“The Journey of Trees - 7.100 fruit trees from Fés to the Midelt region for sustainable community development”

by Celina Böhmer, HAF Intern


In January, as part of the HAF team, project manager Said and interns Nisreen and myself, travelled from Marrakech to Fés and then to the Mideltarea. To learn about our first days in Fés, have a look atour former blog articles.



Trees ready for being planted, donkeys ready for taking the trees to the field and members of the local association


On January 17thwe went to Mougeuer and TiteNali, two villages in the Gourrama commune in the Mideltprovince, to watch the 7,100 fruit trees from the tree nursery in Fésbeing distributed to the local farmers and planted. At first, we gathered together with thefarmers and provided a discussion about the challenges the communities face and the needs they have. We were joined by Tarik from the local associations “El Karama” and“Mougueur-Zetouar du Development et d’ActionSociale” and by ProfessorAlami from the association “Experts Bénévoles” for development, in Fés.It was a bright day with a blue sky and the cleanest air I’ve experiencedfor a few weeks.





Distributing trees to the local farmers


Many people raised their voice and expressed their needs. They told us that they have tremendous problems with flooding and erosions, that electricity for pumping water is very expensive,that some of their fruit trees are sick, that they face a high unemployment rate and that the youth do not have a place to play soccer or to do activities together. What was mentioned the most, were the challenges with the consequences of flooding and erosions. For example, bridges where pulled down, huge stones ended up on the fields, so farmers cannot grow crops there anymore, for several months the children werenot able to go to school, because their paths to the schools were flooded.


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Discussing the challenges and needs of the community


One of the village elders raised his voice too. He was wearing a grey Jelaba, beige shoes, hehas a white beard and a friendly expression on his approximately 70 years old face. He gave a long speech and the others expressed their agreement with nodding and with their voices. He didn’t only speak about the challenges, but also about their needs and ideas for solutions.  To fight erosion the community plans to build terraces and to reforest their lands so the soil holdstogether. Furthermore, they would like to install solar pumps instead of using the electric ones to pump the drinking and irrigation water. He also mentioned that children need to walk too far to school and that they at least need to build a bridge, so the kids have a safe way to school. Others also spoke about the sicknesses their olive and almond trees face and that they are striving for solutions. A representative of the youth also took the chance to speak and expressed the youths wish to have a place where they can gather together, plan activities and play soccer. He also said that the school bus has not enough space for every student and that many young people leave to the village to study at the universities in bigger cities like Errachidia.



 Nisreen and Said speaking with the representative of the youth who asked for suggestions to improve his English skills


A young man from TiteNali, who holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental geography raised his voice by saying that protecting the environment is of utmost importance. To fight the problem of erosion, people donot need to build expensive things like gabions, but should rather reforest their lands. Another problem which needs to be solved is, according to him, the pollution of water and the sanitary systems which lead to dirty water in the ground and pollutes the ground- and drinking water. He is against using fertilizers who as he says, damage the environment. He promoted organic agriculture instead. This seems to be an important topic; many farmers start to get into the discussion. This young man himself received 200 fruit trees on that dayto plant them on his 2hectares of land. Later we visited his sites, which are quite far away in the mountains in the middle of a beautiful landscape.



 The young man's land where he planted 200 fruit trees to fight erosion


To see where the trees found a new home, we also visited the fields of other farmers and did monitoring there. For me personally, this was a great experience because I got the chance to see how agriculture works in this rural area of Morocco. This afternoon and the next morning we spent by walking from one field to the other, again surrounded by the beautiful nature, the mountains, the clean air and the quietness of the countryside, accompanied by men from the local association and by local farmers. We saw the first trees, which were grown in Fés by the tree nursery at the ChildrenProtection Center with funding from ECOSIA (the search engine that plants trees), being planted in this great scenery. Here they will continue their living by, in a few years, providing a sustainable income for the community with the fruits they produce, which can be sold on the markets, and by protecting the environment, holding the soil together against erosions, with producing oxygen and filtering CO2 from the air. The farmers also signed contracts, that those trees later can be part of the carbon credit project and like this, they will generate income for the community.


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 …where the trees found a new home!


We also got the chance to see a corn mill which runs with hydraulic energy and an olive mill and oil press. I grew curious and learned a lot from our host Jamal who explained to me the processing.


