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The Art of Tree Planting

Updated: Aug 29

By: Eleanor Frist, HAF-UVa student intern

Today, Hassan Aladlouni, our COO at the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), toured us (the UVA group) around the Ourika area. Specifically, we focused on the water pump system that HAF has been working on for the last few months. First and foremost, one should note that the water pump has taken around six months to complete under HAF’s management. The shorter timeline shows the importance of non-governmental work in the region, as the water from the pump is the water source for five villages. After viewing the start of the pump, we followed the path of the water up the mountain (through the pipeline). On our adventure up, we were stampeded by a group of sheep that were coming down the mountain, but don’t worry no one was hurt (we even got some cute videos).

Then, we stopped at another pump location and learned about the significance of a little plastic piece that bobs up and down in the pipe. We were all trying to guess what the meaning of the piece was, but all “received Fs” for our answers - especially John, who said the piece of plastic was “just for fun.” The plastic is essential to the functioning of the pump, as it allows all of the air bubbles out, preventing the pump from getting backed up. Continuing our journey, we did a little sightseeing at a cave that I believe runs 15 km into the mountainside. All of us wanted to see what the inside looked like, so we took turns posing at the mouth of the cave.

We loaded back up into the van and headed to another area that the pipeline funnels water too. The streamline is divided into different sections so the water reaches its final destination and does not get stuck in one area or cause flooding at specific locations. Our group saw this phenomenon at the various pump locations we stopped at.

It was then time to plant trees—of which there were carob, almond, and olive. First, we had to observe the best way to plant trees in the rocky and dry conditions. I will do my best here to explain. One must note that each tree requires a different amount of space between each one so that the trees do not crowd each other’s space. Therefore, holes are typically dug four meters away from each other (yet this varies from tree to tree). After a hole is dug, you place topsoil at the bottom, as it has more nutrients, and it is easier for the new roots to break through the soil. After you have established a base layer of topsoil, you plant the sapling and surround it with more topsoil. Once you get to the same level as the sapling, you need to stomp down on the dirt that surrounds the tree. You cannot skip this step, as it gets all the air gaps and bubbles out of the dirt. Without this step, the roots of the new sapling will rot. Then, you carefully build a rock fortress around your new sapling so that when you pour the water for your sapling, the soil stays in place. Personally, I enjoyed finding unique rocks so that I would be able to identify my sapling in future years (when I return to Marrakech and Ourika). The final step is to pour water in a circle following the outline of your rock fortress - kind of creating a little swap—DO NOT pour directly onto your tree, or you will drown the roots of the sapling (aka dead sapling).

After our tree planting extravaganza, we had a little photo op with the team (pictures included below). Some different aesthetics were achieved by the group’s photos: middle school boy, sorority girl, and mountaineers.

We concluded our day by hiking up to the reservoir to see how the water was stored and how people were able to access it. Then Hassan noted that the gate is new, and there is a rope in the middle for people to climb out in case they fall in, as it has been a problem in Morocco ever since these kinds of reservoirs have been used. We (somewhat) gracefully shuffled down the mountain and enjoyed the crisp mountain air in addition to a plate full of sweets and, of course, Moroccan Tea. It was the perfect end to one of the most enjoyable days I have had in Morocco.

The bus ride back was full of tired students reflecting (or dreaming) about a day well spent.

Written by Eleanor Frist, UVA visiting student at the High Atlas Foundation, set to graduate from the Batten School of Public Policy and Leadership in May 2024.

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