HAF and the “City of Coexistence” - Essaouira

A review of an Al Jazeera podcast


By Rachid Montassir

HAF Volunteer



This documentary produced by the Al Jazeera podcast channel takes us to the heart of Essaouira, which is often referred to as "the city of coexistence". Some say that this is because of a large number of foreigners who call the city home, and others suggest that it is because of the historical role the city has played involving religious faiths over centuries.

Whether one practices Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or secularism, you will be welcomed warmly in this city of calm and comfort (in Morocco more broadly as well). The city is filled with recreations of traditional Moroccan industry, and picturesque graphics from artists inspired by Essaouira, which leads to the makings of exhibitions of their paintings in this beautiful city.


The documentary takes us deep into the peaceful coexistence and solidarity which the city has become known for both across the Kingdom of Morocco and internationally over past decades.   


The first person’s life example is Ahmed Harouz, a Moroccan Muslim. He mentions many great things such as compassion and kinship between the Muslims, Jews, and Christians who call the city home. He expressed some worry about the possibility of international political issues affecting this, but he truly believes that this way of viewing one another will be passed on to future generations.  He also believes it can be further spread across Morocco and hopefully can be a model for other countries in the world.  


The second is Mira Bohssira, a Moroccan Jewish man who has lived in the city center of Essaouira for over 15 years. He believes that the city is one of the finest in the world in regards to its historical values and its modern-day beauty. He greatly stresses that the city is a symbol of religious compassion and empathy.  Mira gave an example of Eid Al-Adha, the Islamic holiday, practiced by Muslims across the globe. He said that he gives and receives gifts during this holiday, even though he is Jewish.

The third participant in this documentary is a British person and former HAF project manager in the city, Lynn Shepperd.  She first visited Morocco in 2001 and since then she has fallen in love with the country, and especially the city of Essaouira.  Lynn has worked with many different organizations in the city and was HAF’s manager there for a few years.  In the podcast, she describes her work on behalf of HAF to restore the cemeteries of the three Abrahamic faiths in the city, as well as our other initiatives to rehabilitate historical mosques, Zaouias, and the Portuguese church.


The primary project that is directed by Lynn is the restoration and maintaining the historic graveyards in the city. This project was decided upon by the community of Essaouira themselves, and the community believes that the restoration of the grave yards in the city will lead to economic development because of religious tourism, and will help educate the youth about how special the current and historic religious coexistence is in the city.

Lynn is so glad for working with the High Atlas Foundation to help with up-keeping and restoring sacred sites in the city.  She says that aside from helping the city more than she could have ever imagined, the project has taught her so much about herself, and has led to much personal growth.

Lynn added that the High Atlas Foundation is an organization that is very well known, both across the Morocco and internationally, and loves how the organization ties together religious coexistence, development, and environmental protection. She believes that the model this organization is implementing in Essaouria specifically, and in Morocco as a whole, can be spread to other areas of the world where religious and cultural coexistence has not been as easy.


All three of the participants in this documentary brought different views, and experiences to the table, and come from quite diverse backgrounds. They all spoke about the uniqueness of the city in their own special way, but communicated one major message which is that the cultural and religious solidarity in Essaouria specifically, and across the Kingdom of Morocco as a whole, is something special, that must be held onto as the world goes through what can seem to be unprecedented and challenging times.


"مؤسسة الأطلس الكبير و مدينة التعايش الصويرة"

الوثائقي الذي بين ايدينا ثمرة حلوة من انجاز قناة الجزيرة تأخدنا الى قلب الصويرة '' مدينة التعايش '' و يظهر هذا جليا في كمية الاجانب الدين اختارو الصويرة قبلة و مسكنا لهم.

مسلما،يهوديا، مسيحيا، لا دينيا... اي كنت ، في الصويرة ستحتضنك بدفء لا مثيل له ..هي مدينة الهدوء و الراحة، الاستجمام و الاستمتاع بالصناعة التقليدية و بالرسومات الخلابة ل فنانين الهمتهم الصويرة و جعلوها معرضا للوحاتهم.

