In 1993, for the month before my traveling to live in the Tifnoute Valley just south of Mount Toubkal, I lived in a small house on the outer edge of the village of Tassa Ouirgane, just north of Toubkal. There, I learned conceptually the delicate balance in meeting developmental and environmental goals at the same time, the time consuming and sometimes tranquil obligation to fetch drinking water, and depth in faith feeling comfortable with a sense of personal purpose without knowing what it is. They were, I presume, typical initial days of one’s Peace Corps Volunteer service.
Tassa Ouirgane, today, is the location where mid-teenage girls – denied middle school education for socio-cultural-economic-geographic reasons – have created a cooperative managing a fruit tree nursery that serves their region. Cruel gender norms of lifelong consequence thwarted their participation in school, and those norms and divisions have now been overcome in the economic sphere, with the girls’ cultivation and ownership of thousands of little trees that will uplift the region with food and income bounty, once they sell them.
Let’s help the Tassa Ouirgane cooperative plant in their nursery 40,000 walnut, carob, pomegranate, almond and fig trees in 2020. There is no travel involved, no density created; the precautions to keeping COVID 19 at bay are still in full force, as two teams of two girls in shifts and distance plant along an agricultural terrace located within their own mountain village.
In the past years, the High Atlas Foundation, with UNDP-GEF and USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer program (F2F), facilitated planning workshops with the five girls who formed their cooperative. Managerial and agricultural technical topics were covered with regular sessions. The men’s village association first started the tree nursery, and handed the project to the girls, who are determined, hard-working, and now earning income. Let’s further reinforce the reality that empowerment can be found in all paths. One of the girls returned to school, with the added confidence found in cooperative sisterhood.
$20,000 will plant the 40,000 fruit seeds with the girls, who will grow them into saplings and sell them to farming families in the Marrakech-Safi region. Give to a project that is all about cooperative building, gender justice, girls’ education, and food security. Help this nursery born from international friendship to flourish. Former Peace Corps Volunteer and F2F Volunteer Mark Apel also helped Tassa Ouirgane know even better days, decades after his sojourn with its people.
The fund created in loving memory of Bernard Mejean supports girls’ education and achieves the change that was in his heart. Established by Bernard’s family, the fund provides the means for girls to stay or return to school, by promoting essential infrastructure and personal empowerment to affirm and make informed decisions. The precipitous drop in girls’ participation in education between primary and middle school is knee-bending when we try to grasp the loss of people’s potential, especially when we imagine the devastating feeling for the girls when they realize their formal education is over.