November 24, 2015
By Hannah Urtz
The success of a non-profit depends largely upon its key players—their commitment and dedication to the work that they do and their passion for bringing about change. The High Atlas Foundation is no different, relying heavily upon the investment of their stakeholders at all levels, including their office and operations staff. Fortunately, passion for and investment in the work is nothing new to Amina Elhajjami, HAF’s Project Manager of a year and a half.
Responsible for a number of environmental, educational and empowerment projects across Morocco, Amina finds herself balancing between facilitating, training and organizing individuals in each community that she works with. Her current projects range from business training in Tassa Orurgane to environmental initiatives in Imgdal and Al Haouz Rahamnh provinces. Yet her most personally fulfilling work comes from her involvement with women in rural communities.
“My favorite part of my job is the participatory approach with women. To develop the capacity of the woman is what I like best,” said Amina, who works with women’s groups in Ourika, Asni and Akrich Community in Tamslouht. Although projects vary from region to region, the emphasis is on female empowerment and creating financially and environmentally sustainable communities.
“You get women who need to start a co-op, but they don’t know what a co-op is. Or they don’t know the difference between a co-op and an association. We need to train them in this,” said Amina. Once a group has established their priorities and goals, Amina and the HAF team work with them to organize and accomplish their objectives. The hope is that the communities will ultimately be able to organize and run themselves without assistance from Amina or HAF.
Although it is a large task to organize and uplift huge groups of women and their communities, Amina draws upon her own life experiences to guide her through the process. Growing up in a rural Amazigh community in the Al Haouz Province, Amina learned at an early age the importance of both education and perseverance.
“When I studied, I stopped [during] primary school. The school was too far and the teacher was always absent, so my father said to stay home. But I knew I had to go back,” said Amina. Although she was eventually able to return to school and even continue on to become the second women from her village to attend college, Amina works to ensure other girls have the same opportunities.
“When I went [back] to school, so many other girls went to school also. Not all, but some. It was better. Studying… it’s not just for the men. For the girls and the boys it’s the same,” said Amina. For her final project in college, Amina returned to her community to conduct research on the high number of school dropouts. She found that some of the most significant challenges were factors that are often overlooked. More schools, better transportation and dorms and spaces for girls are all some of the solutions that Amina sees for rural communities.
“You have many solutions, but also [it’s important] to change the mentality of the parents. In many places it is the custom and tradition, but if we can make it easier to get to school that will help,” said Amina, who, inspired by her own upbringing, started her work in sustainable development immediately after graduating from Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech.
Although she enjoys and plans to continue her work with women’s groups and female education, Amina also sees even bigger ways to plant the seeds for change by working with young people and students. “They will learn to take responsibility, how to develop their communities and how to help others and work with others,” she said.
Amina also has plans to return to school to get her master’s degree and PhD in human development and geography. Her goal is to continue to help bring about change across Morocco.
“I want to continue to develop myself. Because when I develop myself I have the ability to help develop others,” she said.
Hannah is a recent high school graduate from Colorado spending the 2015-2016 academic year in Morocco. She is studyingArabic in Marrakech as a recipient of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship.