BLOG 2018-11-28T12:10:33+02:00


HAF Volunteer

The rendezvous point was the HAF office. I came early and got to meet the whole team. There were two groups: UVA Students who are in Morocco on a research program and with whom I shared a bus, and the Envoys, high schoolers who were on a school trip. As a Moroccan volunteer, I was surprised to see that all my teammates were foreign students. Yet, they were lively and friendly. We departed at 9 O’clock, it took us about two hours full of excitement to get to our destination “Tassa Ouirgane”, with a 20-minute stop in the village “Asni”.
Upon arriving, we passed by a little abandoned house that happened to be Mr. Yossef’s old residence for three months in his first days in Morocco. The place where everything began. I couldn’t even bring myself to express the 25 years of nostalgia I felt from back then!

We were greeted by a member of the Tassa Ouirgane association who served as our guide. The first stop was a tree nursery where we circled hundreds of little trees waiting for their buyers. Normally one wouldn’t see olive trees in this kind of region, it was shocking to see the cool climate peaches and the heat loving olives trees on the same plantation! It obviously took a lot of effort to maintain, especially in dry weather. We students had the freedom to ask the guide about his work. The 29-year-old was unmarried; Abderrahman told us that diversifying the village’s projects was the main reason for starting an olive nursery. It takes about two years for these trees to mature and be ready for market. It’s even faster inside green houses. According to Abderrahman, the village’s business is 80% Agriculture.  Progress is being made, particularly after founding the association where he works. He dreams to see all his fellow villagers sharing his view of divergence and trying new ideas. This project is financed by the United Nations Development Program and managed by HAF and the Tassa Ouirgane association.

After visiting the Nursery, we marched about 3 km up hill to reach the main village. The other students and I spent some time planting some of the olive saplings from the nursery. Then we were introduced to some girls from the community, most were in their twenties. Their co-op was very in-sync despite an official Leader. Their work varies from cooking and baking sweets to harvesting trees. In “Tassa Ouirgane”, only about 20% of girls went beyond middle school, and only ONE has attended college!  The reason was parental worries.  Because the closest high school was in “Asni” village, 30 minutes away without any school provided transportation!

The villagers hosted the HAF team for Lunch. We were served many different sweets and pastries that were prepared in the village. The main dish was Couscous. We sat in small, mixed groups between students, teachers and villagers. We proved that despite the cultural and lingual differences, we are able to understand one another. I still can remember how uncomfortable the villager girl was when eating Couscous with the spoon. Everyone quickly agreed to try eating with hands as this is the traditional way of eating Couscous. This turned out to be far more enjoyable and made the meal even more delicious!

Before our departure, both hosts and guests exchanged some words of impressions and gratitude about this wonderful experience. Then we set off tired, yet very fulfilled.

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By Caroline Kirk
HAF Intern, UVA student

Stepping onto the campus of the American School in Marrakech was like being transported to a completely different world than what we had thus experienced as High Atlas Foundation interns the past three weeks. After visiting women’s cooperatives, speaking to young women who stop their education at primary school, and witnessing adult women write their name for the first time, the monetary donation received felt like so much more.

Receiving a check from these elementary students, Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, the President of the High Atlas Foundation, said, “Because of you, there will no longer be parents who have to decide whether to send their daughters to school or to fetch water.” Because of a school walk-a-thon, a major barrier to development and education will be systematically overcome in some capacity. Hearing this, I was filled with a weight, knowing that Ben-Meir’s words speak to a developmental reality and dynamic partnership at work.

The High Atlas Foundation and the American Schools of Marrakech have important common objectives of expanding the environmental education, spreading the green fields in rural schools, providing clean drinking water for schools, and developing rural school infrastructure. These nobel goals and alignment of values were evident in the conversation led by the Head of School Jean Brugniau in the ceremony at the end of the year celebration. He spoke directly to his students and parents, encouraging community participation and engagement. The picture perfect setting and positive commitment to excellence stood out to me as unique to this country and the Moroccan priorities that we have come to understand as interns and students.

