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Our time in Azzaden Valley

 

By Maurice Polczynski and Jana Kaben


The Azzaden Valley is part of the El Houz region, 70 km south of Marrakech. It is near the Toubkhal national park, which is developed towards tourists. In contrast, the nine villages of the Azzaden Valley are nearly off the beaten tourist track, which is beautiful. We found the Moroccan spirit that you won't find in Marrakech, but rather in the mountains! Nevertheless, the people suffer from fundamental problems like water scarcity, lack of edu cation, medical treatment and transportation. 

 

One may assume that they have lost hope,but on the contrary, they are the most friendly, hospitable and jolly people altogether! It seems as if the inhabitants of Azzaden Valley live on another planet, one with peace and harmony. When you see the women with cows, sheep, goats wandering down the dry river and next to them, the children of all ages walking around with black lips from the blackberries, searching for medicinal plants, your heart will open! They live with no worries except the struggle for animals and trees, because everyone is a farmer,and support themselves. There is a lot of work to be done, like repairing the waterways, watering (also with pesticides), tying up and harvesting the trees, eating, sleeping and discussing, but nobody is left alone; teamwork is always in order! That is the world of the men as the women are almost completely separated; they don't work on the fields, but take care for the children and the animals, collect food for the animals, wood to cook, and also herbs for the traditional tea. Moreover, they cook and fetch water from the spring as housework. They even eat in the kitchen and not with the guests or men (besides a few exceptions)! 

We were honored to take part in both areas: First of all we had to learn to "fee a tai", the traditional way of pouring in the tea (which is made of a lot of sugar, some green leaves, healing plants that smell very very delicious and grow everywhere like weeds and then some more sugar). There is an equivalent of sweetened coffee, something like a confectionary, but the tea is sipped all day long, at least 4 times a day! The ceremony looks like this: The first three cups are poured back before the first gulp is tasted. If it tastes like sugar you say "imim" and go on with pouring the other cups. But one need a lot of skill and craft to not lose a drop when pouring back, even more to fulfill the task with enough drive and height for a nice arc. It's more or less all about the height because the aim of the ceremony is a gorgeous white bubbling foam that is achieved by lifting the teapot higher and higher while pouring in. 

We tried over and over until Maurice brought it to perfection! The next thing we dedicated ourselves to was the secret of making the traditional bread "arm". The woman of our host Ibrahim showed us how she used to bake it. At this point we needed to learn some words about our accommodation, a gîte d'étape in Tiziane, but we were more like members of the family with a lot of free space. This included a terrace where we could spend a wonderful night under the starshine, only the Milky Way above us, the moon shining and a falling star crossing the sky in front of our eyes. All our wishes were devoted to the valley and to the best of the people who so kindly took us into their rows. We neither felt like strangers, nor as tourists, but as friends, as insiders:D We owe that to Ibrahim who always made us feel comfortable! We were allowed to eat at his home dozens of delicious meals from daily tajine with bread, olives, self made butter, jam, chocolate, diverse fruits over Couscous and lenses to noodles and rice with milk. We had at least 4 meals every day; breakfast (at 11 am because we slept a lot), lunch (at 3 pm), a snack (at 9 pm) and dinner (at 11 pm). Furthermore, we got a lot of extra meals due to our trips around the villages of the valley where the hospitality had no end. When days passed, also the women who normally ate alone in the kitchen joined some meals. The youngest one taught us how to speak Berber and how to dance "afus-afus". It just was a pity that the television was their single amusement! We failed to give the children an understanding of the card game UNO, instead we had even more fun with kicking around a plain basket without touching the ground until one of the girl fell of her chair laughing! The mother laughed at her as well. We felt as snug as a bug in a rug!

Back to the bread: The wife of Ibrahim took us to the kitchen where she had prepared everything. In the bottom of a tajine she mixed warm water with sugar and yeast. Then she added flour and more water with one drop of oil. These were all the ingredients, now it came to the practical application. The dough needed to be literally grabbed, we dug our fingers into the gloop like children and splashed about with childish glee. After it got more tightly it was rolled smoothly from one side to the other until pieces could be teared off which were formed to balls. Each of the balls got with the right technic to a bread. After an hour it was baked in a clay oven directly next to the fire.

Sounds like we did only women's  work? Not at all, most of the time we hiked around to visit the different villages to gain knowledge and personal sight on the problems and needs of the communities and the rest of the time we helped Ibrahim with his work. Well that's not the whole story: We struggled a lot with completing a chess set out of wood...with 2 knives and 1 saw we carved all 32 figures just for fun between the work.

