The Empowerment Journey

The Empowerment Journey


By Ibtissam Niri, Imagine Workshop Facilitator 


After finishing the empowerment journey In Ma’ain in Jordan and coming back to our sweet homeland Morocco, each one’s own empowerment journey took  us on a journey within ourselves to dig  little deeper into our minds and talk to it about our deep sorrows and feelings. In a peaceful sphere of two different regions of Al-Haouz province and being ready to change believing in the idea of empowerment, my story began with women and their desire to engage in the training regarding the positive effects that the previous empowerment workshop had on their mates conducted by Fatima Zahra, who helped them discover a lot of their deeply hidden abilities.

Many of these women live without thinking of the ways they can recognize the sources of their potential and deeply held ambition that will always help them improve and advance, and also with a sense of shame because of their human weaknesses which often keeps them in a state of loss and overthinking, the feeling of defeat and discouragement for this reason this journey has been a key for each woman to open her heart.

Many people do not know most of these tools and therefore find themselves lost either on the level of feelings and emotions, or their sexual relations, bodies, money, their work or even on the level of spirituality that links them to their creator.

The reactions to this program can be divided into those who are ready to take the journey up and those who are affected by its features and those who are shocked by its advantages, but there was only one result, which is the desire to be empowered. It was not easy for her in its first experience in the training workshops to feel confident from the first stance due to many factors like, the Amazigh language, which was an obstacle and without women’s desire to learn, advance and change we could not make it. One of the most difficult situations is when you look at their eyes while looking for the word that expresses the meaning of growing-edge in the first day of the workshop.

Illiteracy is also one of the challenges that is considered a reason in their inability to interact, but after the first two days and after discovering the sources of personal power in each woman during the journey of the seven-rooms and the ordering of these rooms depending on the need to each one of them.

After recovering from the illness of sad memories and hurting events through the life tunnel to get rid of heavy past heritage and its deep pain, in order to feel emotional freedom and internal openness as well as bringing joy to their hearts, after that releasing the body as well and healing it.

I felt happy and joyful because of the joy I saw in the participants’ eyes, I have even noticed that in the way they talk and their visions as well as their dreams that have become totally different from what they used to be in the past. To overcome all the fears and obstacles that I consider a large barrier between me and them which I discovered later that it is just certain limiting believes that manifests within ourselves.


This empowerment journey would therefore be an unforgettable lesson and I will not forget it as long as I’m alive, regarding the change that happened in my life either that process through which I learned how to reorganize my priorities and my relations with the others and the feeling of responsibility and discipline in some issues and commitment in some others, or on the level of my personal life where the empowerment-journey has helped me a lot, and where I got rid of sadness, fear and timidity once and forever, the strongest sample for me was standing in front of the jury of the test for the first time without fear or mumbling, furthermore, looking at their eyes to understand and interact with them. All these has been learnt during the self-empowerment journey that has been beneficial for the participants who have been able to improve their lives and work on taking care of it in all areas so that the journey back home would be full of momentum, new ideas and new visions the aim of which is enjoyment and it have also been beneficial for their trainer, me Ibtissam.

Programs with vulnerable youth

New Educational Workshop and Nursery for At-Risk Youth in Fes

by Said Bennani

HAF Project Manager




According to the World Bank, the unemployment rate for young people ages 15 to 24 in Morocco in 2016 was over 20 percent. This figure does not include people who are underemployed or who work in the informal sector doing menial work in exchange for extremely low wages. Societies in which young people have few or no job prospects face a greater risk of experiencing political instability, rising inequality, rising crime, and increased religious and political radicalization.


To address this concern, this month the High Atlas Foundation inaugurated a new youth educational program at the Center for the Protection of Children - Abdelaziz Ben Driss in the northern Moroccan city of Fes. At-risk youth ages 12 to 18 who live at the children’s Center have begun working on creating a new tree nursery that will be large enough to grow trees and plants for the surrounding region. The land upon which the nursery will have a restored and deepened well that will have a good supply of water, and a 70-cubic-meter-capacity water storage basin which needs to be repaired after many years of disuse. 


