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Investing in people to invest in progress

Hello there! Ellen, here, HAF’s social media intern from Berkeley, California. I have spent the past five weeks with HAF, and I wanted to share my experience with you to tell you about all of the amazing projects HAF is working on and to fill you in on how you can help HAF do more in Morocco!

 

So, how did I, a college student from California, end up in Marrakech, Morocco for a summer of 110-degree weather and endless tagine dinners? Well, I happen to go to a school that offers funding for international summer internships, and I happened to be scrolling through nonprofits throughout Africa and was attracted to the description of an organization in Morocco called the High Atlas Foundation. Once I researched more about the organization and saw countless images of Marrakech’s red architecture, beautiful gardens, and proximate High Atlas Mountains, I think my fate was sealed. I took an internship offer with HAF to be a social media intern, in line with my interest in political communication, and set up to spend the summer overseas.

 

What was so special about HAF? Why was I willing to travel to Marrakech (and endure sweltering weather) for this nonprofit? HAF prides itself on its “participatory approach,” the way in which it works directly with Moroccans to facilitate enduring solutions to specific sustainability problems. Rather than serving as a towering, foreign entity that attempts to impose itsidea of what can help these Moroccans, HAF works directly with the communities it is attempting to help. Now, I read about this approach on HAF’s website before arriving in Marrakech, but I don’t think I fully comprehended its effect until serving on the ground in Marrakech. In previous internships, I barely left the office, even eating breakfast and lunch over my computer screen. This internship was entirely different. HAF spends a majority of its time working directly with Moroccan communities, so, as an intern, I was welcome—and even encouraged—to travel with project leads to areas throughout Morocco to facilitate conversation and follow up with projects to ensure that our help was continuing to be, well, helpful.

 

And let me tell you about these project sites. In the first week, I was asked to do some social media work for “Sami’s Project,” a project that plants trees at local primary schools in memorial of a young boy who died early, living and learning in an arid, treeless village. My coworkers picked me up, and we drove out of the Marrakech busyness through fields of crops, by clay homes, and aside kids playing soccer on dirt fields. After an hour drive, we arrived in the rural, agricultural town of Rhamna at a colorfully painted school, lush with green and shaded by large trees. My Moroccan coworker turned to me, “I am so happy to see how green it is because this school used to have no trees,” he said, beaming. “Oh, you mean when HAF first started working with this school?,” I questioned. “Yes, and when I went to school here, there was only dirt,” my coworker replied. I tried to conceal my surprise, but I was quite honestly pretty shocked to learn that my coworker, who came to work everyday in a button-down shirt and khakis, who spoke flawless English, and who is attending university in Marrakech grew up in this rural village with limited access to water or electricity. He continued to smile, as he introduced us all to this school’s biology teacher—the same biology teacher who taught him many years before.

 

The biology teacher brought us into the classroom, a brightly painted classroom full of excited students wearing long white lab coats. My coworker, still beaming, took center stage. He introduced us all, speaking in Darija, and began asking the students about HAF’s tree planting: if they enjoyed the project, how the trees were doing, and what HAF could continue to do. I stood behind, equally enthused to see student after student, both boys and girls, shoot up hands to respond to my coworker. My coworker drew images of trees, as well as the system of photosynthesis, filling in the process as these students answered his questions. He then continued to ask the students about their aspirations, giving high fives, as we learned about people’s dreams to be doctors, lawyers, police officers, soccer players, farmers, and teachers.

 

I left that classroom overwhelmed by excitement, seeing these boys and girls so enthusiastic about HAF’s projects and passionate about their future. As we left the students, the biology teacher gave us a tour of the trees: thriving fig, olive, apple lemon, and orange trees coloring the campus. He concluded by showing us a workshop of student sustainability projects including a beautiful papier-mâché structure of the greened campus, which stood in stark contrast to photos behind it of the dry, arid campus that existed before HAF’s work.

