The Participatory Approach Put to Work in Marrakech’s Mellah Neighborhood

By Lloyd Farley


 Interfaith Iftar (Ramadan’s break of fast) was hosted on Thursday the 8th and Sunday the 11th with the joint efforts of different community organizations including Association Mimouna, High Atlas Foundation and various local associations. Hosted at the historic Slat Lazama Synagogue, the meeting brought together both Jewish and Muslim Moroccans to share a meal and discuss their needs together. The meeting took place at the synagogue in the Mellah, the historic Jewish quarters of Marrakech that is economically marginalized yet undergoing efforts of revitalization. The meeting was an opportunity for community members to discuss and pinpoint the changes that they wanted to see and help implement in their community.



After Iftar the 50 community members split up into different groups where they were instructed to layout the various resources and infrastructure that is currently available to them. Additionally, they also discussed various resources that they would like to see introduced into the community, such as hospitals, youth centers, a police substation and even a place to play soccer for the kids. At each table the small groups were having energetic conversations and people were undoubtedly bonding as they found common ground in their shared experiences and desires. This small group interaction was facilitated by a community mapping project, which provides a way for small groups to intuitively share the way they experience their surroundings on a large sheet of paper with provided markers. Additionally, the small groups were instructed to list some of the things they would like to see introduced to their neighborhood.



Once all of the maps were completed the community regrouped back into one group. During this time members of the smaller groups were given the opportunity to present their maps to the entire group. This period of the meeting lead to some of the most robust discussions where people found opportunities to speak up about their needs in front of a larger audience. It was also quite inspiring to see people with different perspectives to be able to reach common ground during these discussions. The conclusion met by the entire group was that the number one priority was a hospital. The need for a hospital was followed up closely, in terms of priority, by the need for a school for younger children.


The real beauty of the participatory approach implemented by the High Atlas foundation can be found in the ways that it can help take the various concerns that were presented during the mapping portion of the exercise and prioritize them by order of importance. The ability to take the sheer number of concerns and meaningfully translate them into a list of actionable items was incredible. While during the large group discussion portion many people were sharing their desire to “stop talking and act.” What these community members realized is that action is important, which is true, but a consistent roadblock is not properly translating the needs that were communicated earlier into manageable list that allows for efforts to be coordinated and multiplied. Additionally, this process allows community members to, essentially, speak directly to outside organizations about their needs so that any revitalization efforts can be the most properly applied according to those needs. 




These community meetings and break of fasts together marked the first of many to be held at the synagogue and other locations for the people of the Mellah. These meetings will involve different segments of the population, such as women and children, in order to make sure that all perspectives are taken into account. The meeting will also be followed up with food distribution and efforts to secure funding to go to projects that will address the needs brought up at the meetin


-The writer is a third year Anthropology student from the University of Texas at Austin and intern with the High Atlas Foundation.




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