By Professor Ellen Hernandez
The High Atlas Foundation’s office in Marrakech is a beehive of activity. I am a new volunteer who arrived in Morocco yesterday and already met with office staff. Today, I have been invited to return to meet Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, the HAF president, and I have just entered during an afternoon staff meeting. I am immediately encouraged to pull up a chair and join them as they discuss the logistics of next week’s Annual Tree Planting Day, when they will simultaneously distribute 200,000 fruit tree saplings from HAF’s nurseries to a number of villages around the nation.
I am struck by the egalitarian style of the meeting, with Dr. Ben-Meier inviting suggestions and contributions from volunteers and staff members. They are young and enthusiastic, full of energy, thoughtful about how best to coordinate each site’s activities. In this room, there is plenty of sunlight and camaraderie, but no space for ego, and we work collaboratively, women as well as men taking turns at decision-making about who will go to which village and what community-members will be present for the plantings and so on. Their conversation flows easily in and out of Arabic and English as the cook peeks in, smiling, to see whether we are ready for the midday meal.
Former volunteers will be invited, a press release sent out, but the final question arises: “Where will Yossef be that day?” To this, he asks for a recommendation. After some deliberation, it is decided that he will be in the small town of Amizmiz about one hour away from here because he has not visited there in a while and this will let them know that he cares. Lunch is served, and we gather around the long table in the front room, each with our own spoon and two large platters of hot couscous and vegetables with chicken. As we dip into this shared traditional Friday dish, Dr. Ben-Meir formally introduces me to the group, and I am welcomed and encouraged to get closer and dig in. I do.