During my weeks in Morocco, I realized the value of the work such local associations do. I am eager to get to know more about their work and about what kind of people they are. The local association is working hard on fulfilling their goals to prevent migration to the cities. To encourage tourism in this area, they already started to repair a huge, old and beautiful Kasbah, they already have the rooms for a museum and are collecting traditional and local objects, and they are planning to launch a guesthouse in the village. They say, like this, tourists can benefit from the beautiful landscapes and nature and the community can benefit from the income this would provide. Broader, the local association has plans to work on improving education for the children and agriculture.


The days we spent in Gourrama were shaped by rememberable breakfasts, lunches, dinners, tea breaks and last but not least, inspiring and thoughtful discussions full of plans for the future! The evenings, we spent sitting in a room with an oven, being nicely warm, havingsoup and discussing with members of the local association and with local farmers. We learned that the tree distribution day was a special day for the villages and many people, who havenot visited the village for 40 years came back to be part of this event. We were wallowed in memories of the past and discussed ideas and plans for the development of Gourrama. The High Atlas Foundation plans to work further with the communities of Gourrama by doing a participatory community mapping and a women empowerment workshop in the next months, InshaAllah. 



HAF’s team “Fés-Midelt” (Said, Celina and Nisreen) visiting the ancient Kasbah ruins in Mougeuer


Eternalizing the Moment on Tree Planting Day

by Sofia d'Ávila Heidenreich Lacerda




It was on the beggining of my second week of volunteer work at the High Atlas Foudation and my first time on a field trip with them. I had an incredible experience. On January 21st, the staff from HAF, partners, other volunteers and the local people worked together to make the Tree Planting Day happen.                                                            




In the morning we went to the Centre de Sauvegarde de L'enfance (Child Protection Center) in Douar Laâskar, Marrakesh. The institution takes care of vulnerable children, some of them in real risk situations. First, we went to the girls’ area of the Center. The teachers brought the kids to meet us and we all had a nice talk about the importance of planting trees. They got very curious and many questions poped up. It was really important for me to watch the young and sweet girls talking to the people while getting closer to the environmental care with shy but sparkling eyes. I took lots of pictures of them while working, trying to eternalize the moment with my own view of it. At the end of all the handwork, we planted two almond trees and one argan tree. The girls didn't lose all of their genuine timidity, but I can say for sure that some seeds were planted in their hearts.




Around 11:00h we went to the boys’ section. It was a completely different vibe. They didn't ask lots of questions. Actually we didn't communicate that much, there was no need of it. They simply took the tools and started planting, as if they had done it their whole lives. This really amazed me. We helped each other like equals, with true looks and kind gestures. On this day we planted nine Almond trees! To be honest, I didn't photograph that part of the experience very much. I was so present at the moment, observing their facility and trying to figure out what was on their minds. They seemed to be on a meditative state, so concentrated but also so peaceful. After all, the main feeling that I kept was gratitude. Gratitude to be there and to show these young people that they have lots of options and a future in front of them.




In the early afternoon we started our road trip to Essaouira. Our destiny was to Ounagha, to meet the women responsable of the Cooperative Feminine Mogador Arganara (Female Cooperative Mogador Arganara). At 16:00h we arrived there. They received us with open arms and a delicious Morrocan lunch. We were able to talk and see the women making argan oil with their lived hands in a easygoing ambience. It is impossible not to notice how much work they have with each small argan seeds, even so they do it with patience and love. I learned a lot about the variaty of products that can be done with argan oil and the importance of those trees to the Cooperative as well as to Morocco's economy. We had a wonderful time and so much fun there. For me, as a woman, it's amazing to feel that we can be self sufficient with our professional life, and I felt this on their proud while presenting all their incredible products. Furthermore, we planted in total five argan trees with them.




Today, during the week after the January 21st, looking at all my photografic records, I could feel again some of the emotions that the Tree Planting Day gave to me. Living these experience brougth me a huge personal growth and only made my love and concern with the planet Earth increase. This day also gave me hope. Hope in real people, the ones that don't gave up easily and truly believe in their own strength. Those people will change the world. Maybe someday I'll be able to be like them. In sha Allah.


