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Optimism for River Management with the Tassa Ouirgane Community

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By Julia Payne
HAF Intern

On Monday June 4, 2018, we took the snaking roads through the High Atlas Mountains to the Tassa Ouirgane community nestled between two towering mountains in the Toubkal National Park. The purpose of the day’s visit was to have the community participate in a training workshop on how to manage rivers. The water expert, Ali Blali, would discuss potential options for this community that has been ravaged by flash floods (most notably in 1995) and has struggled with agriculture due to soil absorption.

HAF has been working in conjunction with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to provide the Tassa Ouirgane community with a water well. Already, HAF has built an olive nursery which we stopped by on our way to the community meeting. The baby sprouts were thriving under the steamy plastic covering that maintained a toasty 42 degree atmosphere. Spending only a few sweaty seconds in this plant haven, we soon made our way farther up the mountain to community center.   

 

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A group of about a dozen men shuffled into a brightly painted classroom surrounded by breathtaking green landscape. The projector blinked through different informational pages and pictures of a variety of embankments, gabions, water gates, and other channeling methods utilizing diverse materials—stone, masonry, vegetation—that have been implemented around Morocco. The overall optimistic emphasis was that managing a river is an achievable goal; many other local farmers have innovated solutions to problems similar to those that Tassa Ouirgane faces.

At the end of the presentation, the men turned to discussing what would best work for them. Several concerns came up including the fact that controlling a river must be done broadly, not just locally. Work at the top of a river can affect it farther down, but access to these upstream locations is limited. In addition, apprehensions about planting vegetation for it to be potentially washed away eliminated that option. One man said families live near the river and he was concerned about their safety in the event of floods. The community is also remote and has limited funds, which ruled out options like masonry.

Eventually, community members reached the conclusion that they would make an embankment of “filets” which are large mesh nets of stones that can be put in a river in order to block seepage into the soil, thereby increasing the overall water supply that can be used for agriculture. The banks made of filets will help control the water flow as well. HAF’s provincial association president, Haj Ahmed Amazzal, and Mr. Blali settled with the plan to start the construction in water training once Ramadan ends. Moving large mesh nets of stones will certainly not be easy, especially in a community where they do not have access to large machinery. However, the men had listened intently to the presentation and clearly absorbed the information, concluding the meeting optimistically with the hope that their plan would help the community, Incha Allah.

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Unlocking the Potential of the Women of Ourika Valley

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The women of the Ourika commune and HAF Project Manager Amina El Hajjami (second from left)

 

By Katie O’Neill, HAF Intern from Claremont McKenna College (USA)
High Atlas Foundation, Marrakech
6 June 2018

 

In the village commune of Ourika, Morocco a women’s cooperative successfully cultivates vast fields of calendula flowers. Though in this part of the world patriarchal ideals still often reign supreme, these women own the rights to their land, manage their own bank account, and are the sole executors of the cooperative’s business decisions.

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) partnered with the PUR project in 2015 to begin the process of women’s empowerment projects in the Al Haouz region of Morocco (where Ourika is located). Operating on the basis of rights-based and participatory development approaches, the HAF team set out to assess the needs of women in these rural communities. What we found was a lack of self-esteem and ability to visualize future goals.

In order to provide these women with the capacity to become social, political, and economic participants in their communities we began conducting training workshops, which integrate Moroccan personal law (Moudawana), intensive self-discovery processes, and agricultural and business training to empower rural women to become more independent. HAF partnered with local universities to train 59 women from five different villages in the Ourika Valley.

Many of the women expressed a desire to work outside their homes, to earn money for themselves and their families, and to finally be able to profit from their own labor. In order to facilitate this, HAF, supported by the PUR Project, assisted a group of 32 Ourika women in establishing their own cooperative, called the Aboghlou Cooperative. On land donated to the cooperative, the women grow almonds, pomegranate, iris, medicinal plants, and calendula, which they sell through the cooperative for profit. Because our workshops focus on discovering and supporting the individual aspirations of these rural women, the results are the product of the women themselves.

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Women of the Aboghlou Cooperative meeting with Amina El Hajjami (second from right)

 

HAF conducts weekly or bi-weekly site visits and meetings with the women to discuss the cooperative’s project development. I accompanied Amina El Hajjami, HAF’s project manager, on one of these visits in June of 2018.

