By Jan T.
Rachid and I visit the often overlooked villages of the Vallée d’Azzaden and meet with local people.
Efforts to coordinate actions and stimulate cooperation throughout the Vallée d’Azzaden are starting to take shape. To facilitate our communication, we decided to host a breakfast with community members (some of whom are members of civil associations) of the twelve villages along the valley. The setting: the Saturday Souk in Asni, a weekly market where items for sale range from fruit and vegetables to cows and donkeys, spices, clothes, household utensils and everything in between. Most people from the nearby towns make a trip to the market anyway, so it gave us the perfect opportunity to have a sit-down over some eggs, bisara (a thick bean soup with olive oil) and msemen (thick, pancake-like bread with honey or crème cheese).
During the meeting with the members of the different villages, we agreed that Rachid and I would come and visit them during the next week to hold participatory meetings and discuss their challenges and opportunities. Early morning several days later, we set out from Ouirgane for a couple of days of community discussions on the past and future development, and intense hiking through the beautiful valley while meeting incredible people along our way. The first stops were Augni, Amras and Tikhfiste, this last one being a remote village perched on a lone peak. However beautiful the views up there might have been, their location did not make their situation any easier: schoolchildren had to spend two hours a day hiking up and down the mountain to go to school, 120 hectares of fruit- and nut trees were dying due to insufficient water infrastructure, and getting to a doctor proved to be a difficult task for the most vulnerable members of the community.
After spending the night with my host family in Tassa Ouirgane, Rachid and I headed out to explore the even more remote side of the valley. Currently, the first five villages of the area are connected to Ouirgane and the main route by a dirt road just big enough for cars and camions to pass and transport supplies. However, this road stops in Azerfsane, after which a mule treks lead to seven more villages hidden deep in the High Atlas region. After conversations with inhabitants, it becomes clear that these villages seem almost overlooked and forgotten, causing problems for mobility, economic possibilities, government support, and education.
However urgent the problems for these villagers and their way of life may be, inhabitants of the villages are gearing up to face them head-on. In every community we visited, we found people had already founded organizations, requested funding and proposed projects aimed improving life in their village. More than anything else, it is this incredible human potential that will enable these communities to adapt to the challenge posed by climate change and improve the quality of their own lives.