By Safae Bouhlala
HAF Program Manager, Fes
Students learn about the participatory approach at the School of Critical Thinking program, May 2023. Photo: HAF
"This program has inspired me to better serve my community by listening to their needs and speaking about their rights, and I encourage students to take part in community dialogue."
– Student clinician with the Legal Clinic Program in Fes
One of the most effective strategies for creating distinctive university programs involves bridging the gap between the classroom and the community. In Fes, the High Atlas Foundation’s Legal Aid Program is facilitating civic engagement for university students and increasing equitable access to legal aid in Moroccan communities. This unique partnership provides a much-needed link between academic theory and practical application; students are given the opportunity to directly apply concepts from the classroom while making a tangible difference in underserved communities.
HAF has implemented legal aid clinics in Fes and in Marrakech, and both clinics have greatly improved access to legal aid and information for marginalized individuals, particularly for women. Partnering with universities has provided an excellent avenue for expanding the educational experience of students as they adopt a "learning by doing" approach, seamlessly catalyzing technical practices and data analysis in their context.
The Legal Clinic of the Faculty of Law in Fes aims to elevate the status of youth, women, and underrepresented communities by providing pro-bono legal aid and entrepreneurship training as a means to engage the community civically and economically. Since the program’s inception in 2019, the clinic has trained 231 master’s and doctoral students of law (with an equal percentage of women and men) to administer legal aid and facilitate capacity building with community beneficiaries in the Fes-Meknes region of Morocco.
The program was first established as a pilot project in 2019 as a collaboration between the High Atlas Foundation and the Faculty of Legal, Economic, and Social Sciences at Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University in Fes. From 2020 to 2022, the program has continued to expand its concentration on entrepreneurship.
The Fes Legal Clinic is currently training its fourth cohort of 138 students in various disciplines. During the program, these students will take courses in migration, family law, small business law, interpersonal and participative communication, project planning and operational procedures. Unlike a traditional curriculum, however, students in the cohort will forge partnerships with their communities as they engage with an immersive legal aid program that allows them to immediately practice what they learn.
As we work toward increasing legal access for those who experience barriers to justice, it is imperative that we equip our students with the skills they need to become civically engaged assets to their communities. With the HAF program in Fes, two outcomes are accomplished simultaneously through transforming education and reducing barriers to legal aid.
Gender-based community evaluation methodology training with student clinicians, April 2023. Photo: HAF