What felt like a Hollywood movie school set with smiling parents, dancing young children, and a field of happy and sweaty soccer players, quickly became the backdrop to real, tangible change. I cannot even remember what my own elementary school walk-a-thon raised money for. This schools donation is a true testament of hard work, community support, and the participatory approach beginning from integral fundraising and passion.

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By Eliana Lisuzzo
HAF’s Development Manager

Imagine, innovated in conjunction with the U.S.-based Empowerment Institute and supported in Morocco by the National Endowment for Democracy, is a four-day empowerment workshop that aids women in gaining new perspective on their agency and rights under Moroccan national law Moudawana. The workshop design prompts participants to reflect upon seven integral areas of their lives: money, spirituality, body, relationships, sexuality, emotions, and work. Imagine aims to strengthen individuals’ abilities to overcome inner blocks (e.g., physical and emotional abuse, lack of self-confidence, fixed/traditional gender roles, etc.) to achieve self-actualization. Participants begin by visualizing their futures, then move on to the seven life areas, and finally explore how Moudawana applies to different areas of their lives. For example, women will be educated on their rights and lawful potential outside of their strict traditional boundaries. This imposes higher self-awareness, which provides the power to create one’s « own change, » particularly among marginalized populations. By conducting Imagine workshops that integrate the rights-based approach to Moudawana, the High Atlas Foundation fosters females’ self-discovery, which, as we have found, is a necessary step in the process of increasing self-awareness, self-identified needs and goals, and both the confidence and participation in defending their rights granted by law.
Notably, we consistently observe on Day One of Imagine that women often feel they do not have the option to visualize their future differently. However, by Day Four they become active in expanding their capabilities and independence, defining “visions” or long-term goals. One participant reported, “I’ve never had such an opportunity as this. We need such exercises to listen to our inner voice and beliefs.”

Imagine showcases women’s personal growth and agency and, often, their newfound motivation to pursue economic independence. Imagine’s issue-specific workshops covering the width of societal topics for females is particularly essential to their skills building and economic development, as any goals they may want to pursue will otherwise not directly reflect their own interests and needs, and thus prohibit long-term success. The conclusion of Imagine regularly leads to women’s increased confidence to seek economic independence through cooperative building. Based on past experiences, HAF hypothesizes that at least one women’s cooperative will result from every Imagine workshop.

Moreover, Imagine often results in many other significant outcomes as well. For example, of the 460 women from the Provinces of Al Haouz, Boujdour, Tinghir, Marrakech, and Oujda who benefited from Imagine empowerment workshops, 10 female university students received training to become facilitators of empowerment programs themselves. Additionally, in 21 Imagine four-day workshops in 9 provinces with 95 girls (535 women), eight girls did not enter into early marriage, and 37% reported progress toward education and economic initiative opportunities after participating in Imagine. One woman reported: « My husband felt that I am a new person to him. I talked strongly without any doubt in myself. He asked, ‘What is the secret in changing your way in talking with more confidence?’ I told him it is the impact of training. I learned from it a lot.” Lastly, as a result of Imagine, 35 women and girls initiated a literacy program in their village by hiring a female university student to teach; 65 women joined parent associations and engaged in efforts to improve their children’s schools; women’s reported realizations of discovering capacities and goals; and women voiced commitments to complete school.

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This past Sunday June 9, 2019, HAF’s President, Dr Yossef Ben-Meir, with fellow HAF staff and interns from the University of Virginia, gave a talk with a group of students of Moroccan Jewish origins who are on a visit to Marrakech within a program of Open University. The students are on this visit to learn about Moroccan multiculturalism and about the role that youth plays in the sustainable development. At the beginning of Dr. Ben-Meir’s presentation, he focused on the interest of the intercultural and interfaith dialogue and how they can help come up with concerted projects that can lead to sustainable development and how they can enhance livelihoods of people within communities.
During his talk, Dr. Ben-Meir gave an overall idea about activities and projects the Foundation carries out to the benefit of women, farmers, youth, school kids and little girls in a multitude of communities in Morocco.

Building on a long meaningful analysis of the economic situation of the marginal communities in the area of Marrakech especially in respect to agricultural speculations it became obvious to HAF that there is a great deal that can be done for change. It was then quite clear that if we could add all the layers of values such as providing fruit tree saplings, practicing efficient irrigation, securing organic certification, processing agricultural products, commercializing and getting into rewarding markets the economic situation and revenues will be highly improved.