The work we did: 

1.      Watering apple trees

Sounds easy, but the waterway was handmade out of mud and constantly needed to be repaired. More problematic was the condition of the pipes because of the uncountable holes that needed to be taped with plastic pieces. A big amount of our time was spent  laughing, sitting in the sun and enjoying the amazing view over the mountain range, drinking tea as well as having lunch. Another aspect one should know, that if there is work to do, the farmers decide when and how long they want to work, after all after today is tomorrow where you can do the rest. That's the way of thinking, the way of living: Do what you have to do as long as you want. Eat when you're hungry, sleep when you're sleepy, enjoy what you have. If everybody was living this way...

1.      Watering trees

Not the same at all! Before, we were in the mountain, now we acted in the flatland. The genius construction of watering bases on wholes around the trees so that the thirsty soil won't take the water away too fast before the trees got enough (the trees never ever get enough water but like this they survive). Therefor we hacked a deepening around the trees. Maurice' effort was honored by blisters all over his hands and Jana's attempts ended up with children in her arms. All in all very successful, wasn't it! At least a great experience of a farmer's life.

1.      Tying up trees

Climbing on apple trees fits better as a description of what we did or were supposed to do. In fact Ibrahim's son replaced us after the first tree. We started to collect all the rosy apples that fell down while the action. Rapidly, we had too much to carry by ourselves and cleared off with the apples. We only left behind an arrow made of old apples we found underneath the trees. The issue reveals in the huge amount of bad apples that cover the ground. Still, we made our way back collecting wood to boil the fallen apples to purée. We thought that would be a good use instead of letting them rotten. Unfortunately, it took far too much time, required too many resources and wasn't the highlight in its result. For us it felt very ancient to cook on a clay oven with gathered wood from nearby, sitting on the ground with no light except the fire and the children around who joined us.

1.      Gathering information

The hardest part! It combined hiking (one village took us one and a half hour to get there) with a lot of body language to deal with (and a lot of tea and food of course). The difficulty looked like this: The inhabitants spoke Berber, Darijap and Arabic. We on the contrary speak German, English and French. Nevertheless we got along; we just watched wherever something came into view, touched and tested it afterwards. An example: We caught eye of some farmers who didn't water the trunk but the leaves. So we took it ourselves (it smelled strange), afterwards we wanted to try some apples but weren't allowed to. The gesture was hand over throat and the tongue outside. Any guess what that means? 

In many cases we just visited the beautiful agricultural plantations, ate a lot of fruits (apples, plums, walnuts, passion fruits, prickly pears), scribbled down the needs the inhabitants could communicate with finger pointing (mostly about lack of water and destroyed water paths) and admired the big tomatoes, potatoes, onions, zucchinis, beans, hot peppers and other stuff we weren't accustomed with but looked like grown out of nothing (in one village it wasn't some vegetable that astounded us most but a 113 year old guy, sitting in the corner still alive!!). To our luck we discovered two English speaking people who could answer some of our questions. However, looking, taking pictures and walking around was the best strategy! 

We really saw a lot! Accidentally even the cemetery (a normal house) with all the dead people laying under blankets. We saw schools, painted kindergartens, mosques, Hammams, children jumping into brown water basins, future olive oil production, ...

Last but not least we experienced the seldom honor of taking part in a traditional dance with a traditional band and customs! Than, we really felt acquainted, when after ten days our adventures ended. Just one last adventure waited for us on the next morning! We had to get up at 5 am, took all our luggage to the road and waited for the truck to take us back to Marrakech. A Christmas train appeared out of the dark, bright front lights that blinded us, red lights on both sides rattling directly towards us. The best end for such an adventure; a truck full of boxes with apples, goats, luggage and people crowded together on the loading space. Vehicle documents that were passed from an approaching truck on our way and a winding road that was more a hiking path than anything else, everything rumpling upside down. That was fun! 

That was amazing!

That was unique!

Thanks to HAF which enabled us to go there and even more thanks and cheers to Ibrahim who let all the experiences come true! 

 


                 

 

 

Ecosia's recounting of their trip with HAF

The green hills that used to surround the Moroccan cities of Fez, Ifran and Oujda have turned amber. Years of intensive grazing have depleted the soil of its nutrients. Only the oldest villagers remember that their home used to be green, and cooler.

The absence of the ancient forests is so real, so striking, that it’s almost a presence.