Tree planting activity with volunteers from OCP and the local association of Anamer for community development


The volunteers from OCP, the HAF team and members of the local association planting the first tree together

In the front: a carob tree sapling - ready for being planted!


by Celina Böhmer, HAF Intern


On Tuesday the 29th of January, the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) facilitated a tree planting activity for volunteers from OCP and the local association in Anamer, in the Ourika valley.


The local associations name, Amjad Anamer means in English Glory for Anamer. That’s indeed a suitable name because the youth association already achieved a lot for their people. They installed rubbish bins, they are restoring their mosque using only their own resources and they repaired the road to school, so the children have a safe path. They have many plans to continue working for the community’s development.


An elderly man from the village donated three hectares of his land to the local association so that the community can profit from the fruit trees which will be planted on this day and which were planted last year with HAF. Although the members of the association mainly are young men who work in restaurants because it allows them to get a better income, they would rather love to be able to work in agriculture. Their fathers and grandfathers used to be farmers in this region and that is why they said they feel “a sense of belonging to the land”.



The land where the trees were planted later that day

This week, the sales team and the production team from OCP met in Marrakech for doing teambuilding workshops. OCP is one of the leading exporters of phosphate rock, phosphoric acid and phosphate fertilizers in the world. They launch a project called “Act4Community” where they encourage their employees to do voluntary work in the social sector. Part of the team building activities was to plant trees in the rural area of the Ourika valley. The OCP volunteers bought 1800 olive and carob trees to donate them to the community of Anamer and to plant them together on this day. In the past, the High Atlas Foundation and OCP partnered several times in different community development projects mainly in Safi and Youssoufia which are small towns where OCP has their production factories. 


On Monday, Zineb from OCP and part of the HAF team went to Anamer to get to know what the needs of the local farmers are and to understand their challenges. We found out that their biggest challenge is a lack of water on the hillside. After the discussions, Zineb was glad to have found a project what she can further work on with the Act4Community project. She describes the next steps as the followings: first, monitoring is needed to find a good place for a well. Then, the well needs to be drilled, afterwards the well needs to be built. The next steps are to install a solar pump and a drip-drop irrigation system. Zineb and the Men from the local association hope that OCP, HAF and the local association will further work on this project together.


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Men from the local association, Zineb from OCP and part of the HAF team are discussing the needs of the community


When we arrived at the field on Tuesday, we found it surrounded by nature and a beautiful mountain view, everything was very quiet, the only noise was the birdsong. We went to the field and met the men from Amjad Anamer and planned the next steps. Soon the volunteers from OCP arrived. We gathered together, introduced HAFs work, the local association's work and the work of OCP.



Panoramic view


After planting the first olive tree together to see how it works, everybody split into groups and started digging holes and planting olive and carob trees around the land.


During the tree planting, I wandered around eager to hear the OCP volunteer’s opinion about the day and the activity. They described the day as “a wonderful experience which the local people, as well as the environment, benefits from”. Some of them planted their first tree in their lives and really appreciated the experience. Being outside is more exciting than sitting in an office the whole day and it is “the cool part of the teambuilding workshop”, they said.


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OCP volunteer planting trees


OCP provided a lovely picknick and after a little rest, we went to the village to meet a group of women who HAF project managers Ibtissam and Fatima Zahra did an empowerment workshop with. We explained to the OCP group how those empowerment workshops are like and the women expressed their needs. As they have a lot of free time, they would love to start a cooperative and work together. They are thinking of helping each other to fight illiteracy and to produce medicinal plants, backing products or to weave carpets.



The HAF-Team, a local Farmer and an OCP volunteer sharing tea



Meeting the women from Anamer


The OCP volunteers, the local association and HAF are excited to continue working together for supporting the development of the community of Anamer.



Thank you to OCP and to Amjad Anamer for this great day!


Programmatic and other enduring memories during my stay in Jordan

Yossef Ben-Meir, Ph.D.

President, High Atlas Foundation


I've been back in Marrakech from Amman, Jordan, for about a week now, back into the swing of planting trees as far and wide as our teams and partners can before the end of March. 


I've been thinking about this blog, revisiting the truly beautiful experiences during my five day stay in Jordan.


img1First and foremost, I would like to thank Dr. Mohammed Matouq from Al-Balqa Applied University (ABAU) in Amman.  His graciousness is an inspiring example and his dedication to his students and to the sustainable future of his country are indelible parts of his wonderful way of being.  The High Atlas Foundation has amazing counterparts in him, and the students and faculty at ABAU.


