By Pommelien da Silva Cosme, Communications and Field Officer, Global Diversity Foundation
It’s a sunny morning as I make my way to the Ourika valley. Later today, I will be participating in a training about composting at Dar Taliba, an all-girls boarding house set up to enable students from remote villages of the Ourika Valley to continue their education beyond primary school.
While waiting for the students to arrive from their morning class, Dar Taliba director Jamila and I have a chat about the students, her work and the garden. Jamila remembers very well when she was a student at Dar Taliba herself, almost 17 years ago. “I come from a village in the High Atlas near Oukaïmeden, about 40 km from Ourika. At that time, there was no secondary school in that area”, Jamila says. “Through Dar Taliba, I was able to pursue my education and later on go to university”.
After graduating from university and working in Casablanca for two years, Jamila came back to work in Ourika where she became director of Dar Taliba in 2013. We started working with Jamila in 2015, when we began to develop an ethnobotanical garden on the Dar Taliba school grounds in collaboration with the girls in residence. The garden now provides a space to help students learn more about Amazigh indigenous plant knowledge from their communities, located in the High Atlas mountains.
Last year, we started delivering weekly permaculture trainings, during which the girls learn different skills such as seed saving. Jamila is very involved in the garden trainings and never misses an opportunity to participate and work alongside the girls. “The garden trainings are important to me and the students because they help us better understand the nature around us”, she says. “We all come from different villages and these trainings provide a space where we can share our own specific knowledge about different land use and agriculture practices”.
Traditional plant knowledge and horticultural practice are an important part of wellbeing in Amazigh communities of the High Atlas. However, when children go to public schools for further education, they often lose the opportunity to learn about agriculture, gardens and wild plant use. “The time we spend in the garden is creating more awareness amongst the girls about traditional plant knowledge such as the cultivation of aromatic and medicinal plants, and their different uses,” Jamila says. “At the beginning of the school year we learned a lot about collecting seeds and growing organic crops. The girls are very motivated when they are working in the garden, especially when they harvest vegetables they planted and see tiny seeds grow into plants as a result of their work”.