 The land had been left fallow for a long time, so it is full of weeds and big plants. It is a new experience for the urban youth in Fes to work in a field, clearing it out to prepare for the construction of the new fruit tree nursery. The boys enjoy working in the field but since it is getting hotter now in Fes, they work up to two hours in the morning and one and a half hours in the afternoon.


The children were very excited to work on this project and asked many questions such as, “What will we do here? Why are we doing this work? What is a nursery?” The children’s curiosity and eagerness to learn were very encouraging. Our HAF staff member was happy to answer the boys’ questions and begin teaching them about HAF’s future projects in Fes. The children will participate in an ongoing workshop throughout the year that will teach them about horticulture and provide valuable vocational training which the children can use to pursue careers in agriculture, landscape architecture, botany, or any other profession that requires knowledge of how to grow and care for plants. Perhaps one day one of the children will join HAF’s staff!

 Thank you, Ecosia in Germany, for your essential partnership in growing this and other nurseries in Morocco.  And thank you Morocco’s association - Experts bénévoles pour le développement - for your total dedication to the welfare of the Center’s youth.


Through HAF’s nursery project, a group of children will learn about complex irrigation systems and horticulture and will gain first-hand experience caring for plants and trees. Since the boys live at the Center and most of them have ample free time, they have an opportunity to create their own projects caring for trees. If the children give the proper care to the trees, they will enjoy the satisfaction of watching the trees grow tall and strong.

HAF will also teach the children about the environment, the role of trees in creating a healthy ecosystem, and the importance of biodynamic agriculture. Through this education, it is our hope to train the children to become active and contributing citizens and members of their society. We will practice communicating effectively and respectfully with others which is a skill that these children need to develop. Due to their difficult childhoods, some of the children only think about when they will leave the Center, but our educational program aims to encourage the youth to take an interest in developing themselves to lead productive lives.


Some of the children at the Center do not attend school and therefore lack the educational background and skills required to gain stable employment. Because these children have no hope for a better future, it was difficult in the beginning to convince some of them to join the trainings and workshops. However, after a few days of interacting with our HAF staff member, the children became more interested in participating, and they even began opening up about their own personal problems and asking for advice. Serving as positive adult role models and helping the children make good decisions during their formative years are important components of HAF’s program. It is truly a privilege to shape and influence the future of these young lives.


For the children who have a strong desire to learn about the tree nursery project, one of the most exciting experiences will be transferring the seedlings to the community and witnessing the impact of this project and their hard work. Rural farming communities surrounding Fes and schools will receive seedlings and plants from the new nursery; the plants will then grow in their fields and school children will have an opportunity to learn about trees and the environment.




It is our hope that later this year the children at the Abdelaziz Ben Driss Center will see the fruits of their labor. They will be invited to tree planting events and will help distribute trees that they grew themselves from tiny seedlings to local farmers and schools. We are sure they will derive great satisfaction from seeing how all of their hard work has helped their community. One-by-one, tree-by-tree, HAF will continue to create a brighter and better future for the people of Morocco. 

 Thank you so very much, Ecosia in Germany, for your essential partnership in growing this and two other community nurseries in Morocco totaling 1.17 million organic fruit trees.  Thank you to Experts bénévoles pour le développement for your total dedication to the welfare of the Center’s youth.  The mission-driven staff at the Center of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and of our many provincial partners at the Ministry of Education - are vital contributors to success.  


- Said 

Coming of Age in Tassa Ouirgane

   By Mark Apel- USAID Farmer to Farmer Volunteer, Former Peace Coprs Morocco Volunteer. 

 From 1985 until 1986, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer living in the Azzeden Valley working for the country’s Eaux et Forets (Water and Forests) Service to study and inventory what might’ve been some of Morocco’s last herds of wild Barbary Sheep. These wild sheep lived on a 2000 hectare mountain reserve in Toubkal National Park, just across the Azzeden river from the little village of Tassa Ouirgane. It was from this little village that my Eaux et Forets counterpart, Omar, and I would take our excursions into the reserve to document the presence and movement of these animals. Sadly today, the Barbary Sheep no longer inhabit the reserve, and according to villagers’ accounts, they moved up higher into the mountains to escape the influence of humans. But of course, the people of Tassa Ouirgane are still there and trying to eek a living out of a river bottom that was changed by a dramatic flood in 1995 and climate change. Hectares of land that were farmed for generations were washed away in the deluge.