We’ve been wanting to work together for a couple of years, to bring opportunities to young people and to advance livelihoods and the natural environment.  Then, during the fall of 2018, the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Research at the U.S. Department of State gave us the opportunity to support four new sustainable projects, two in Jordan and two in Morocco (you can still send your proposal).  My purpose in going to Jordan was to listen to group discussions on their local needs, together identify and advance the partnerships to achieve priority projects, and to encourage them to make the best and specific case in their proposals for success.  


img2On my first day in Jordan, Dr. Matouq and I met together with ABAU’s Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Ghandi Anfoka.  Dr. Anfoka’s thoughtful and forward-thinking reflections on the environmental conditions in Jordan and the situations that are leading to its alarming decline are shared by other faculty, students, and members of associations with whom we had the great pleasure of meeting.  The new and dynamic Vice President of Academic Affairs at Tafila Technical University (TTA), Dr. Jalal Abdallah, contributed to the consensus on a proposed action to create sustainable change: experientially train university students in facilitating environmental education activities and natural resource management, who then transfer that knowledge to schoolchildren.  HAF has important successes applying this approach with university students in Morocco, and our Jordanian colleagues seek to create joint-initiatives in this regard.


img3TTA neighbors the Dana Biosphere Reserve, a remarkable mountainous location, with the nation’s greatest concentration of biodiversity.  There are more than 250 bird species alone, and the Reserve, the largest in the country, has all four bio-geographical zones.  Thinking about its out of this world rock and mountain faces and formations, I am reminded that the biblical prophets walked the valleys of Dana.  In addition to all of this, I hold the visual in my mind of the bold colors and delicate and intricate pencil drawings made by Ali, the kind tour guide at the Guest House, who may know Dana the best in the world.   


The two vice presidents of academic affairs are now developing a proposal to send 10 students (five from each of their universities) to spend ten days in Marrakech with the team of the High Atlas Foundation and its public and private partners to build skills in creating action-learning experiences with school children.  The university students will then implement these activities with young people in Jordan, to raise environmental consciousness and promote actions to protect treasures such as Dana.


img4Upon our return from the Dana Reserve to Amman, there was environmental event (weather-wise).  We knew snow was coming and decided that we would spend only the day at Dana lest we be snowed-in (which we later learned would have been the case).  We also decided that we would not return to Amman by way of the way we came--the Desert Highway--since it might close due to the powerful wind (which also later happened).  Our way back to Amman was instead to take us along the Dead Sea Road. 


Seeing the Sea go by, I just had to touch the water, even as the wind was determined to pull us back, away from the shore.  Professors Matouq and Naser Kloub (once a faculty member at TTA and now at ABAU) were as determined as I to feel the Sea’s oily water.  They led the way down the deserted hills to the coastline, which was filled with the foam of salt and minerals.  We could only hear the wind, and at some moments we could stand only with all our muscles tightened so as to remain on our feet.  I will always remember the splashes, sprays, and salted air on our faces, clothes, and hands; the wind holding us up as we leaned our bodies into it; the treasured feeling of a new beginning, of passing through an experience like never had before.  When we arrived back into the car, pure laughter took us over, brought upon from our shared recognition of the magical moment that was just ours.  I felt in my heart a sort of “baptism”, only to see the sign further up the Road pointing to where a most noted baptism in our world happened millennia ago.