 

Before leaving the community, we stopped by my coworker’s childhood home, a farm of massive proportions with an equally large family (15 siblings!). Upon arrival, we were flooded by greetings. His mother guided us into a cool room where she insisted upon feeding me (and only me, as I was the only person not observing the month of Ramadan) a Moroccan feast of freshly squeezed juices (yes, multiple), bread, and tea. After talking with her and her family, my coworker led us through their farming fields where we observed their watering techniques and were given bags full of melon, zucchini, squash, and cucumber. As we left the farm and this town, I felt excitement and joy: about these people and about what HAF was doing to help them realize their goals, as well as pride that I was lucky enough to get to see this side of Morocco and work for HAF.

 

That experience was undoubtedly special to me, but it is in no way unique to the HAF experience. During my short tenure with the High Atlas Foundation, I observed HAF working with women’s cooperatives,empowering women to profit from their products and giving them greater opportunities in their personal lives. I drove with HAF on windy, rocky roads to nurseries in the High Atlas Mountains to help create sustainable water practices that allow farmers to be more successful and simultaneously more environmental. I saw HAF facilitate community discussions in some of the most poverty-stricken areas of Marrakech to try to find ways to lift all people up. These examples, and so many others, show the great variety of projects HAF works on. More importantly, these examples help demonstrate that despite the diversity of projects, HAF’s approach remains the same: invest in people to invest in progress. In all cases, HAF uses the participatory approach to facilitate progress for these communities in need, while simultaneously forging lasting relationships with these people to ensure sustainability in the long term.

 

HAF works throughout Morocco, directly with these communities, to improve the lives of Moroccans. HAF creates a relationship with and attachment to these communities. It invests itself in the goals and dreams of these communities and has a stake in the long-term success of the projects. I believe that this approach makes HAF unique, and this belief led me to make the journey to Marrakech, to endure 110-degree weather, and to join HAF’s community.

 

Ellen Lempres is a senior at Claremont McKenna College, studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She is from Berkeley, California and spent the summer interning at the High Atlas Foundation in Marrakech, Morocco.

Ifrane Nursery Progress

 

 

By Lloyd Farley 

HAF Inter, Fes 

In the field of development, it is not often when you can see so much happen in just one day. A lot of the projects consist of behind the scenes work that yields undramatic, yet important results. However, today is a day in which significant progress has been made. As a result of our awesome partners with the Salam school, local government and Ecosia we were able to make significant progress in transforming a dusty hill into an even, flat field with good soil ready for planting. Additionally, This newly transformed field will be the home of our second tree nursery in Ifrane!

 

Transforming the land in the way that we did is part and parcel of sustainable agriculture. Slopes are deadly to productive soils and exaggerate erosion. With our work soil erosion will be significantly mitigated and the soil quality will be protected and other natural resources, such as water will not go to waste. With the proper investments in the land, the land is certain to repay us in kind with fertile and productive soils! 

 

Speaking of natural resources, we also cemented the top of the well that we will be drawing from to irrigate the nursery. The cement will allow for us to install a pump and will ensure the safety of the students who will be undoubtedly running around the schoolyard. 

 

Without the help of our wonderful staff and partners, especially Ecosia, progress like this would not be possible and the vision of a sustainable future would be a little less complete.

HAF’s future project in Youssoufia

 

By Erracid Montassir 

HAF Project Manager- Marrakesh 

Among the upcoming projects with communities in Morocco, HAF is seeking to create a big industrial unit in the Youssoufia province. The unit will be a big factory of apple cider vinegar.  The province is strong in terms of human resource and other resources, but in terms of factories and industrial units, it is not strong.

 

On July 13th, HAF’s members and one expert from the USA went to Youssoufia, first to attend a conference, and then to hold a meeting with associations, cooperatives and the population for a workshop about the future project.

 

In those beautiful streets in the OCP neighborhood, there is a Center named "Youssoufia Skills" which houses conferences and many programs for the youth population. In that Center, we met the director and some members who welcomed the HAF team. Then we talked a bit about the project’s business plan and other HAF projects in regards to sustainable development.

 

It was also a chance to meet the official spokesman of OCP Foundation: Mr. Yossef Allaoui, as well as other members of the international youth foundation.

 

The two last foundations presented a training program called "I-Grow", a program for the future youth entrepreneurs, especially from rural populations, to lead their business.

