Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project

 
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On a Saturday in March, the Teachers Association of Life Sciences and the Earth, partnering with the High Atlas Foundation, completed planting 110 Argon, carob and olive trees with students at the Sidi Bouskri School in Smimou, Essaouira.

With the support of the PaperSeed Foundation and the Embassy of Switzerland, Rabat, this project is also planting a community tree nursery of 40,000 fruit seeds, and is working to establish an organic agricultural value-chain with rural communities.  

The trees planted marked the beginning of a tree nursery, an environmental education program and, eventually, a crucial source of revenue to benefit the students of this small rural school, based near Essaouira. According to Abderrahim Ouarghidi, HAF’s Director of Programs, students will soon learn to care for saplings, which will eventually be distributed to local farmers.

“That nursery is going to be not only for generating income for rural families, but it’s going to be a fun and interesting opportunity for the kids to learn stuff about how they can build a nursery, and how they can organically maintain trees that greatly enhance their lives,” said Ouarghidi. 

HAF and the Teachers Association of Life Sciences and the Earth are signing in the month of April 2015 the partnership agreement related to the nursery and assisting human development in the area.  The immediate objective is to build a well, terraces, a greenhouse, and plant 40,000 seeds, over the next six months.

The Sidi Bouskri nursery is part of Sami’s Project, a program focused on enhancing elementary school education and breaking the cycle of poverty through environmental education, tree planting activities and improved infrastructure. Through Sami’s Project, HAF has worked with 152 schools to plant trees, and built clean drinking water systems and bathrooms with 10 schools, four school classrooms, and one teacher’s house. HAF also offers tutoring and scholarships to empower students from families engaged in subsistence agriculture to pursue higher education.

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Putting a tree in the ground
Putting a tree in the ground

Moroccan farmers are planting all across Morocco, and the High Atlas Foundation and Sami’s Project are no exception. In mid-January, Project Manager Amina El Hajjami visited twenty-one elementary school students in Al Houz province. The Moroccan semester break is ending, and the next two weeks will bring both many more plantings both around Marrakech and much farther afield.

On January 17th, two HAF staff members visited several schools in rural areas around Amzmiz, a small town at the foot of the Atlas Mountains. At many of the schools visited, as soon as staff members began unloading trees grown in HAF’s nurseries, students rushed to help bring trees and prepare the planting site.

After a brainstorm about the benefits of trees and how they contribute to both the environment and the economy, students got to work planting the tree that they had brought into the school. Some schools were well established and larger, whereas others further outside of the city consist of a network of one-room schools.

By the end of the day, students planted 195 trees at seven different schools, including 80 pomegranate, 30 walnut, and 30 olive trees. This is just one day in HAF’s ongoing planting season. Furthermore, the High Atlas Foundation is currently finalizing draft activities for a standardized environmental education curriculum for teachers and administrators to expand and adapt. In the spirit of HAF’s dedication to participatory planning, teachers will determine the majority of the curriculum design at a workshop including administrators and parent organization members at the end of this month.

Tree plantings at elementary schools in rural Morocco are not just tree plantings—they allow students to gain a sense of responsibility in caring for their tree and a more pleasant environment in which to go to school every day. Thank you for supporting our goal of allowing students to learn about the environment while making their schools better places!

One of the planting sites at Madrasa Al Atlas
One of the planting sites at Madrasa Al Atlas
The last step--water!
The last step--water!
Student with tree in Imgdal elementary
Student with tree in Imgdal elementary

Things are continuing to move forward with Sami’s Project. HAF Project Manager Amina El Hajjami

visited more schools to follow up on tree planting starting in January. Amina visited Imgdal elementary

school in the Rural Commune of Asni in the Al Haouz Province, and Talbrit elementary school. In both

schools she met with administrators and teachers to discuss their needs to ensure they have the

resources to maintain the trees as well inform them that HAF has developed an environmental

curriculum for the schoolschildren. Amina also interviewed students to find out about how they care for

the trees at the schools.

The students expressed their enjoyment for caring for the trees and the sense of responsibility they

have to help them grow. She gave a presentation to students during lunch about why students should

care for the environment.

At both schools teachers and administrators mentioned access to water as a challenge when caring for

the trees, however both schools were continuing to maintain the health of the trees.