ولكي يعرفنا هذا الوثائقى أكثر على التعايش الديني هناك، تم استدعاء ثلاث أشخاص مختلفين الديانات.

الأول أحمد حروز و هو مغربي مسلم، حيث تحدث على مجموعة من الأشياء الرائعة و في مقدمتها التعايش الديني بين المسلمين واليهود و المسيحيين في المدينة. حيث قال أن الجميل في الأمر ان هناك أبواب منازل اليهود عليها رموز بركة محمد و العكس كذلك بالنسبة للأبواب منازل مسلمين عليها رموز مثل وردة سليمان و نجمة داوود.

متمنيا في الأخير أن يستمر هذا التعايش مع الأجيال القادمة.

و الثاني ميرا بوحصيرة و هو مغربي يهودى عاش أكثر من 15 سنة ولازال يعيش في مدينة الصويرة التي يعتبرها من أروع المدن في العالم، و اعترف أيضا أن الصويرة تتميز بالتعايش الديني البارز والحقيقي.

أعطى ميرا بوحصيرة مثال على ذلك حيث أنه في كل عيد أضحى يمنح عطلة و بعض من الهدايا الرمزية للعاملين معه.

أما الثالث فهي إمرأة من أصول بريطانية اسمها "لين شابرد" زارت المغرب سنة 2001 و منذ ذلك الحين و هي مولعة بمدينة الصويرة.

حيث عربت على أن عملها مع مؤسسة الأطلس الكبير يتميز بالإنسيابية و الجد، أما علاقاتها مع أعضاء المؤسسة تعتبرها أكثر من علاقة صداقة.

و بحكم المشروع التابع لمؤسسة الأطلس الكبير الذي تسيره "لين" في مجال إصلاح و إعادة تهيئة مقابر الديانات الثلاث المتواجدة في مدينة الصويرة، هذا يجعلها منفتحة أكثر على نمط العيش هناك الذي توصفه بالجميل و الهادئ.

و تحث إشراف مؤسسة الأطلس الكبير تم تنظيف و إعادة ترميم مقابر الديانات التلاث هناك و صباغة الموقع كله، كل هذا لأجل هذف واحد و هو إعادة إحياء الذاكرة لذى الشباب الصوري وآخرون بتاريخهم الجميل.

"لين شابرد" مسرورة جدا لتعاملها مع مؤسسة الأطلس الكبير، حيث تعتبر ذلك المشروع فرصة ثمينة جعلتها تتعرف على الكثير من المبادئ القيمة، وهدفها الأول هو الحفاظ على المعلومات التاريخية للمدينة.

وأضافت أن مؤسسة الأطلس الكبير هي مؤسسة معروفة على الصعيد العالمي كما هي معروفة في المملكة المغربية باعمالها الرائعة سواء في المجال البيئي أو في مجالات أخرى.


الرشيد منتصر.

Katharine’s Story

By: R. Maxwell Bone

HAF Intern  



How does a stay at home mom from New York City with a background in marketing and publishing start a multi-national company and empower women from rural villages, many of whom are illiterate and have received no formal education? All that one needs to do to find out is look at the inspiring work of Katharine L'Heureux.

 In Katharine’s story, what was planned to be an exotic vacation to Morocco, turned out to be a game changing trip through possibly one of the most unexpected ways possible. While departing the United States to fly to Morocco, her facial oil was confiscated by the TSA. She thought that she would be able to make it through her trip without it, but after four days travelling through the desert she decided that there must be something she could do in order to get over how dry her face was becoming.

She decided to ask her guide what the local women use to keep their skin moist, and he informed her that they often use the oils from the Argan plant in order to moisturize their skin. She decided why not give it a go, and little did she know, using this oil would be a life changing move for her.

Katharine found that this simple oil worked amazing. It immediately made her skin moist again, and on top of that, it was all natural, pure, and organic.  She realized that this was the type of facial oil she had been searching for over many years, she just expected to find it in a department store in the United States, and not in the deserts of Morocco.

