By Kerstin Opfer
“Morocco will surprise you every day. There will be no day without a good surprise.” I will always remember these words of Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, president of the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), when I first came to Marrakesh. And each day teaches me once more how right he was. During the last week I had the one-time opportunity to accompany HAF’s President and the retired Peace Corps Country Director of Morocco, Ellen Paquette, to a business trip around Morocco and experienced first-hand the magic of this country.
Our trip started with the annual tree planting celebration at the January 16th event in Temara-Skhirat, near Rabat. The High Atlas Foundation planted trees together with the United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, Dwight Bush, Sr., school children, and teachers. To host the very last public event of Ambassador Bush before he returned to the United States was an honour for HAF, and it took place on the anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was breath-taking to see the student’s motivation when they recognized how volunteerism and combined community efforts are able to create sustainable development.
Propelled by this spirit we drove to Fes where we were welcomed warmly by Mustafa Mouslih, the director of the Association of Volunteer Development Experts. Professor Berrada, another member of the association invited us to his family, where we had a delicious meal, inspiring talks and music. Sitting together in their living room, singing “We are the world” accompanied by the guitar of the family’s son Amine will always be memorable for me. I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality, their creativity and spirit.
The next two days were filled with meetings to establish projects and partnerships for example with the Education Delegation of Moulay-Yacoub. This partnership already resulted in the plan to establish of a nursery at the Houssein Ben Ali Middle School. This will be the first school that provides their land to build a community tree nursery. In the future, this nursery will benefit approximately a thousand farming families by providing them with organic fruit trees. Furthermore the revenue for new developmental projects is generated by establishing the entire agricultural value chain from nurseries to market. Therefore planting fruit trees that grow indigenously and naturally is essential for the viability of sustainable development projects. It was extraordinary to experience how little pieces can come together resulting in a sustainable project that will bring great benefits to the people.
Another partnership with the University Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah (USMBA) in Fes allows HAF to use their land for planting trees, and the University contributed office space for a HAF experiential training Center. Additionally, Yossef Ben-Meir gave an inspiring talk about how to establish sustainable development projects to students of the University. Another surprise was that the USMBA president Professor Omar Assobheiinvited us for a delicious lunch in a seafood restaurant. We hope that you enjoy these photos from Fes.
Next destination of our trip was Oujda and Figuig, where we discussed with the presidents of twelve municipalities and the regional director of Andzoa about creating a single partnership that includes all entities to implement projects that meet shared priorities of the entire region. It was the first time all parties gathered around one table and discussed the developmental opportunities for their region. Initializing such opportunities carry great potential, because new partnerships will expand networks that bring new ideas and cooperation. Professor Naima Benazzi, HAF-Oriental president, did an incredible job in bringing everyone together.
After lunch, we visited the Aziza cooperative in Figuig, one of the last places, where the rare and expensive Aziza date variety is grown. The day in Figuig came to a beautiful end as we watched the sun hiding behind the countless palm trees, colouring everything in a warm orange. On our way back from Figuig to Oujda we were surprised by an intense snow storm, wherefore the police closed the road to Oujda. Without any hotel in the small city we were blessed that we found a place to stay with a nice man, the cousin of our colleague, Professor Aomar Anane. Our kind host, Mr. Boubker, served us hot tea and nuts, equipped us with numerous cosy blankets and offered us his living room as night quarter. Beside the fact that the snow storm crossed our plans we kept up the spirit of positivity. The energy of this evening was truly memorable. We were all stuck in the same situation and had to make the best out of it. On no other evening we laughed as much as on this one. On the next day the road was free again and we travelled through a white landscape back to Oujda where we decided to go back to Marrakech until the weather cleared. Here is are some photos from Oujda-Figuig.
This trip taught me that working in sustainable development means to be diplomatic, emphasize networking and meeting people, discussing, introducing ideas and learning how to deal with setbacks and money shortcomings. But I also learned that countless opportunities await behind each corner and being able to put them into practice is a great joy and pleasure. Observing how fast and successful HAF’s mission spreads and ideas come to fruition will always propel and inspire me to pursue my own dreams. Morocco truly is a land of infinite possibilities that result into dreams fulfilled if we just never stop trying. I am so thankful that Si Yossef, Ellen Paquette and HAF gave me this incredible opportunity to learn and grow in experiences.