Before going into this process, HAF was convinced and had a strong trust that Moroccans are hard workers and all they needed is a little something to be launched; for instance a material to start, a workshop to begin, training, facilitations, seeds/seedlings, agricultural terraces…
The beauty of where we are – Morocco – is that all the fundamentals we need are in place, it is just about actualizing it and implementing…  Where is the button to push?

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Caleb Tisdale, 3 June 2019
HAF Intern, University of Virginia

The door is always open at the High Atlas Foundation. Often, it is literally open in an attempt to generate some airflow in the office. It is also open in the sense that people are constantly going in and out. My friend Shermeen says it’s like a talk show and you never know which guest will next walk through the door. During my week’s time at HAF, I’ve met staff members and volunteers from Morocco, France, Germany, and more. I’ve met journalists from Germany and anthropologists from Spain. I’ve also met Moroccan farmers who tend to tree nurseries high in the Atlas Mountains.
Today, I had the pleasure of meeting 14 high school students from Richmond, Virginia, travelling to Morocco as a part of Envoys travel programs. Their exploration so far has consisted of stops in Rabat, Fes, traditional Amazigh villages, and now Marrakech. When Dr. Ben-Meir asked what they felt was the purpose of their trip, students had answers such as increasing cultural awareness and sharing awareness upon their return. They also spoke about personal goals like challenging their own comfort zones. The goal of their visit with HAF was to have discussion about integrating education and development.
Spurred on by thoughtful questions, Dr. Ben-Meir explained what development means to a foundation like High Atlas in a country like Morocco. A connection was made between the “experiential learning” the group has had in Morocco and the “participatory development” of HAF. The purpose of participatory development was defined as “helping people solve their own problems.”
This is what has stood out to me the most about the mission of HAF: empowering people to make their own decisions and truly see themselves in the outcomes. Much like how the office door is always open, the High Atlas Foundation has opened many doors for development across Morocco.

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Camelia Harkousse
HAF Intern

On a hot sunny day of May 30, 2019, the group accompanied by Errachid Montassir and Amina El Hajjami, left HAF Office in Marrakech by 9 o’clock in the morning, towards the Amazigh village of Akrich. The drive took about 30 min to get to the village.

The first site visited was the HAF tree nursery, which grows pomegranate and fig saplings to cover community and school garden needs in different parts of Morocco. The nursery is established on a land adjacent to 700-year old mausoleum of Rabbi Raphael Cohen, which is a land area that is granted in-kind by the Moroccan Jewish community. The yearly production is about 25,000 of pomegranate and fig saplings.
Organic agriculture production is the ultimate community target and the best way to add value to local products. One of the obstacles that the community with HAF is working to address is the building of knowledge and capacities regarding organic cultivation, to assist in securing certification of their product.

The group visited the mausoleum where Jewish people from around the world come together each year to celebrate and pray. This creates links between local population and the Jewish pilgrims, which results in many cooperation acts; the provision of land for the establishment of the nursery in Akrich is an eloquent example in this respect. Abderrahim Beddah, the caretaker, told us about how Jews cry when they come to the mausoleum or when it is time to leave. They feel a deep connection to their Moroccan roots.
The UVA students were surprised to learn that Moroccans think about the cultural connections between Jews and Moroccans, while it is always about political issues discussions back in the USA.

At a second site, the group visited a women’s cooperative at Achbarou. It was initially a men’s association before where they held literacy classes for women and established a kindergarten.
Ms. Monica from Argentina accompanied the group to the cooperative where she tutored the women on how to use natural dye to color wool in a safe way.  This included training in how to extract the dyes naturally and how to use them on wool to be sold or used in making carpets.

Ms. Miryam, an artist from Netherlands, also accompanied us. She sees colors in people and uses them when she draws her portraits. She is planning to paint a portrait to show women’s strength. There were also young girls who stopped going to school and are now learning embroidery with Ms. Fatima, a volunteer trainer in the cooperative.
Ms. Lalla, a woman who is running another cooperative nearby teaches a class for little girls and literacy for older women. A group of women who worked with wool also greeted the group.
Everyone was very pleased to be there. In addition, the women were happy to see us and the young girls were so happy to interact with UVA students. Before leaving, we all took a group photo with the women.

