At midday today, following the singing of the National Anthem and the raising of the Moroccan flag, Mr Abdelouahab El Jabri, the Governor of Essaouira Province, lifted the first spade of earth to plant the first of 23 olive trees in the grounds of Agdal Primary school in the commune of Ait Said, Essaouira Province. In doing so, his actions mirrored those of HAF partners at 42 other sites in 8 Moroccan Provinces at the very same time. This opening act of the Essaouira Province celebration of the planting of HAF’s one millionth tree took place with around 150 pupils, 8 teachers and the school directors from the main and 4 satellite schools, plus representatives of local and provincial authorities including Mr. Ahmed El Ghannami, Delegate of Education, and Mr. Ahmed Najid, Acting Provincial Director of Agriculture, as well as members of the local community and the Parents’ Association.
After a round of applause, everyone took turns to ensure the first tree was well bedded-in and watered before the pupils took over, planting another 22 trees and encircling them in stones they had painted in bright colours. Some of the tools were larger than the children, but they all dug, planted, watered and decorated with enthusiasm and yet gave the impression of knowing the potential magnitude of their apparently small efforts.
Ait Said commune, like 85% of Essaouira Province, is profoundly rural. Although it lies on the border of Arab and Amazigh (Berber) tribal areas, its agriculture reflects that of the Chiadma (Arab) northern region and features many fields of olive trees as well as other forms of subsistence and commercial agriculture. Life here is hard – particularly at this time of year when the rains are slow to arrive. For these reasons, therefore, the choice of a local certified olive species for the school yard was no coincidence: olives grow well here; their usefulness is well-known. As a result, at their young age, these children are already keenly aware of the value and importance of fruit tree culture to their community.
This was demonstrated during workshops where Rakia Hanine, Participatory Facilitator and President of Argania Association, and Mr. El Jabri discussed with the kids issues around the environment and caring for the trees. When asked their wishes for their school, the children replied, “a clean, unpolluted environment,” and hoped that the trucks which pass several times a day to a nearby gas exploration site, would stop and leave them in peace. These sentiments were reflected in paintings they made for today, which featured trees, animals and birds, clear blue skies and a colourful school yard. Unlike the kids in the city, who can been seen tormenting animals or throwing stones at them, these children play alongside cats, dogs, birds and bees in their school yard in a gentle way. These children respect nature – they cannot fail to – the land and the trees are key to their families’ survival.
Following the planting and educational activities, the students enjoyed dancing and jumping with a clown. After all that exercise, we enjoyed a festive lunch – like the kind we’d eat on a special occasion like a wedding – prepared by the Parents’ Association. Today was a celebration of many kinds with the children of Agdal school: of the culmination of the One Million Tree campaign but also of a new beginning. Today’s activities were HAF’s first in schools in Essaouira Province and we hope that they are just the start of greater engagement with schools in the province, under the umbrella of Sami’s Project and in conjunction with HAF’s organic fruit tree and plant nursery in Essaouira.
After all the celebrations and festivities, it was time to go home. And just at that moment, something happened that people in rural Essaouira Province have been hoping and praying for for months… It finally started to rain.