Today, farmers along the river valley can no longer depend on the snowmelt and water that flowed out of the mountains to irrigate their fruit and nut trees. This is especially true in the months of June, July and August when barely a trickle flows down their irrigation canals. Conversely, when it rains, it pours. Any attempts to rebuild their garden terraces in the river bottom are frustrated by lower grade floods. Nonetheless, the people of Tassa Ouirgane are resilient and never fail to open their homes to strangers. 

There is a deep, abiding compassion in this village for the future of their people as demonstrated by a group of men known as the Tassa Ouirgane Association for the Environment and Culture. In addition, there is a women’s cooperative that was formed with the help of the High Atlas Foundation to help the young women of the village improve their income through the sale of handicrafts. The participatory approach has become the bedrock of the High Atlas Foundation to help communities decide for themselves what their priorities are. This approach was used in 2012 by the Foundation with the residents of Tassa Ouirgane to help them determine where their greatest needs lie, and improving their water infrastructure to irrigate their trees has become paramount. 

This year, in April of 2017, it was a happy reunion for me as a HAF and Farmer to Farmer (F2F) Volunteer to return to Tassa Ouirgane and meet with the men’s association that I met with last year as a volunteer. Of course, the stories about my earlier Peace Corps days in this village back in the 80’s were always fun to recount, as I was the first American volunteer to have worked there and in the Park, with many others to follow. Somehow, 30 years later, the tales of my yellow motorcycle and other antics always seem to enter the conversations to the delight of everyone, as we sat around drinking tea and eating lunch at the house of Raiss Si Mohammed Idhna, president of the men’s association. Even though many of these men were small boys back in the mid-80’s, they laughed with the old-timers as if it was just yesterday that I had worked there. The Raiss’s house is situated on the hill with a spectacular view of the park and the Azzeden River Valley – a view that I never grow tired of seeing.



I had an auspicious reason for visiting this group again. Last year, as a HAF and F2F volunteer, I assisted with a grant proposal to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that was awarded just this year in the amount of $48,000. This will go a long way to helping the village fulfill its vision for improved irrigation, flood and erosion control, a new well, solar pump and water storage for the dry times of the year, and lastly, the hallmark of any HAF project, a tree nursery. Tassa Ouirgane already grows a variety of fruits and nuts including olives, walnuts, peaches and plums. However, most of these trees belong to individuals. The goal of HAF is to help rural villages like this one start a community-based  tree nursery where they will grow seedlings that will then be distributed to farmers in the valley who don’t have any fruit or nut trees. 




  Through this UNDP grant, Tassa Ouirgane has the opportunity to become an example of community-based development that is truly in the hands of the community. While here we had the chance to introduce the village to the Director of Projects for UNDP Morocco Ms. Badia Sahmy to the association and discuss the goals and details of the project that her office is so generously funding through HAF. It was interesting to hear the spectrum of ideas behind the grant. For the men’s association, they are finally going to have the opportunity to have the infrastructure they’ve needed to sustain their trees through the dry seasons. For the UNDP, they see this as an opportunity for the village to serve as a model for community resilience once all the pieces are in place. HAF is perfectly positioned to help make both of these views a reality. To kick-start this project, intern Jan Thibaud from Belgium will be spending two months living in Tassa Ouirgane and surveying the other villages in the valley for their potential to start HAF nurseries.  Jan is the same age I was when I first arrived in Tassa Ouirgane over 33 years ago as a young man. He will be working with the same sense of commitment and dedication to such a beautiful place and wonderful people. I’m proud to be able to pass along the torch, after all these years, and see Tassa Ouirgane become more resilient in the face of a changing climate and environment.


 Mark Apel is a faculty member of the University of Arizona in the US as an Extension Agent working on sustainable development issues. He has recently completed two volunteer consultant assignments in Morocco with the Farmer to Farmer Program, through Land O’Lakes International Development.  Mr. Apel has over 30 years of experience working on environmental, land use and sustainability issues.





Sami's Project Evaluations


By Errachid Montassir 

HAF Project Manager 

Marrakesh Office 

One of the main projects that the High Atlas Foundation takes part in is the Sami's project which works to improve systems of rural schools across the Kingdom of Morocco. One of the main aspects of this project is the distribution of various types of fruit trees to many types of schools. These include primary schools, boarding schools, universities, and high schools. 