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HAF Volunteer

In order to promote and preserve the multicultural past that Morocco is known by, HAF has taken immediate action in partnership with local communities. These actions aim to protect the endemic tolerance and peace in Morocco and the long coexistence between the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities. The mission of HAF and its partners is to value this history and record among the local communities and especially among Moroccan youth through cultural dialogue.

On the 17th of May HAF team headed to Essaouira in the morning of a sunny day. HAF’s president, Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, two staff members, and two volunteers went to Essaouira to take part in an event organized by Marock Jeunes association. “Falnazraa al Okhowa” which means in English “Let’s plant fraternity” is an event that took place in different cities in Morocco at 3:00 PM.

The holy month of Ramadan is an exceptional opportunity to demonstrate fraternity, solidarity, and respect values.  Under the label Morocco Alghad, Marock Jeunes association suggested planting three olive trees in different religious places. As a sign of fraternity, the initiative aims to plant three olive trees in a church, mosque, and a synagogue at the same time.

The field visit started with visiting the Christian cemetery in Essaouira. This cemetery is one of the cemeteries, including the Muslim and the Jewish cemetery that HAF restored and still taking charge of the cleaning and the planting activities. HAF and its local partners have also developed proposals in order to restore the Franciscan Church that can be used as a suitable space where local civil associations can work and meet together.

As it was planned, at 3:00 PM when the participants from different religious background met at Essaouira’s Church.  There were participants from different ages, primary school student, university students, employees, retirees, and members from the local civil society who came to be part of this initiative.

After planting the olive tree in the Church, all the participants walked to Bayt Adakira museum in Essaouira. The museum sheds light on the history of the Jewish community that was living in this small port city. This museum holds memories of the Jewish families who were living in the city but immigrated after decolonization to Israel or to the West, as it is the case in the rest of the cities throughout Morocco. The construction of this museum was supported by the high royal patronage, and special care of the Royal counselor, Andre Azoulay.


The Headquarter of the Zaouia Alkadiria was the last place to plant an olive tree in Essaouira. It represents one of the few landmarks in Essaouira. The building itself witnessed the long history and great importance in the life of the Muslim community. Soon after getting in the main room of the Zaouia, we were warmly welcomed by beautiful songs sung by the young school children who attended this Zaouia each week to study verses from the Koran and religious local songs. After a small word delivered by the Director of the Zaouia, we planted an olive tree and we took a group picture with all the participants.

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Peter Wu, HAF Volunteer

Essaouira may stand as a great example to the world for how religious diversity should prevail: Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities have historically co-existed in Essaouira peacefully. While other regions of the world are endlessly fighting over religious matters, it is both interesting and delightful to observe how the Essaouira people get along with each other so well.

I am Peter Wu, a Chinese student currently studying at Western University in Ontario, Canada. During my third week in Morocco, I was brought on a journey with the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) to the city of Essaouira.
So, what was my expectation before the trip?
Frankly speaking, my knowledge of the area was so limited that I had no sense of what to expect in Essaouira. Nonetheless, it turned out to be a very insightful experience; even with no expectations to fulfill, there was still a sense of fulfillment in the journey.

Morocco is an Islamic state—a fact that was rooted in my mind. Therefore, it was a surprise to me in Essaouira that the land is not only home to Muslims but also Jews and Christians, whom equally enjoy everyday life and have the right to practice their own religions. A Christian church was the first place we visited; then we went to a mosque, where we sat on carpets and listened to a choir of local Moroccan kids sing. Lastly, we visited a Jewish museum where Jewish ancestors’ histories were commemorated. “Rich history rich culture,” I thought.

HAF Volunteer Peter Wu from China watering the olive tree planted by the people of the three faiths at Synagogue Slat Attia in Essaouira.