 

During the question and answer part of the conference, the vice president of the High Atlas Foundation, Mr. Larbi, came up with an important question about climate change directed to OCP Foundation. The question was approximately, “are there any upcoming projects about sensitization for the population to deal with this problem of climate change”?

 

Mr. Yossef Allaoui responded that there was already a lot of meetings about climate change risks and providing objectives and comprehensive information on climate change. But, that is only for the population in the city. However, HAF is going working with the population in the rural areas, and Mr. Yossef said that we will work in partnership with HAF on this climate change project in rural areas.

 

After this conference, we went to a workshop with more than 18 people, different associations, and cooperatives in Youssoufia province.

 

The workshop used a participatory approach, which is HAF's way to figure out the future projects and needs.  This specific approach was for finding out the optimal location for the apple cider vinegar factory. And naturally that information will come from the people right there.

 

For me, it was my first time doing a workshop, which was easier to do than I thought, because I have been in many HAF's workshops. So I was really excited to meet those kind people. I represented HAF and I was surprised that they already knew about the Foundation in terms of the environmental work. I talked to them about the future project and reiterated the general goals behind it, which were:

 

    - Create work opportunities for both men and women  

 

    - Improve on the region's economy.

 

    - Encourage people to plant more trees.

 

    - Come with a new product to the local markets, and work with the international markets at the same time.

 

    - Produce an organic product.

 

The final product, the apple vinegar, has many health advantages:

 

    - Can kill many types of bacteria.

 

    - Lowers blood sugar levels and fights diabetes.

 

    - Helps you lose weight by making you feel full.

 

    - Lowers cholesterol and reduces your risk of heart disease. (...)

 

And it's very tasty in food and salads.

 

We started the workshop with three groups, and in each group were people from different communes. So first they drew the community map of Youssoufia, which was represented by the blue color and the green was for the appropriate places of the factory.

 

After 10 minutes, we moved to the next step in the workshop which was for presenting the results; One person from each group did that, and he explained why they chose those places exactly. They suggested 5 places in the total:

 

- Sidi Ahmed

 

- Alkhwalka

 

- Sidi Chigar

 

- Ras Elain

 

- Assbiaat

 

After the elections and the sorting out the results turned out that the Sidi Ahmed commune is the best place to create the factory, because there is a good source of water and enough youth potential, and Sidi Ahmed is a center of all those communes.

 

We ended the workshop with a long discussion about this upcoming HAF's project in that province, and we also talked about how we should continue working together to achieve future success between HAF and population in Youssoufia.

 

Many associations expressed their pleasure to work with the HAF in the future, as the Foundation is also very excited to work with them.

 

The apple cider vinegar project in Youssoufia is just an example of many of HAF's upcoming projects with our communities in our kingdom of Morooco.


 

 

  

Eid Mubarak in Tassa Ouirgane

 

 Celebrating the end of Ramadan in a rural village and planning the future of Tassa Ouirgane.

 

Today was the Eid, the celebration signalling the end of Ramadan, so that means no more fasting! In the morning I went and observed the prayer from a distance, because I didn’t want to interrupt their religious ceremony. Even from a distance this was an impressive sight: all the men of the village had gathered in open air to pray, asking Allah to bring them fortune and prosperity in the future. For this occasion they were all dressed in white robes, making them very easy to spot against the reddish background of the mountains. After the prayer had finished, everyone made their way back to their homes and families for a day of feasting with loved ones. Back in my home the breakfast-table was a clear reflection of this celebratory state: special sweets, pancakes, honey and other treats were shared with the extended family dropping by during the course of the day.

 

 

Seeing how the Eid called everyone back to their families and their childhood homes, the douars in the valley were filled with young people who had migrated to the big cities in search of employment. Earlier that morning I had run into a new contact that could speak both English and French named Hafid. He normally worked in Marrakech for a travel agency, but he had also come back to his parental home in order to spend the feast with his family. He helped me in calling together the men from the association of Tassa Ouirgane in order for us to go over the project that was about to start.

 

Whereas I thought this would be a casual, informal get together, the room soon filled up with about half of the men from the village. During the meeting Si Mohammed, the president of the organisation, and several other members voiced concerns regarding the nursery-component of the project. While they were still enthusiastic about the gabions, solar pump, well and basin, they feared the nursery would miss its intended effect in the valley.