After returning to the United States, Katharine came to the realization that she had fallen in love with two things, both the people and country of Morocco and the natural oil she found in the country’s desert.  She decided that she wanted to do something with this newfound passion.

This led her to take several trips back to Morocco to look into using this amazing oil to empower the people of Morocco whom she had come to love so deeply. During this process, she had come to admire the dedication of the women who assisted her in sourcing the Argan oil.

As she continued to develop ore products within her new brand named Kahina Giving Beauty, she came to realize that the true idea behind this project was the empowerment of the women who were making this product. She assures that they are represented at every step of the production of the product, and even designed the boxes in which her various products are sold to include the signatures of the very women who make the product across the Kingdom of Morocco. 

The brand of Kahina has seen great success over the past few years, and provides multipurpose oils for dry skin, as well as natural face masks and eye creams formed from both the Argan oil, as well as remnants of natural clay from the High Atlas Mountains.

The High Atlas Foundation is incredibly proud to partner with Katharine and Kahina Giving Beauty, and the women that deeply benefit from this enterprise. Kahina Giving Beauty and HAF have built bathrooms for rural schools, which is not only essential for a positive learning environment but also increases girls attendance.  

Check out an exclusive interview with Katharine to learn more about this product!

Uplifting at-risk youth and marginalized families through organic agriculture


The High Atlas Foundation creates unique project models that are essential for Morocco to achieve prosperity.  These models, however, require implementation, sustainability, and expanding to the national scale.

Morocco needs a billion fruit trees as one of a number of measures that are needed to overcome rural poverty.  The country is also struggling with very concerning levels of youth disenfranchisement. Here is one model solution for both of these serious challenges: Grow organic fruit tree nurseries with the teenage youth who are detained (for minor crimes) at the nation’s Children Protection Centers.


A Better Today and Tomorrow: Women Around Me Creating Change

By Chayma Ouled Sidi Aissa

HAF Volunteer


The role of women in our society is determining more openly the course of social change in communities. A woman plays a variety of essential roles in our society from her birth until the end of life. While women have profound, vital-to-life responsibilities, they also face greater problems than men.

Moroccan modern society has started to understand the individual identities of women. She has her aspirations, abilities, and qualities just like men. Also now better understood is that she should have the opportunities to develop her abilities and to express them according to her own choice. We have to empower young girls and support them to create their own destiny because the world cannot grow at all well unless women come forward and take initiatives for sustainable development.

During the period that I spent with High Atlas Foundation, I found that women are involved in social organizations and are developing abilities for leading a life of outward and direct social involvement. Their interests in social and cultural activities are on the clear rise. They have growing interest in travel, literary activities and new enterprises - especially women from rural areas.



رحلة التمكين مع نساء أوريكا

مع نهاية شهر فبراير وفي الأسبوع الأخير منه أخذتنا رحلة التمكين من جديد إلى دواخل أنفسنا للغوص قليلا في خواطرنا ومناجاتها عن همومنا الدفينة ومشاعرنا الغابرة. ففي جو هادئ بمنطقة أوريكا وبنفسية قابلة للتغيير ومؤمنة بمغزى التمكين ابتدأت رحلتنا مع نساء تعاونية أبوغلو، رغبة منهن في خوض غمار التجربة نظرا لما كان لهذه الأخيرة من تأثير على زميلاتهن اللاتي وجدنا فيها العديد من مكامنهن الخافية.

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"نحن نساء هذه المنطقة قادرات على خوض الرحلة مع أنفسنا للوصول إلى أنفسنا" كان قولهن في أول لقاء في الرحلة، لكن كيف استغرقن في هذه الرحلة وهل وجدن انفسهن بعد العودة؟؟



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HAF in Morocco

High Atlas Foundation
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Directions to HAF Marrakech Office


High Atlas Foundation
High Atlas Foundation 332 Bleecker Street, #K110, NEW YORK, NY 10014

Phone: +1 (646) 688-2946
Fax: +1 (646) 786-4780

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