by Noah Kohlmayer
On Friday the 11th of March, I attended the fifth annual international conference on education quality hosted and organized by the University Ibn Zohr of Agadir. The invited speakers’ talks I heard were focused on the general topic of “national and local policy initiatives.” This set’s chair was Ms. Nena Rončević from the University of Rijeka, Croatia. Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir was invited and held his talk on “education and sustainable development in Morocco.”
Dr. Ben-Meir started by underlining the importance of university students for the dynamic community-based process. Community-driven control of all aspects of the developing process is the primary factor that determines sustainability. Community participation is equal, if not more essential, than finance. In Morocco, community participation is embedded in programs, policies, and charters of the nation. It is integral to the inception of the National Initiative for Human Development, the basis for Moroccan decentralization.
Even though these policies and programs exist, it is hard to thrive and grow this approach. It always comes to implementation where it comes to struggles. We have learned that in village communities where people come together, evaluate and identify what’s important to them in their locality, clean drinking water is still a top priority in rural Morocco. Besides that, irrigation, cooperative building, fruit tree agriculture, medicinal plants, and school infrastructure are the most frequent wishes for Moroccan communities.
Participation and development have been shown to be more effective if the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) has had the prior opportunity for introspection. HAF follows community planning with Imagine empowerment workshops, where they address inhibitions, uncertainties, fears, etc., that withhold people from believing in their dreams and/or abilities. Dr. Ben-Meir clarified what allows HAF to expand these processes at a grander scale. He pointed out that HAF currently does not have enough trained facilitators to grow as much as he would wish and want to. Secondly, what challenges expansion is funding to implement the projects designed for this process. He remarked that in a typical rural community, the combined annual income among all the households is rarely over USD 20,000 – USD 30,000. In contrast, such a project including a well for drinking water, with an integrated irrigation design and infrastructure, and a solar water pump incorporated would come to about USD 40,000 – USD 50,000.
Moudawana in Darija (Moroccan Arabic) translates to “Family-law.” Dr. Ben-Meir described that the vast majority of rural Moroccans do not know the term, yet the highly educated women HAF works closely with all know of it and know it to be a point of activism. Empowering and training university students experientially to be facilitators is critical to reaching more areas. He noted that most people they work with on these projects are illiterate, and they need to be writers to get funding. Closing up, he summarized by saying that HAF has learned all the approaches by doing. “It all is a process of learning by doing.” – Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir.
Concluding, this symposium was enlightening and inspiring at the same time. Dr. Ben-Meir conveyed essential aspects of HAF’s work approach and the right way for expansion and work, focusing on a sustainable and effective future in development for not only Morocco but also globally.