 

Seeing how the goal of the High Atlas Foundation is to support communities in their self-development, it will never go through with a project that does not enjoy the full support of the local population. The Participatory Approach was used to help the community form the idea of installing a nursery, but needs can change over time and projects can be adapted. We agreed to set up a new community meeting. This way, a solution will be found that enjoys full community support and can bring about lasting change.

 Meeting with the association for the development of Tassa Ouirgane.

 

When concluding our get together, the trademark Moroccan hospitality immediately reared his head and I was invited to share a meal with the people from the organisation. Seeing how it was still the Eid, the town was bursting with young people that I had never seen before and with who I could communicate in French and English. Some of them were very busy printing diplomas for the soccer tournament they had organised for the children of the valley, which would be handed out during celebrations the next few days. Others were telling me about their jobs, ranging from a call centre to work as a bodyguard for a Polish prince. After a delicious tajine and interesting conversations, I headed home, exhausted but satisfied after a productive day in the valley.

 

Start of my immersive experience in Tassa Ouirgane

 

 

 

 

By Jan Thibaut

HAF Intern, Graduate Student in International Development

 

So, there it was, the big day has finally arrived! On May 19th I bade Marrakech adieu and made the big move to the little village, Tassa Ouirgane, to be immersed in the Tashelhit language and culture. Together with the ever-so-helpful Amina, we had managed to find me a family willing to open their doors and arms to me during my assignment in the vallée d’Azzaden. Armed with some intensive Darija-courses fresh in the back of my mind, and accompanied by Si Larbi and Si Hassan, I arrived at Dar A Zrge.

Up until that point, I had only been given two pieces of information about the place I will be calling home for the next two months. Number one: the father of the household would be named Ahmed, and number two: they would have a son that could speak some French and that would be there occasionally. This son turned out to be Mustafa, who was still working in a restaurant in Marrakech and who would be arriving the next day. The rest of the family was present when we arrived around noon, and gave us a traditional Moroccan welcome: sweet mint tea, olives and olive oil, tenurt (bread baked in a traditional clay oven), and a chicken and lemon tajine. Following tradition, the women and children ate separately from the men, as we were outsiders from the family household. My introduction to the rest of the family would have to wait until later, while the three of us had dinner with Si Ahmed and talked about the house, the village, and his farm.

After lunch it was time for Si Hassan and Si Larbi to continue their journey to another community which HAF is working with, so I began my new life in Tassa by meeting my new family. Fatima was by far the one that stood out the most by her infectious laughter and twinkling eyes. She’s the mother of the family, always dressed in bright colours and seemingly balancing twenty tasks simultaneously, the true master of the household. Next up, here two children who were there that day: Abdeltif and Hadidjah. Abdelfin is the family’s youngest, an eleven-year-old boy with a bright mind and youthful energy blazing through him. Hadidjah is a quieter, more held back member of the family, charged with cooking amazing tajines and helping her mother run the household. Lastly, there is the elderly mother of Ahmed. Age has played its part on her, dulling her reactions and causing her to move, eat and speak with great effort. Although our interactions remain very limited, we give each other kind smiles and friendly words of greeting and small talk.

At the end of that first day I went for an evening stroll to explore my surroundings, when I stumbled upon a group of little girls from the village. Even though they were already running around, giggling and grabbing each other to start with, all of this multiplied tenfold when they saw me arriving. They joined me on my walk, which became dominated by them yelling their names, waving, whispering in their friend’s ear, and us changing the few words I knew in Darija for the few words in French they had learned at school. A little bit later it became clear to me where the boys of the community were hanging out: they were playing a football game down the road, on a dusty field surrounded by beautiful mountains bathing in the last light of a breath taking sunset.  I don’t know what this experience will bring me yet, but I do know that I will live it to the fullest!

 

 

BIO: Blog entry documenting my arrival in my new home in the High Atlas village of Tassa Ouirgane, and meeting my Moroccan family.

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High Atlas Foundation
4 Rue Qadi AyaadAl Manar 4A - 3rd floor - Appt. 12 El Harti, Guéliz, MARRAKESH 40.000 - Morocco

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