This week the High Atlas Foundation team visited five schools in the El Houz region that benefit from the Sami's project. The main goal of this sight visit was to assess the progress of Sami's in the schools and also to distribute certificates to the schools to thank them for successful completion of the planting of trees this  January.


 We left Marrakesh in the morning, and our first stop was a boarding school in Tahanout, this area was once a village, but it is turning into a sprawling city in the Atlas Mountains. The school is a boarding school for students of middle school age and it is a school for both boys and girls. They each have their own dormitory areas but they attend classes together. 



The first thing we did at this school was sitting down with several boys from the school and taking to them about the work that HAF has done in the school and what they think about the trees that we planted there. We also talked to them about what they believe would make their school even better.  


The students are very bright and they really want to make their school a better place for all. 



We then went to observe the trees that the foundation planted and checked the progress of them. 


To finish off the visit strong we then went and had a conversation with several female students of the school and we were again surprised and inspired by their dedication and knowledge.  



We then gave the administration of the school the certificate for successful completion of the project and had some small talk with the students. 



We then drove  to Sidi Ghiat, which is a very small town and we visited a school by the name of alborj. After arriving we met two dedicated and inspiring teachers  Mr Abdelghani and Mr Abdrrahim.


We were surprised by how well the project was doing. All of the trees were green and in great health and are on their way to being able to produce fruit. We were shocked to find out that the school, and mainly the students are able to keep the trees on good health, amidst many challenges including the fact that there is no ample source of water there, so they bring water from the village to the school every day. We look forward to working with both the school and community to be able to find ways to fix this issue, and hopefully make caring for the trees easier, but most importantly more time efficient. 


 We then awarded the school with their certificate of completion, and then made some small talk with the bright and funny students and staff of the school. 


In the  same village of Sidi Ghiyat we continued on to another school, but before hand we visited the house of a local farmer to collaborate over a great Moroccan breakfast. We were surprised by the man's hospitality and dedication to improving the community and we hope to work with him and other farmers in the community to move the entire village forward. 


 From there we made or way to a nearby school in the same village that HAF has been working with for many years. We checked the progress of a toilet that we constructed several years ago, and we were also taken aback by the amazing job that the students did caring for the trees at the school. 


We fished our time at the Bozza school with a visit to the neighboring school building. The amount of students being enrolled at the school is growing every year, and at they has been difficult at times do to the limited resources that the school has at their disposal. We talked with the school directors about steps that can be taken to make the school a better place for children to learn and grow, ad most important build upon the process that the school and community has already made. 


We then made our way to the growing city of Ait Ourir and met with a administrative leader  in the  Education Delegation,  Mr Musstapha,  he has many responsibilities  in the administration and he showed us the trees of Sami's project which are in great health and on their way to producing fruit. At this site, only three trees died which is not bad at all.  We gave him the certificate ,and he talked about how excited he is to continue working with the High Atlas Foundation and particularly work to improve many schools in collaboration with Sami's Project.  


Im order to arrive to the last stop on our trip we left the Atlas Mountains range and drove along a winding ride though red hills to the village of Tidili Massfiwa where we visit a girls boarding school. Here we were given a very warm welcome and engaged in conversation with the school director about our project and what came be done to move the school and community forward. We also took a look at all of the trees that the foundation distributed. 


We then sat and talked for around twenty minutes with a group of 30 students of the school and they spoke about how badly they wanted a library in order to be able to read and learn beyond what their amazing teachers are teaching them. 


We were taken aback by how much the school's students and administrators valued the work we were doing together and we chatted about women's empowerment and about what it is like to attend a girls only boarding school in Morocco. This visit gave us great hope for the future of the Kingdom. 


We then returned home to Marrakesh felling tired from a long day with lots of traveling but most importantly, felling inspired by all of the amazing people that we had met and excited about the bright future Morocco has ahead of her.