I had spent the past week living in Marrakech, Morocco where I had very little interaction with local women aside from those working with HAF. I had quickly become accustomed to covered women moving through the city almost silently, hardly smiling and certainly never laughing, so my visit to the Aboghlou cooperative came as a shock and pleasant surprise. Immediately upon our arrival, women began calling out to Amina as though she were an old friend. There was music playing from a small radio, and one of the women’s son played in the shade nearby. Here the women, all in big straw hats to shelter from the sun, spoke freely and often. Though I could not understand their words – they speak a local dialect called Tashelheit – from the tone and frequent laughter it was clear they spoke as friends, joking and even singing. I thought that this was the difference empowerment and financial independence could make in the lives of women.

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Women of the cooperative harvesting calendula, Amina El Hajjima (left), representatives from the PUR Project (second row)

 

Our visit was focused primarily on the women’s calendula and medicinal plants gardens. In 2017, the women harvested and sold 60kg of dried calendula, this year they hope to produce 200kg. Each year since the beginning of the cooperative in 2015 the women have managed to grow and scale their production, becoming more and more confident in their abilities and, subsequently, more successful.

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Amina El Hajjami and a representative from the PUR project (center) lead a meeting with the women of the cooperative

 

One of the cornerstones of our visits is group meetings with the entire cooperative, where the women can raise concerns and discuss their plans for the future. Currently, the women have begun growing geranium, lemon verbena, and althea in small quantities. These they will send to PUR Project for testing before they begin large scale production. Throughout the meeting it was clear that these women have just begun to un-tap their potential, both as leaders and as entrepreneurs.

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New Voices to the Old: Sprouting Progress in Marrakech’s Mellah

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By Aichatou Haidara & Aanya Salot

HAF Interns

On the 24th of May, the office of the High Atlas was brimming with a total of 91 people as the High Atlas Foundation staff and the people of Marrakech’s Mellah gathered for Iftar, the breaking of fast. Marrakech’s Mellah proves to be a religious and geographical testimony to the historic coexistence of the Jewish minority within the Muslim community, in an economically vulnerable setting. These members of the community who attended the event were divided into three rooms, each, equipped with at least one High Atlas Foundation staff member that lead the project prioritizing sessions.

Meanwhile, the rest of the staff was floating from room to room ensuring that everyone could satiate their hunger from the long day of fasting with the help of some of the women and some very eager kids. Most notably, there was a young girl who could not have been more than 12 years old who goes by Amina. From the time she entered the office to the time she left, she never stopped helping by either handing out food or by taking back empty trays. After conversing with some of the women from the Mellah and observing the various rooms, it became very clear why Amina had such a commendable character. The women who filled the office of the High Atlas Foundation were resilient individuals who have an optimistic demeanor and inviting personalities despite the hardships that they face daily. Therefore, having these women as role models is likely the reason why Amina will grow up to be as wonderful as the women she is surrounded by.

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This event was created to celebrate the culmination of a women’s workshop, which aimed to identify and create solutions for salient issues that the women in the Mellah face everyday. What started last Ramadan as a participatory initiative to increase women’s agency in their communities evolved into a program that allowed women to communicate and implement the initiatives they most want in their lives. By hosting these last year workshops at a synagogue in the Mellah, many women were exposed to Moroccan cultures and religions they previously knew little about. In addition to increasing religious understanding, the workshops helped the women of the Mellah to convey and express some of the most pressing issues they face on a daily basis. Based on the conversations our communication facilitators had with the women of the community, there was a widespread lack for employment opportunities for women living in the Mellah. Some of the infrastructural needs of the community targeted improvements regarding the restructuring of homes, waste storage, and most importantly, a space for women to collaborate and address these needs of the community; a women’s cooperative.

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The participatory approach taken in this project aims to give agency to women and girls like Amina, so that they have the same economic and social opportunities as her male counterparts. This initiative will propel Morocco into the next step of social and economic development, through the empowerment of women, and the soon creation of the first women’s cooperative in the Marrakech Mellah. 

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The Cogwheel of Sustainability in the High Atlas

By Salim Syassi

HAF Intern and Student at Al Akhawayn University

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Anamer and Aghbalou may seem to be two typical villages in the mountainous Al Haouz province of Morocco, but they embody exceptional efforts of participatory development led by the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), local communities, and the High Commission of Waters and Forests. As HAF Interns, we were delighted to come across their path and unveil the dynamic and fruitful relationship these parties came together to create. We organized a focus group that spearheaded conversations on effectiveness and cooperation between all involved parties.