What could I relate to from this journey?
I grew up in Guangzhou, China, a megacity located in the country’s southern region. People there are kind and welcoming, and many hold a sense of pride to their hometown. Guangzhou is home to a unique language spoken only by locals, and which is relatively distinct from Mandarin (China’s official language): Cantonese. You get used to people not speaking Cantonese on the street. Locals of Guangzhou are proud of their culture, but that is not the only thing that makes the city special.
Guangzhou is fast-growing—the population continues to increase. As a result, car traffic is congested, leading government leaders to constantly look for new solutions to alleviate it. However, attempts to avoid the traffic by taking public transportation has resulted in crowds at the train station to pour in and out like water flow when a train comes by. Also, on the streets, large crowds quickly walk by Canton Tower every night, resembling ant colonies. Insofar, sometimes you might wonder if Guangzhou has changed from the culture and the distinct linguistic feature it once represented.

Nevertheless, I am glad that the city in which I grew up has a value of tolerance for all, just like Essaouira. There was never hatred for newcomers or outsiders from Guangzhou; the city welcomed all people with open arms. Guangzhou is not fearful of others who try to settle and be a part of the city—the culture continues to absorb and to renew itself from “the new.” People have mutual respect for each other and try to understand the differences between them without judgment. Perhaps this is why the city is always marching forward: it gains strength from new people, and when those people become a part of the city, Guangzhou is strengthened as a whole. Of course, there are problems and disputes at times, but the city’s attitude is always positive.
Guangzhou is great, but there was something else I was lacking the knowledge of when I grew up. Guangzhou believes in diversity, however, you rarely witness diversity of religion there. As you can guess, this is the aspect I liked about Essaouira: a perfect example of what I had previously been unexposed to, where the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people are living harmonically in the same city.

There are 77,966 people living in Essaouira—a small population—making it unusual to see such a religious mixture. While it is a small region, I feel a much greater sense of inclusion. I suppose people in Essaouira are living happily. Vivid proof, to me, includes the people I observed walking the streets before Iftar and the peddling vendors by the roadside. One question I have to ask is: did the peaceful and happy lives of people in Essaouira bridge the gap between religions, or did the religious harmony provide the foundation of pleasant life? In other words, which of the two came first in Essaouira’s history, and which of them is more of a determinant?
This may be a tough question to answer, but regardless of what you think, the reality is that communities in Essaouira enjoy cohesion and peace. Therefore, the question I posed becomes less significant. The message many other parts of the world could take from Essaouira is: let the people have a good quality of life and embrace the diversities in their religions. After all, we are all the same in that there is no real difference among us in the existence of humanity.

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By Houria Chouhab
HAF Volunteer

Marrakech is a city entrenched in diversity, this diversity manifests itself in many ways: economically, culturally, and perhaps most notably, religiously.
On 21st of May, Mr. Jacky Kadoch, the President of the Jewish Community in Marrakech-Safi region, organized an Iftar ceremony that brought both Muslim and Jewish communities together to the same table. This assembly was honored by the presence of an official delegation presided by Mr. Karim Kassi-Lahlou, prefect of the region Marrakech-Safi. High Atlas Foundation was also invited to this fraternity reunion and with great pleasure, Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, HAF President, accepted the request and assisted with a part of his team. The Iftar ceremony was held in Beth El Synagogue, which means the House of God in Hebrew.
When I entered the synagogue, many things grabbed my attention, most especially the harmony of both Red Tarbouch, Moroccan Muslim hat, and the Kippa, the Jewish hat. In one table, you find a Moroccan man with his Djellaba and Tarbouch, and by his side sits his Jewish peer with a Kippa. Such a marvelous harmony!

Before sunset, the Imam, or Muslim priest, gave a sermon about this religious fraternity and the shared call for unity instead of fragmentation among all religions. This unity and coexistence among Jews and Muslims is not a new idea, it is seen in the past by the way the prophet Mohamed (PBUH) used to treat his Jewish neighbor and servant. Furthermore, the Prophet married the daughter of a chief of one of the Jewish tribes back then. It is also reported that a funeral of a Jew passed before the Prophet (peace be upon him), and as a sign of respect, the Prophet stood up. The Prophet was then asked “Why did you stand up for a Jewish funeral?” and he replied, “Is it not a human soul?” From this example it is clear that it is a must to keep humanity first thanreligion, not the other way around. Upon the conclusion of the Imam’s speech, pigeons were set free into the sky as a sign of peace and happiness between the two religions.