HAF Promotes Tree Planting and Value-Addition for Rural Farmers in Morocco


Gregory Sullivan, HAF Visiting Expert 


International Executive Service Corps (IESC)

USAID’s Farmer to Farmer Program


April 18 to May 5, 2017

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) in Morocco is using innovative approaches to tackling poverty in this North Africa country, as well as addressing the challenge of climate change.  HAF is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the livelihoods of rural households. The foundation was established in 2000 and registered in both the USA and Morocco.  It set an ambitious goal to plant one million trees and successfully met that challenge in the year 2014. HAF is not stopping and has agreed to support the Government of Morocco to reach its target to plant one billion trees by 2030.

At the HAF’s headquarters is in Marrakech, the office is constantly buzzing with the enthusiasm of young volunteers from Morocco, Europe and the USA committed to make a positive impact on Morocco.  HAF is at the center of the wider global initiative to address climate change.  The United Nations’ climate change conference was held in the city in November 2016.  HAF’s goal is to empower people to improve their livelihoods and the climate through community action. For HAF it all starts with the establishment of its eleven nurseries. HAF partnered with several organizations both government and non-government and from inside and outside Morocco to establish these nurseries. The German organization – Ecosia - provides funding for three new nurseries.  At the same time, HAF continues to evaluate the possible addition of new nursery sites.  In some cases, a nursery site was provided by the local council, the local cooperative or even a religious organization.  This reflects buy-in from a wide spectrum of the stakeholders in the donor community.


HAF’s nurseries are in different ecological zones which offer a diversity of trees and plants to meet the needs of rural households and schools in different planting zones (see Figures 1 and 2). Most of the nurseries are in the hotter, drier zone having a continental climate. Temperatures can exceed 40 Celsius and a dry season can last three to four months. Tree and aromatic seeds are collected locally for the nurseries for better adaptability to growing conditions. Some popular tree species are walnut, almond, pomegranate, olive, and fig. A few nurseries produce aromatic plants (Verbena, mint, sage and thyme) which are popular items added to tea. Aromatic plants are distributed to women to be grown for both home use or sold fresh or processed in the local markets to provide additional income for women. Water availability in this drier climate is a challenge, and HAF promotes the use of drip irrigation systems conserving scarce water.

HAF’s mission is to address challenges along the value chain facing producers, and it invests in value addition activities in processing and marketing, not just planting trees.  In the town of Asni, HAF supported the establishment of a walnut processing facility with the local government and the Idraren cooperative. HAF purchased some of the equipment installed in the plant and helped to train the staff. The cooperative with the help of HAF will find markets for producers’ nuts and bottled walnut oil.  The market plan is to develop branded organic walnut products which are sold in both the domestic and international markets.  In the first year of operation in 2016, the cooperative sold 6,000 kilograms of nuts, as well as, 1000 liters of walnut oil for cosmetic use 

Where possible, HAF works to build the capacity of women cooperatives to empower them for positive economic and social change in their communities. HAF teamed up with the French cosmetic company, L’Oriel, to contract with the women’s cooperative in the Ouirka Valley, which is approximately 30 kilometers southeast from Marrakesh. The cooperative has 40 women, and they grow the flower, Calendura officinalis (pot marigold), used by L’Oriel in the manufacture of their cosmetics. HAF and L’Oriel supported the women with training and made initial start-up investments in a small building with a bathroom, irrigation equipment (see Figure 4) and a water tank for storing water during the dry season to extend the production season when water levels in the nearby river fall. The women have learned how to collect seed from nearby fields, propagate and transplant seedlings (see Figure 5). The women then harvest the flower, transport in local basket (see Figure 6) to their homes where they dry the petals and then pack and ship them to France. These value-added processes allow the women to be paid 1,000 MAD (approximately U.S. $100) per kilogram for dried petals. The women expect their first shipment of 50 kilograms of dried petals in 2017 and will receive about 50,000 MAD (US $5,000) to be shared among members of the cooperative.



HAF is making a significant difference for large numbers of rural households in Morocco through tree planting, and it is turning producers into entrepreneurs evident by the success in establishing the walnut cooperative in Asni and the Calendula cooperative in Ouirka.  These business models will be replicated in other villages and towns in Morocco and will directly increase rural incomes and at the same time address the threats of climate change facing Morocco.  By mobilizing communities to plant trees and aromatic plants, HAF is helping rural Morocco on its path to economic sustainability.


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