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It is crucial to draw special attention to the pursuit of new development opportunities for communities. The two villages represent the results of joint efforts to achieve sustainable development by adopting alternative methods that consist of coordinating various modes of production to achieve a green economy. In their case, the two villages were fully aware of their ordeals rooted in poverty conditions and efficiently tackled their needs by identifying key elements enabling the betterment of their economic conditions.

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It is critical to highlight the partnership with the High Commission of Waters and Forests because it acts as a catalyst for other villages to embrace similar approaches to sustainability.  With HAF’s facilitation, the Marrakech Regional Department of Waters and Forests granted them the right to plant thousands of organic and highly lucrative carob trees on public domain mountainsides surrounding their communities.  The consulting, planning, partnership-building, and implementing involved inspired the local people to redefine for themselves what is possible and opened a gateway for them to achieve new possibilities.

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After surveying both men and women in Anamer and Aghbalou, the most striking aspect of our encounter was the villagers’ willingness to challenge traditional mindsets and progress forward. This commitment to development takes shape in the form of education and access to information, resulting in a community that is fully aware of its needs and its remedies.

In this case, the establishment of a textile cooperative in Anamer and a honey-production cooperation in Aghbalou would enable the creation of revenue; thus, animating a sense of economic diversity and growth. The formation of these efforts would also enhance and encourage capacity building, innovation enactment, and, finally, the implementation of a replicable sustainability model.

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Experiencing ‘Imagine’ Women’s Empowerment

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By Salma Chamikhe and Gal Kramarski

HAF Interns

 

Women from mountain villages took part in the IMAGINE initiative as they participated in the 4-day empowerment workshops in their home communities and at the High Atlas Foundation’s office in Marrakech, Morocco.  The men-free zone boosted the women’s ability to candidly share their feelings as they answered questions they were never asked before, such as « How do you visualize your future? »

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In one of the first empowerment workshops we conducted, in a small village at the High Atlas Mountains Region, we asked the participants to take a moment and visualize their own future. Twenty-five female participants were present in the room. None of them reacted to what we asked. At first, we thought that the word "vision" was not clear to them; hence, we tried to express it in several different dialects or languages. When this did not help, we realized that the problem was not the lack of comprehension of the language. In fact, a possible reason could have been lack of understanding of the concept: that one has the option, the ability, or the right, to visualize her future differently.

It takes a great amount of courage to openly share thoughts and feelings with a group, but it is always worth it once you achieve satisfying results.  All the women received participation certificates and we hope they take part in similar experiences with HAF in the future. 

For example, a group of women from the rural commune of Aghbalou – Ourika, Morocco participated in the 4-day IMAGINE initiative workshop. IMAGINE aims to empower women by helping them discover themselves, reconnect with their feelings, find their strenghts, live up to their fullest potential, as well as be productive in their communities.  All the participants from the Aghbalou commune received a certificate at the end of the workshop as a reminder of what marked the beginning of their life journey as agents of change.

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On the last day of the workshops we hold ceremonies among the women, such as at the Angour Qasbah, celebrating four days of self-discovery and achievements. 

HAF participated in a global gathering in the rural commune of Asni, Morocco with the Empowerment Institute founders. They came to assess the IMAGINE initiative’s impact in Morocco.  A total of 20 IMAGINE participants were present alongside HAF’s empowerment trainers and other staff members.  Imagine’s founders were pleasantly surprised by the achieved results based on participants' testimonials, and they both consider the Moroccan experience a success.

The greatest discussions emerge from circle talks.  Under the supervision of HAF’s IMAGINE trainer, a group of women from Sgour-Ourika were very glad to discover empowerment and take home a symbolical certificate and the kowledge that comes along with it.  The empowerment workshop mostly consists of practical work, giving women the ability to express their thoughts and feelings through both drawings and words.

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HAF has been working in the field of women empowerment using two main programs: (1). 'Imagine', a shared partnership with the Empowerment Institute (EI), which is a self-discovery participatory workshop. The program aims at capacity building and assisting rural women in finding their voices, stating their goals, and achieve their dreams. (2). 'Cooperative project', supports the establishment of women's cooperatives and their development, in order to create financial independence, expand networks, and support changing women's role in their communities. Built on an evaluation report, and the feedback HAF obtained from their participants, the project strengthens women's capabilities, including becoming more independent, gaining skills and knowledge, and enhancing the capacity to improve their realities.

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Hundred women who now have the ability, create change for themselves and pursue happier lives.  What they learned at IMAGINE will impact many of their future behaviors, decisions, and actions.

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High Atlas Foundation
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