Advancing Participatory Democracy: NED grant extension to Essaouira Province

Thanks to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the High Atlas Foundation has begun an agricultural cooperative-building training program in the Essaouira Province. Throughout April and May, HAF prepared for this program by finalizing the modalities, setting the budgets, clarifying objects and target groups, in addition to identifying the training centers and training participants and recruiting trainers and assistant trainers. In June, the three first modules of training began, with the following three being offered during Ramadan and after the summer vacation, according to the availability of the 60 training participants. For more information about the training modules, read this post by Lynn Sheppard, Program Manager of the Essaouira Province.

HAF is training six local people to be trainers in a range of areas critical to the facilitation of local communities determining their own socio-economic development: the participatory approach, creation and management of cooperatives, the benefits of organic agriculture, project implementation and evaluation,  intervention in local development planning and participatory data collection. Each trainer is matched with a less-experienced trainer, an assistant trainer; all are active members of their local civil society. The goal of this approach is to increase confidence and collaborative working within the training teams. Currently, this team is now in the field, training local association and cooperative members, elected women, and community leaders in these participatory techniques with a focus on human development.

In late May, HAF colleagues Abderrahim and FatimaZahra came to Essaouira to train a group of local social actors (including the HAF/NED trainers) and youth in the participatory approach. This training educated the group on HAF’s approach to participatory situational and needs analysis, and also gave an opportunity to practice these approaches with a group of adolescent beneficiaries at Bayti Essaouira, one of HAF’s partners. To learn more about this session, read this post by Lynn Sheppard, Program Manager of the Essaouira Province.

During the first half of June, trainee trainers and HAF staff conducted three community meetings in key locations throughout the Essaouira province, in addition to several informal meetings meant to publicize the NED program as well as collect prospective participants. As a result of these meetings, HAF identified thirty participants to form a group in Talmest, a market center in the northern, Arab area of the Province, and thirty participants to form a separate group in Smimou, a market center in the southern, Amazigh area of the region.

In late June, HAF began the training with two sessions: one on the creation and management of cooperatives at the Youth Center in Talmest, and the other in Smimou on the participatory approach. In both centers, the participants were keen and curious, asking plenty of questions and appreciating the opportunity to voice them.  In Talmest, groups discussed the Agriculture Ministry’s policy to restrict the creation and management of argan oil cooperatives to women only, while in Smimou, the participants were interested to learn about the work of the High Atlas Foundation more generally, and how the Foundation could support their projects.
HAF continued with sessions on the participatory approach in Talmest, and the advantages of organic agriculture in Smimou.

The following weekend, the Talmest participants learned about organic farming while the Smimou group learned how to form and manage cooperatives.During these training sessions, HAF invited representatives of national ministries and agencies to discuss issues with local participants. Despite the close proximity of their local office of the Regional Council of Agriculture (ONCA) in Talmest, the community feels they cannot approach their administrators. As a result, these participants had plenty of queries for the ONCA and ANDZOA (national agency for the preservation of the argan biosphere and oasis zones) when the representatives attended the sessions.

Most of these participants of these sessions live in rural areas and are under the age of thirty-five. Participants have expressed to HAF that they enjoy the trainings, and that the relationships and knowledge they are creating now will aid their ambitions for their communities in the future. Several project ideas have already emerged and the trainers and HAF staff are on hand to help the participants realize them.

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