Several months after finishing my internship with the High Atlas Foundation, I got the chance to go back to Marrakech, this time, only for a visit. Though the purpose of the travel was truly exciting, an interfaith conference in Essaouira, I was more excited about visiting my friends from HAF and the people we had worked with on HAF’s women’s programs, from the villages of Ourika, Setti Fadma and Oukaimeden in the High Atlas region.
Often in the development field, we seek for great changes that we can measure with numbers for instance, to indicate on the impact of a given project. However, sometimes, as I learned in this recent visit, change can be something that you feel, or see in different shapes.
Our first stop was the Aboghlou Women’s Cooperative in Ourika valley. The first thing one sees when entering the cooperative are the products that the women are growing, preparing and selling. A year ago, they mainly sold traditional anise cookies, different types of couscous, and dried leaves that were grown, collected and packed by order. This time I could see additional products, such as quinoa, henna and more. Nevertheless, the most exciting was the new designs of the packaging of the products that looked so much more professional. When asking the cooperative members how they see their progress, they shared that if once their dream was to sell their products to people in their region, now their dream is to reach the national level, and next, to export their products abroad. The head of the cooperative shared that not only the fact that they started to generate money motivated them, but also seeing their success made them think big, and develop their cooperative. She added that women from other villages were inspired by the Aboghlou cooperative, and started other associations and cooperatives in their area. In her words, this makes her very happy.
Remembering one woman from this cooperative the last time when I was there, shared that she had never spoken to a man before in her life, was afraid to take public transportation, etc. and this time, seemed very confident when explaining about the cooperative to the people that were present in the room. This led me to an important understanding. In fact, the essence of the personal impact of the empowerment of these women comes in a shape of greater self-confidence that nourishes these women’s beliefs in their abilities, and encourages their actions towards economic development as well. Another good example, is that a year ago the cooperative members refused to accept back several women who had dropped out at the beginning of the process of establishing the cooperative. They mentioned that they did not feel responsible for them, and could not see the importance of including others in their development process. Eventually, regarding the question of accepting others, they decided to take some time and think about it. Today, when I asked them about their decision, they said that at the future, they would be happy to receive back anyone who will be committed to their joint success.
Following this fabulous visit, we drove up the mountains to Anamer village. We met the women there, who shared their great feeling of satisfaction from the Arabic lessons they decided to take, following the workshops we conducted with them, only eight months earlier. I was so excited to see how positively they remembered us, and the workshops we had done. After having tea, I left with the kids of the village to see their fruit trees, and walk by the river, while Fatima-Zahra and Ibtissam, shared their advice with the women about the process of establishing an association. This was truly moving to see how one small action lead to such strong feelings and a true bond between us.
Our last stop was the house of our dear colleague Abd-el-Jalil, in Oukaimeden, that showed us the agriculture in the area, and hosted us for a fabulous lunch. Once again I was exposed to the great generosity of my friends from the HAF and their open hearts that now as before, made me feel at home.
My main conclusion from this visit was that change comes in different shapes, and amounts, and though sometimes the impact of our work is not tangible or measurable, every single action that we did or did not take, left something on the people we interacted with. I can indicate for myself that it left a huge impact on me as well, that takes the shape of feeling that I was a part of something great. So how could we know if a project we took part in, really had an impact? In this case, we see it with our eyes, and feel it with our hearts.