One of our planting sites, adjacent to the Jewish community of Ouarzazate.
We travelled to Morocco two weeks ago, in search of a solution. Here’s what we’ll do: your searches will fund six new tree nurseries around Fez, Ifran and Oujda. These nurseries will yield, in a first phase, 1.3 million fruit and nut trees. Thanks to the solar-powered wells, the nurseries will be entirely self-sufficient.
Tanzania
This nursery in Fez will be managed, in part, by school children.
Tanzania
The Before of the Before-After picture. Our biggest Moroccan nursery is located on the grounds of the Al Akhawayn University.
The fruit trees will, in time, restore the hills of Northern Morocco to their original fertility, and they will do so sustainably: fruit trees are an economically attractive alternative to goat farming, one of the main causes of the region’s ecological decline.
The farmers from Taroudant have largely transitioned to fruit tree farming.
A project this ambitious, and this new, needs a manager as experienced as The High Atlas Foundation. The Moroccan-American foundation’s 17-year track record leaves no doubt of its integrity and talent.

In Tadmant, we saw that no amount of rocks can stop The High Atlas Foundation from building a thriving nursery.
In the village of Taroudant, where The High Atlas Foundation launched its first project, we understood how fruit trees can help a community help itself.
At the Hasan II University, we learned how The High Atlas Foundation shares its knowledge with Morocco’s youth.
The High Atlas Foundation convenes a course on participatory management of environmental projects.
A nursery in Ourika, run entirely by women, reassured us of The High Atlas Foundation’s ability to empower marginalised groups through environmental projects. ‘Two years ago these rural women would not have dared to be photographed,’ Amina, the project’s manager, told us. ‘Being in charge of such a big nursery, and becoming economically more self-sufficient, has made them confident of their potential’.

One of the nurseries your searches are funding has left a particularly vivid mark on our minds. You can find it on the edge of the Ben Driss Youth Centre in Fez – a home to children who have dropped out of school, who have been rejected by their families, who have been in conflict with the Law, or who have fallen victim to violent crimes.

We would never have thought that there could be so much joy, so much hope, in such a sad place.

As well as being housed and fed, the children of the Ben Driss Centre continue their education, and are given the opportunity to learn a craft.

The nursery that The High Atlas Foundation has imagined, and that your searches have turned into reality, initiates the children into fruit tree farming. After nursing the saplings for a year, the children will donate them to local farmers. They thus integrate into a community by helping that community thrive.

Our nursery at the Ben Driss centre has been prepared for sowing.

A nursery, it turns out, can provide so much more than trees. It can turn outcasts into full-fledged community members. To even the most vulnerable, it can give a second chance.

Such successes are your successes, too. The saplings growing in our nurseries in Fez, the well that is being dug in Ourika, the apricot tree that will be planted in Ifran: they are your searches bearing fruits.

Problem solving in Ouikaimeden

On Monday the 9th of August, we went with Amina, Project Manager at High Atlas Foundation, to Oukaimeden, a little village in the mountain Atlas, close to Marrakech, to assist to the meeting with the represents of the different villages nearby and the responsible of the different associations. The aim of these periodic meetings is to talk together about the principal problems that villages are facing, trying to find the best solution for everyone.

The topic of the day was related to the places to choose for planting new trees. The partecipating have identified 4 villages that have more urgencies, but considering the different conditions of the villages, different plants are needed.

The participants of the meeting discussed about the principal problem, which is represented by the soil erosion: it is a huge problem because it reduces the productivity of the lands and contributes to the pollution of rivers, lakes and water in general. One solution to fight against soil erosion is, precisely, planting trees because they help saving water and making the soil more stable. For these villages, the represents decided to plant both carrots and cactus.

Another solution is to build some terracing, with the help of cooperatives and benefactors. The terracing put near rivers can avoid water to overflow. In this way farmers can use their resources in the most efficient way possible. By working on the soil productivity, farmers can plan to increase the level of agriculture activities and ensure a better level of life quality for the whole village. Together with terracing, also basins can help regulating the water flow and reaching results in agriculture.

A second important project discussed during the meeting regards the recycle of waste water, that will be collected all together in order to save it and use it in a proper way.

What has been discussed regards also the future of the villages and of the whole area: the associations and the represents of the villages want to start planting trees and plants that can help not only with the soil erosion and with water saving, but that can also help the region to grow and produce more. In order to do so, it is fundamental to understand which types of trees are more suitable to the need of the people and of the soil and how High Atlas Foundation can help the communities to reach this goal.

