Tree planting with the High Atlas Foundation for me became more than a number on a budget when I visited Rhamna Province and planted olive trees with my colleagues and members from the community back in 2012. It was a cold but sunny day, and the vast hill was spotted with people eagerly digging and getting their hands dirty. There are thousands of people around the country who can speak of their first time planting a tree with the High Atlas Foundation, and all the memories of pride, hope, and spots of green in often arid lands that are closely tied to the experience.
I had been looking forward to the 16th of January for a few weeks as an opportunity to participate insomething really monumental that is the culmination of years of grant writing, field work, and collaboration with communities around Morocco. As former Country Manager of the High Atlas Foundation, I was so honored to receive the invitation from President Yossef Ben-Meir to attend the ceremony at Akraich, a spot that was important to me as the nursery grown on land donated by the Jewish community of Marrakech.
Going out to the field is always exciting for me, and I learn so much from the way Yossef takes care to include all participants in the event. This was a mixed group, with French-educated Jewish Moroccans from Marrakech and rural villagers from the village of Akraich – not a group you find sharing a couscous every day of the week. No less at the site of a Jewish “saint”, Raphael HaCohen, surrounded by tombs on a hill lined with trees that HAF has planted over the past couple of years.
I gladly spent the morning in the kitchen with Mrs. Ohayon, the wife of the leader of the Jewish community who ever so graciously and diligently managed her team (Abdelkadr, Hussein, Fatima, and me) to prepare a meal for 50 people who would attend the ceremony to plant the millionth tree of the High Atlas Foundation.
The moment all the dishes were prepared and the tables carefully dressed, we invited the guests to be seated. It was a bit challenging to integrate the two groups, as groups were building relations with the other. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Yossef, Mr. Ohayon of the Jewish community, and members from the Akraich communities presented on the meaning of today, and the work of the High Atlas Foundation.
Planting on Jewish land for local community benefit is definitely a novelty for most, and the well-satiated group were excited about the potential for partnership with a Foundation that not only delivers projects, but also delivers trainings so that communities in need can autonomously create their own projects. This is the ultimate goal of sustainability, and this can only be achieved with widespread collaboration and engagement of various partners that allow integration of support networks. HAF spreads its roots wide and sows them deep, and this was really the theme of the day at this very diverse spot. 1,000,000 trees means a lot of long, deep roots, which all converge for mutual development.Alexandra Stein