img5I came to see Dr. Matouq as a great man of faith, informing his deep sympathy for his students, knowing that most of them will likely struggle, as do youth in Morocco; and also forming his profound sense and desire for justice for Jordan, the region, and world.  As Dr. Matouq drove us to his University our first morning to meet the Vice-President, he pointed just ahead to the burial ground of the Prophet Joshua, and he asked me if I would like to visit his grave site.  Yes, certainly. The High Atlas Foundation, partnering with the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, helped preserve the Muslim, Christian and Jewish cemeteries in Morocco’s
img6Essaouira, where centuries-old saints are buried, and where we brought hundreds of local youth to learn about their diverse past.  HAF grows a fruit tree nursery (producing 150,000 saplings and counting) outside of Marrakech with family famers on land gifted in-kind that is located beside the 700-year-old Hebrew saint, Raphael Hacohen.  Former United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, Dwight Bush, Sr., distributed the nursery’s first trees in 2014.  We seek now to do the same initiative in the Ourzazate province adjacent to the burial ground of the 1,000-year-old saint David-Ou-Moshe, which would produce one million trees over a four-year period.  For the first time to me, Morocco now felt young.  Visiting Joshua’s 4,000-year-old tomb in Amman, and then the nearby tomb of Moses’ father-in-law, the Prophet Shuaib (Yitro, the father of Tsipora), put into immediate context for me the majestic land where I was.  As our trip unfolded every day, and the good results and sincere friendliness grew from all of our encounters, Dr. Matouq often spoke the thought that also occurred to me, certainly after the Dead Sea experience: the good tidings of the Prophets accompanied us along the way. 


img7The expressions and important goals of the university students are what I carry most from my time in Jordan.  Among 70 students at ABAU, we spoke as a whole and in small groups about what they seek as part of the student body, their relationships with each other, sustainable development, healthy diets and behaviors, as well as the importance of writing and not delaying the pursuits of their dreams.  Their main project goals for their University: new and restored equipment in their labs, applied research and learning opportunities, renewable energy on their campus, improved services and communication, better food at their dining halls, and an exercise center.  For our partnership and commitment to each other, it has just begun.  Data is now being gathered so that we may develop a project proposal.


Check out this clip of the wonderful people--the students of ABAU--as they greet each other.


img8Finally and wonderfully, a young civil leader, Mousa, originally from Ma’an, helped bring together ten other nonprofit association representatives to meet Dr. Matouq and myself in Amman.  I blogged about this excellent experience.  The environmental project goals concentrated on including uplifting children: capturing their notions of the future they want to see through art; expanding clubs of volunteerism to more high schools and university campuses; growing nursery of endemic rosemary, and building the capacities and curriculum of school teachers.  HAF received three proposals from this group already, which will be considered for the Environmental Challenge with OES.     


I miss my magical time in Jordan.  We are deeply grateful that our engagement for the sake of improving the environments of that nation and in Morocco will now open deepen, as we move to the next phase of determining the projects we will achieve together. 


Thank you to my new and always Jordanian friends, and to OES for bringing partners together for sustainable environmental good. 


Tree Planting Day with OCP Volunteers in a Setti Fatma Community

by Juliana B. Feltrin

HAF Volunteer from Brazil


Yesterday, I had another great experience as part of the HAF volunteer team. We left the HAF office around 1:00 p.m. and headed toward the mountains. We arrived in the Setti Fatma commune and the landscape was even more beautiful. It was possible to have a great view of the snow on top of the mountains.




We walked a bit until we reached the planting area. Some holes were already dug. I confess that I even tried to start digging a hole, but a farmer seeing my work came politely and asked me to let him continue digging the hole ... maybe it was better.


After a few minutes, OCP volunteers arrived to plant the trees too. They distributed gloves to help with planting and then began. You could see the smile on each one's face, as every person placed her or his knee on the ground, picked up the seedling and put it in the hole. I took some photos of the moment and talked with the volunteers. The question was always the same: "Where are you from?" "How long have you been here?" "Are you enjoying Morocco?"




After planting the trees, it was time for rest. Underneath a tree, delicious tea was prepared by the community and OCP volunteers brought some food. Everyone was sitting and talking, enjoying the moment. With the sun went down we picked up the things from the picnic and left the planting area.




We headed toward a home of a community member. There, we were welcomed by several women, the farmers and a old man. There were several children in the house and they all looked at us with their eyes shining. We took some photos with the people that were there and we went back outside to return home.


While we waited for the car, I discovered that old man in the house owned the land we planted. The land is three hectares long and he ceded it to the community. I also discovered that there is an association of farmers who care for this land. I think that attitude was very noble.


Finally, when asking the farmers about the future, the answer was that with this they hope to be able to help the children and women of the community to have a better future. Then our car arrived. We said goodbye to everyone and headed back to Marrakech.




On the way, I came to think about the attitude of all those people. The way the farmers are dedicated to the community is so noble. It was lovely to take part of that day and get to know more about the history of the local people of Setti Fatma.


Thank you HAF for this opportunity!


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