Considering this, during the meeting they have identified two areas: one in which the focus will be to plant trees for agriculture and a second one in which the focus will be to solve the problems related to soil erosion and water saving.

One of the most amazing thing of this meeting is that we had the opportunity to see how the different responsible and represents are working together to improve the conditions of the villages, even though they have different point of views. We understood how the foundation is helping these villages to grow in a sustainable way, having a real impact on the local reality and enhancing the living conditions. The action of cooperatives is fundamental for the agricultural development in these areas:  they give local people the opportunity to collaborate and do something good and useful for themselves and their villages.

Volunteerism and youth policies

By Fatima Zahra Laarbi

On Tuesday, the 25th of July at Hotel Mogador Opera Marrakech, two of HAF’s team members, Fatima Zahra Laaribi and Errachid Montassir, attended the first participatory regional seminar in Marrakech organized by the Moroccan Volunteer Collective, a non-profit national network.

 

The Marrakech seminar is one of six participatory regional seminars in the capital cities of the six targeted regions (Rabat, Tangier, Fes, Marrakech, Agadir and Oujda). These six regional seminars are part of the project called "Together for the Recognition and Institutionalization of volunteering in Morocco ". It is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Around 80 people attended the seminar, from associations that work with youth as well as volunteers, local and regional authorities, university members and experts in the field of law.

 

The purpose of organizing these six seminars is to sensitize, inform and provide participants with arguments and evidence that requires recognition and institutionalization of volunteering in Morocco.

Another purpose is to create a multi-stakeholder consultation and debate framework on the institutionalization of voluntary service in Morocco in order to facilitate regional consultation in enriching the pre-draft framework law of volunteering.

 

The work of the seminars is carried out in a participatory way in order to give the participants a space for dialogue, debate and expression. The objective is to provide the multi-actor to understand the issues in order to react by raising recommendations and proposals relating to the Voluntary Law.

There were two sessions in this seminar.

 

In the plenary session; there were four interventions where they focused on advocacy strategies as well as youth policies in Morocco, in addition to the Legislation in Morocco.

 

During the afternoon workshops there was a discussion to enrich the form and content of the framework law of volunteering. The objective is to make recommendations to the expert lawyer and the national advocacy support committee in order to discuss and enrich the form and content of the framework law of volunteering.

 

HAF practices experiential learning with youth of all ages and with diverse partners including

universities, Children Protection Centers, public schools, youth centers and associations and with more

than 300 primary, middle and high schools in Morocco through our Sami’s Project.  We are dedicated to

building the skills and opportunities for youth to become active change agents in their communities and

nation.  With directly engaging youth in furthering community projects with local people, youth’s

capacities advances with the projects they help implement.  Also, this article in University World News

written by HAF team members describes our programs’ benefit of reducing vulnerability among at-risk

youth.   

 

 

Investing in people to invest in progress

Hello there! Ellen, here, HAF’s social media intern from Berkeley, California. I have spent the past five weeks with HAF, and I wanted to share my experience with you to tell you about all of the amazing projects HAF is working on and to fill you in on how you can help HAF do more in Morocco!

 

So, how did I, a college student from California, end up in Marrakech, Morocco for a summer of 110-degree weather and endless tagine dinners? Well, I happen to go to a school that offers funding for international summer internships, and I happened to be scrolling through nonprofits throughout Africa and was attracted to the description of an organization in Morocco called the High Atlas Foundation. Once I researched more about the organization and saw countless images of Marrakech’s red architecture, beautiful gardens, and proximate High Atlas Mountains, I think my fate was sealed. I took an internship offer with HAF to be a social media intern, in line with my interest in political communication, and set up to spend the summer overseas.

 

What was so special about HAF? Why was I willing to travel to Marrakech (and endure sweltering weather) for this nonprofit? HAF prides itself on its “participatory approach,” the way in which it works directly with Moroccans to facilitate enduring solutions to specific sustainability problems. Rather than serving as a towering, foreign entity that attempts to impose itsidea of what can help these Moroccans, HAF works directly with the communities it is attempting to help. Now, I read about this approach on HAF’s website before arriving in Marrakech, but I don’t think I fully comprehended its effect until serving on the ground in Marrakech. In previous internships, I barely left the office, even eating breakfast and lunch over my computer screen. This internship was entirely different. HAF spends a majority of its time working directly with Moroccan communities, so, as an intern, I was welcome—and even encouraged—to travel with project leads to areas throughout Morocco to facilitate conversation and follow up with projects to ensure that our help was continuing to be, well, helpful.