In September HAF brought on a volunteer to develop an environmental science curriculum for the

schools to use throughout the year. The curriculum is a working document and currently has lessons and

activities focusing on farming, water conservation, composting, and greenhouse gases. This is a great

start for what we expect to be a beneficial component to Sami’s Project.

Talbrit Elementary
Talbrit Elementary

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Children in schoolyard
Children in schoolyard

Although it has been a hot summer, that has not prevented communities from maintaining the health and ensuring the growth of their trees! Here are some project updates from the various school benefitting from Sami’s Project.

The headmaster of Talat n Yaacoub school ensures the well-being of the trees. The school has a generous amount of property upon which they plan to create an environmental club that includes all types of trees that suit the area. This school is provided with enough water from its well, conveniently located on the school property. Currently, the school is seeking help from their commune to install a drip system to water their trees.

The Loualja school has greatly benefited from the tree-planting activity and initiatives of the High Atlas Foundation. In addition, the school has developed and formalized a partnership with the local youth association. This association consists of school alumni who are committed to implementing further project activities and taking care of the facility.

At the Imgdal School, the trees are flourishing as the students water them during vacation. The teachers encourage the students to take care of trees at the Lberj School. Some of the kids said that ‘’owning and watering a tree is a privilege for me from this school’. At this school, all the trees in this school are irrigated via connection to the drip system, which uses tap water.

The teachers and the students chose, as a result of a consensus vote, a student from grade 6 to water the trees during vacation. He was chosen because he had a pervious experience: his own family has a similar drip-system of irrigation in their yard. In addition, many other students assisted him in the process of maintaining these trees.

In July, HAF staff and local teachers discussed some of the major challenges teachers face in rural areas. Particular grievances were related to curriculum. Currently, High Atlas Foundation is working on creating a standard curriculum, to benefit these rural areas.

Trees in Sami
Trees in Sami's project schoolyards

The High Atlas Foundation has planted over one million trees across Morocco, helping around 50,000 people out of poverty. HAF's nurseries and fruit tree plantations show how Morocco can produce efficiently and profitably a billion trees and plants. These projects also show how Moroccans can overcome existential challenges shared with other nations in the region and the world: pervasive rural poverty, the marginalization of youth and women and land degradation . Other HAF projects include: the construction of drinking water systems in villages that are among the most distant (by decreasing infant mortality by half); the creation of women's cooperatives, including agricultural terraces and installation of drip irrigation systems (in providing social services and employment); building schools, housing for teachers and bathrooms to schools, and training in participatory planning and arboriculture and organic farming. Due to the success of the "One Million Trees campaign," in 2014, HAF aims to expand and improve Sami's Project to educate and impact a wider audience with the following steps towards:

  • Educating the public, especially young people, in the preservation of the environment, and promoting the benefits of small-scale tree showing the direct impact of innovative farming techniques on family incomes.
  • Encouraging youth to defend their own interests in education, socio-economic community development and environmental conservation through the participatory approach. 
  • Enhancing the activities of  civil society and strengthening linkages and exchanges between schools, communities, and other partners to build strong school communities in order to support disadvantaged youth in rural Morocco. 
  • Maximizing opportunities to improve, disseminate, and utilize the project results to other regions in Morocco

An important objective of HAF is to establish the need to create and implement sustainable projects that benefit entire communities. By strengthening the capacity of stakeholders in the agricultural sector and project management, community members will have access to a wider range of pathways to economic prosperity. This entrepreneurial model includes preparing the younger generation for economic growth by teaching farming skills that can be reproduced in their homes with trees provided by Sami's Project.

In collaboration with the Organice Cooperative Nursery, environmental and educational projects will build on the activities carried out by HAF in the province of Essaouira, exposing a larger number of rural citizens to the Foundations' participatory approaches. This will allow further identification of needs and potential human development projects in rural areas, including in the participating schools. Activities preceding planting in the Provinces of Al Haouz and Rhamna led to the development of construction projects such as toilets, accommodation for teachers and students and also to projects in the field of hygiene.

HAF and the El Kouhen family are thankful to the support of so many contributions that have helped this project thrive and grow.  Now that HAF has planted one million trees, we look forward to planting one billion trees so that thousands of young people may benefit from Sami's project and his legacy.

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Organization

Project Leader

Jacqueline Seeley

New York City and Marrakech, NY (US) & AlHaouz (Maroc) Morocco

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Map of Improve Rural Moroccan Schools: Sami's Project