by Rachael Diniega
Peace Corps Morocco Volunteer
My town’s middle and high school campus with olive trees
Fifty trees for the middle and high school, and over one hundred trees for the elementary school, equaling more than 150 chances for youth in my town to dig in the soil, care for another living organism, and learn about both agriculture and small-scale ecosystems. Or so it was determined in coordination with community members in the town where I live when High Atlas Foundation (HAF) Project Manager Said Bennani came to visit its schools.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I work at a youth center in a small, rural village in the Middle Atlas Mountains southeast of Fes. My counterpart Khaoula, a high school teacher and volunteer with World Merit—an organization that encourages local activists to promote the Sustainable Development Goals, and I have sought to expand environmental learning opportunities for the youth with whom we work. In August, we attended a training with other Peace Corps Volunteers in our Environment Working Group at the HAF office in Marrakech, learning about HAF resources and how to use the participatory approach with our community-based development projects.
Inspired by the enthusiasm shown by HAF employees, Khaoula came to me with the idea of requesting trees from HAF to plant at her high school. She said she would talk to her school principal and students. Both ended up encouraging her to organize a tree-planting event. In early December, she invited Said to visit our mountain village.
Said, the elementary school principal, and Khaoula
After talking with the principal of the high school, Said suggested the addition of fruit trees along the edges of the campus in addition to the existing olive trees scattered throughout the grounds. Then Said asked if we could visit the neighboring elementary school, where we discovered that the principal was already enthusiastic about creating a long-term environmental program! The tree planting would be an opportunity to initiate it. Leading us around the school grounds, he shared ideas for teaching his students: creating simple DIY (do-it-yourself) watering systems, grafting fruit trees, building and taking care of a duck habitat, and recycling discarded materials into plant pots. We all left feeling hopeful not only for his students, but also for the students at the other elementary schools spread out along the mountain and valley: inshallah, they will be able to learn from his upcoming experiences.
After a brief visit to a government-run tree nursery combating desertification, we said goodbye to Said. But that is not the end. Next to come—Khaoula will work with the school principals to ensure that they have materials and supplies for the plantings, coordinate with the nursery and HAF to obtain trees and soil, and plan environmental education lessons to accompany the tree-planting with participating youth. The planting is scheduled for a few weeks into the next school semester—updates will be forthcoming!
Tree nursery in a nearby douar