A few minutes afterward, the Adhan (Islamic call to prayer) was raised in Henri Kadoch Synagogue, calling people not only to break their fast but also to celebrate this fraternal union. Since the Iftar was in the courtyard, the president of the Jewish Community, Jacky Kadoch suggested praying inside the synagogue in front of the Holy Ark of Beth El, where the scrolls of the Torah are kept.

This may be an especially unique image that can’t be found in any other Muslim country. Morocco stays an exception and is open to the solidarity of Jews and Muslims living side by side in harmony. The Moroccan king, Mohammed VI, gives great attention and care to the Jewish Community through restoring the Jewish Quartiers, synagogues, and cemeteries. Additionally, Moroccan architecture plays an important role in confirming this coexistence between religions. The Jewish Quartier, El-Mellah, with the Jewish design, is taking place in the center of the Medina and is adding cultural value to the city’s diversity.
The beautiful multiculturalism and harmony of the Moroccan mindset and identity can perhaps be best summed up in the extract of an interview with King Hassan II in “ Le Génie de la Modération”: I have always been convinced that there is no problem without a solution. If the Arabs on one side and the Jews on the other put their genius and all their intellectual faculties in common – as I said once – we are convinced that Abraham’s descendants will find, each on their own side, what would guarantee them dignity, freedom, and sovereignty.

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HAF Volunteer

On the 22nd of May in a commune called Ounagha 25km away from Marrakech MOGADOR Cooperative, a women’s cooperative of Argan products and Amlou, had a meeting with The High Atlas Foundation’s team and the ambassadors of FRÉ Skin Care. Both FRÉ and HAF execute activities within this cooperative, benefitting the women and their kids.
The women who work in this cooperative have always the habit of welcoming their guests with “Youyous”, Moroccan chants in special ceremonies. The members of both HAF and FRÉ praised the hard work of these women inside the cooperative and encouraged them to step forward in order to go through the international market. The women, in return, expressed their happiness with this visit and articulated the changes that have happened in their lives since they integrated into the cooperative. One of the women explained that she grew up with the Argan tree that is now her source of living.

As in any place in Morocco, tea is always served as a sign of hospitality, but what was special that day is what accompanied the tea: Argan oil and Amlou (Mixture of almond, argan oil, pure honey, and sesame). The smell of Argan filled the room, seducing you to enjoy the richness of a deep-rooted tree.
People are not the only beneficiaries of the Argan tree, the cattle also benefit from eating the outside of the Argan fruit. Argan oil can be also used in Tagines- imagine the taste of a goat’s meat Tagine (goat in most areas of Essaouira are fed from Argan tree) with vegetables and Argan oil. This was exactly the dish made in the cooking class that followed the tea break, in which HAF and FRÉ members made lunch following the instruction of the cooperative’s women.

Following this amusing visit to the cooperative, we headed to Essaouira to meet some journalists from the American Embassy to shoot a documentary with Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, HAF’s president,  about the coexistence between religions in Morocco. The shooting took place in the Jewish cemetery, the synagogue Rabbi Haïm Pinto, and Synagogue Slat Attia. During the interview, Dr. Ben-Meir mentioned a beautiful example that demonstrates the fraternity between people who adhere to different faiths but who all believe in Humanity: Muslim men burying their Christian brother in the Christian cemetery. This may sound like an ordinary act that doesn’t need mentioning, but if we contemplate, we will feel the unity that this world needs to activate in order to achieve peace.
Last week, a good initiative has been launched in Casablanca, and that we also implemented together in Essaouira, where young people planted olive trees in three places of worship of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. For more insights, read the article:

The visit to Essaouira came to its end, but our journey was still to be marked by another happy moment in order to be completed. In our way back to Marrakech, our HAF team had to stop in Chichaoua in order to break the fast. We parked the car and chose a café to partake in food, but we were surprised to know that the Iftar meal (a meal with which Muslims break their Fast at sunset during Ramadan) was for free to whoever stops by the place and that the only thing to be paid was the parking. Watching the sun set behind the mountains and the stars slowly arrived made me think of my day which was about to end, but with HAF, the best is always yet to come.

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