a big nursery, and becoming economically more self-sufficient, has made them confident of their potential’.

One of the nurseries your searches are funding has left a particularly vivid mark on our minds. You can find it on the edge of the Ben Driss Youth Centre in Fez – a home to children who have dropped out of school, who have been rejected by their families, who have been in conflict with the Law, or who have fallen victim to violent crimes.

We would never have thought that there could be so much joy, so much hope, in such a sad place.

As well as being housed and fed, the children of the Ben Driss Centre continue their education, and are given the opportunity to learn a craft.

The nursery that The High Atlas Foundation has imagined, and that your searches have turned into reality, initiates the children into fruit tree farming. After nursing the saplings for a year, the children will donate them to local farmers. They thus integrate into a community by helping that community thrive.

Our nursery at the Ben Driss centre has been prepared for sowing.

A nursery, it turns out, can provide so much more than trees. It can turn outcasts into full-fledged community members. To even the most vulnerable, it can give a second chance.

Such successes are your successes, too. The saplings growing in our nurseries in Fez, the well that is being dug in Ourika, the apricot tree that will be planted in Ifran: they are your searches bearing fruits.

Problem solving in Ouikaimeden

On Monday the 9th of August, we went with Amina, Project Manager at High Atlas Foundation, to Oukaimeden, a little village in the mountain Atlas, close to Marrakech, to assist to the meeting with the represents of the different villages nearby and the responsible of the different associations. The aim of these periodic meetings is to talk together about the principal problems that villages are facing, trying to find the best solution for everyone.

The topic of the day was related to the places to choose for planting new trees. The partecipating have identified 4 villages that have more urgencies, but considering the different conditions of the villages, different plants are needed.

The participants of the meeting discussed about the principal problem, which is represented by the soil erosion: it is a huge problem because it reduces the productivity of the lands and contributes to the pollution of rivers, lakes and water in general. One solution to fight against soil erosion is, precisely, planting trees because they help saving water and making the soil more stable. For these villages, the represents decided to plant both carrots and cactus.

Another solution is to build some terracing, with the help of cooperatives and benefactors. The terracing put near rivers can avoid water to overflow. In this way farmers can use their resources in the most efficient way possible. By working on the soil productivity, farmers can plan to increase the level of agriculture activities and ensure a better level of life quality for the whole village. Together with terracing, also basins can help regulating the water flow and reaching results in agriculture.

A second important project discussed during the meeting regards the recycle of waste water, that will be collected all together in order to save it and use it in a proper way.

What has been discussed regards also the future of the villages and of the whole area: the associations and the represents of the villages want to start planting trees and plants that can help not only with the soil erosion and with water saving, but that can also help the region to grow and produce more. In order to do so, it is fundamental to understand which types of trees are more suitable to the need of the people and of the soil and how High Atlas Foundation can help the communities to reach this goal.

Considering this, during the meeting they have identified two areas: one in which the focus will be to plant trees for agriculture and a second one in which the focus will be to solve the problems related to soil erosion and water saving.

One of the most amazing thing of this meeting is that we had the opportunity to see how the different responsible and represents are working together to improve the conditions of the villages, even though they have different point of views. We understood how the foundation is helping these villages to grow in a sustainable way, having a real impact on the local reality and enhancing the living conditions. The action of cooperatives is fundamental for the agricultural development in these areas:  they give local people the opportunity to collaborate and do something good and useful for themselves and their villages.

Volunteerism and youth policies

By Fatima Zahra Laarbi

On Tuesday, the 25th of July at Hotel Mogador Opera Marrakech, two of HAF’s team members, Fatima Zahra Laaribi and Errachid Montassir, attended the first participatory regional seminar in Marrakech organized by the Moroccan Volunteer Collective, a non-profit national network.

 

The Marrakech seminar is one of six participatory regional seminars in the capital cities of the six targeted regions (Rabat, Tangier, Fes, Marrakech, Agadir and Oujda). These six regional seminars are part of the project called "Together for the Recognition and Institutionalization of volunteering in Morocco ". It is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Around 80 people attended the seminar, from associations that work with youth as well as volunteers, local and regional authorities, university members and experts in the field of law.

 

The purpose of organizing these six seminars is to sensitize, inform and provide participants with arguments and evidence that requires recognition and institutionalization of volunteering in Morocco.

Another purpose is to create a multi-stakeholder consultation and debate framework on the institutionalization of voluntary service in Morocco in order to facilitate regional consultation in enriching the pre-draft framework law of volunteering.

 

The work of the seminars is carried out in a participatory way in order to give the participants a space for dialogue, debate and expression. The objective is to provide the multi-actor to understand the issues in order to react by raising recommendations and proposals relating to the Voluntary Law.

There were two sessions in this seminar.

 

In the plenary session; there were four interventions where they focused on advocacy strategies as well as youth policies in Morocco, in addition to the Legislation in Morocco.

 

During the afternoon workshops there was a discussion to enrich the form and content of the framework law of volunteering. The objective is to make recommendations to the expert lawyer and the national advocacy support committee in order to discuss and enrich the form and content of the framework law of volunteering.

 

HAF practices experiential learning with youth of all ages and with diverse partners including

universities, Children Protection Centers, public schools, youth centers and associations and with more

than 300 primary, middle and high schools in Morocco through our Sami’s Project.  We are dedicated to

building the skills and opportunities for youth to become active change agents in their communities and

nation.  With directly engaging youth in furthering community projects with local people, youth’s

capacities advances with the projects they help implement.  Also, this article in University World News

written by HAF team members describes our programs’ benefit of reducing vulnerability among at-risk

youth.   

 

 

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