 

And let me tell you about these project sites. In the first week, I was asked to do some social media work for “Sami’s Project,” a project that plants trees at local primary schools in memorial of a young boy who died early, living and learning in an arid, treeless village. My coworkers picked me up, and we drove out of the Marrakech busyness through fields of crops, by clay homes, and aside kids playing soccer on dirt fields. After an hour drive, we arrived in the rural, agricultural town of Rhamna at a colorfully painted school, lush with green and shaded by large trees. My Moroccan coworker turned to me, “I am so happy to see how green it is because this school used to have no trees,” he said, beaming. “Oh, you mean when HAF first started working with this school?,” I questioned. “Yes, and when I went to school here, there was only dirt,” my coworker replied. I tried to conceal my surprise, but I was quite honestly pretty shocked to learn that my coworker, who came to work everyday in a button-down shirt and khakis, who spoke flawless English, and who is attending university in Marrakech grew up in this rural village with limited access to water or electricity. He continued to smile, as he introduced us all to this school’s biology teacher—the same biology teacher who taught him many years before.

 

The biology teacher brought us into the classroom, a brightly painted classroom full of excited students wearing long white lab coats. My coworker, still beaming, took center stage. He introduced us all, speaking in Darija, and began asking the students about HAF’s tree planting: if they enjoyed the project, how the trees were doing, and what HAF could continue to do. I stood behind, equally enthused to see student after student, both boys and girls, shoot up hands to respond to my coworker. My coworker drew images of trees, as well as the system of photosynthesis, filling in the process as these students answered his questions. He then continued to ask the students about their aspirations, giving high fives, as we learned about people’s dreams to be doctors, lawyers, police officers, soccer players, farmers, and teachers.

 

I left that classroom overwhelmed by excitement, seeing these boys and girls so enthusiastic about HAF’s projects and passionate about their future. As we left the students, the biology teacher gave us a tour of the trees: thriving fig, olive, apple lemon, and orange trees coloring the campus. He concluded by showing us a workshop of student sustainability projects including a beautiful papier-mâché structure of the greened campus, which stood in stark contrast to photos behind it of the dry, arid campus that existed before HAF’s work.

 

Before leaving the community, we stopped by my coworker’s childhood home, a farm of massive proportions with an equally large family (15 siblings!). Upon arrival, we were flooded by greetings. His mother guided us into a cool room where she insisted upon feeding me (and only me, as I was the only person not observing the month of Ramadan) a Moroccan feast of freshly squeezed juices (yes, multiple), bread, and tea. After talking with her and her family, my coworker led us through their farming fields where we observed their watering techniques and were given bags full of melon, zucchini, squash, and cucumber. As we left the farm and this town, I felt excitement and joy: about these people and about what HAF was doing to help them realize their goals, as well as pride that I was lucky enough to get to see this side of Morocco and work for HAF.

 

That experience was undoubtedly special to me, but it is in no way unique to the HAF experience. During my short tenure with the High Atlas Foundation, I observed HAF working with women’s cooperatives,empowering women to profit from their products and giving them greater opportunities in their personal lives. I drove with HAF on windy, rocky roads to nurseries in the High Atlas Mountains to help create sustainable water practices that allow farmers to be more successful and simultaneously more environmental. I saw HAF facilitate community discussions in some of the most poverty-stricken areas of Marrakech to try to find ways to lift all people up. These examples, and so many others, show the great variety of projects HAF works on. More importantly, these examples help demonstrate that despite the diversity of projects, HAF’s approach remains the same: invest in people to invest in progress. In all cases, HAF uses the participatory approach to facilitate progress for these communities in need, while simultaneously forging lasting relationships with these people to ensure sustainability in the long term.

 

HAF works throughout Morocco, directly with these communities, to improve the lives of Moroccans. HAF creates a relationship with and attachment to these communities. It invests itself in the goals and dreams of these communities and has a stake in the long-term success of the projects. I believe that this approach makes HAF unique, and this belief led me to make the journey to Marrakech, to endure 110-degree weather, and to join HAF’s community.

 

Ellen Lempres is a senior at Claremont McKenna College, studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She is from Berkeley, California and spent the summer interning at the High Atlas Foundation in Marrakech, Morocco.

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HAF in Morocco

High Atlas Foundation
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High Atlas Foundation
High Atlas Foundation 332 Bleecker Street, #K110, NEW YORK, NY 10014
USA

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