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Agricultural literacy brings hope to unemployment in Morocco

  • Nursery at the Fes Child Protection Center (photo by Said Bennani)
    Nursery at the Fes Child Protection Center (photo by Said Bennani)

At a juvenile detention center in Fes, it feels like summer camp is all year round. There, “maximum security” is an open, white building complex, “delinquents” are watering plants and planting seeds, and the only guard in sight, if you’re lucky, is a wild peacock patrolling the grounds.
 
For many of us, the term “juvenile detention center” does not strike summertime sentiments. But in Fes, the all-boys Center for the Protection of Children deviates from the norm in more ways than one. Beyond its disarming quietude, the center distinguishes itself from most of its kind by showing how agricultural expertise can augment youth rehabilitation and social reintegration.
 
Atman Khayi, director of operations, explains that the goal of this center is “not to punish” but rather to “educate” the youth they take in. Instead of experiencing traditional disciplinary methods—like isolation, punishment, and restriction of movement—detained boys are given opportunities to work, learn, and grow as they serve out their sentences. While the boys live under constant watch, they are also afforded responsibility in the form of agricultural skill building. They are trained and taught hard skills such as water irrigation, crop management, weeding, and tree grafting. With thirty-six boys at the center on one given day—and that number fluctuates with the daily intake and release process—the effect of the center’s active approach to agricultural skill building is visible.
 
One such boy at the center comes from a rural farming family. On a recent site visit, him and nine other residents took a small group of High Atlas Foundation staff members on a walking tour of the facilities and nurseries. When we asked him, “What’s something you’ve learned here that you didn’t know back home?” he paused for a minute. “I’ve learned how to plant and take care of trees since my home mainly focuses on wheat and barley,” he answered.
 
Most boys at the center come from backgrounds like his: rural farming households that derive their income from low market-valued cereal crops, like barley. The low market-value of these traditional staple crops has made subsistence agriculture unsustainable. The Ministry of Agriculture reported in 2019 that while the staples occupy approximately 75% of usable agricultural land, they represent only 10-15% of agricultural revenue and only 5-10% of employment in the sector. Concurrently, the Ministry of Agriculture’s goal as part of their Green Morocco Plan is the creation of 600,000 new jobs.
 
Boys like the one just mentioned pose a unique solution to both concerns. Once their sentence is served the boys are released to their families, taking with them important environmental and agricultural practices they developed at the center—not the least of which being the cultivation of organic, non-cereal crops. Not only do the boys benefit from applying their expertise at home—thereby improving their employability—but the families also learn improved methods of farming. The agricultural value chain grows with every boy who comes through the center and every family that adopts sustainable, high-demand practices.
 
How does this inter-dependent approach expedite youth rehabilitation? Perhaps it’s the freedom of choice that the center’s staff affords the boys. While nursery tending is a primary interest of most of the boys, they have the freedom to engage in other activities they find more enjoyable. One boy told us that he doesn’t like “being in the farm in the summer,” so instead he spends his time welding, building, and painting. His interests are made useful and valuable by the staff, who believe that the boys should be engaged in some hands-on activity, whatever it may be. There is enough diversity in activities that the boys are never idle for too long. Their productivity reaps real, tangible results they can point to as the fruit of their labor. When they can see the direct result of their work, they learn that there are financial, personal, and even environmental benefits in becoming productive members of society. 
 
The center’s bountiful array of activities highlights a more pressing concern facing Morocco today: recruitment of stigmatized youth by radical political groups. For boys seeking a purpose in life after time served, the center offers opportunities to enter the job market with industry-specific skills and knowledge. But the future of idle youth who are not engaging in agricultural skill building is unclear. Furthermore, this center is just one of twenty-one in all of Morocco; for the young boys who are not given the same responsibilities as those in Fes, they are entering a society more urbanized and more competitive than when they left it. Dissonance between the world they’ve entered and the world they’ve left leaves them vulnerable to radical groups with ideologies promising acceptance, purpose, and spiritual fulfillment.
 
As the gap between the skilled and the unskilled widens, it becomes more important than ever to invest in programs committed to giving unengaged youth a chance at employment. If there’s something to be learned from the Fes Child Protection Center’s approach, it’s that despite their prior transgressions in life every child should have a seat at the table, a chance at personal and professional betterment. Already, we see that the benefits of pulling an extra seat up are felt far beyond the center’s gates.

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Anya Karaman's picture

Anya Karaman (ak9zb@virginia.edu) is a student at the University of Virginia studying English and History. This summer, she is interning at the High Atlas Foundation in Morocco.

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Training on Social Change for Youth

Training on Social Change for Youth by FST
22 May 2013 - 5:18pm | Ranjan K Baruah

A Leadership Training Programme for youths, organised by Foundation for Social Transformation- enabling North East India, was successfully held on 20th and 21st May, at Bosco Reach Out in Guwahati. The training was attended by 50 youths, who received training from distinguished mentors.  The training modules included the Youth, social action & change, gender, feminism & masculinity, communalism, religion & conflict, sexuality, sexual rights & violence, democracy, politics & governance, globalisation & natural resources management & disability rights. The leadership training programme was meant for young change makers of the region. The training programme focused on many social issues which affect the lives of young people and also the society. Successful participants will get further chance to do community and civic projects with mentoring from several experts.

“Young people have tremendous energy and willingness to learn , if given a right direction they can foster enormous positive change in the society, they just need to get unbiased guidance”, said Gayatri Buragohain , Executive Director of FST.  FST shall organise more training programme for young change makers’ different parts of the region, this was stated in a press release issued by FST. 

Dreams come true for Vikas Vidyalaya

12 Dec 2013 - 1:45pm | Jayanta Kumar Das

Many a times we leave just by saying..poor roads, no school, no awareness hence, no education for children. It indeed takes considerable and deliberate effort to educate a child, more so when he is from one of the most backward villages. Hattigarh is one such village in Udalguri district of Assam and as the name suggests Hatigarh was a place were elephants were trapped for hunting. Even today the village is as primitive as before, closeness of jungle, wildlife and underdevelopment has left all with less opportunities including quality education. Nevertheless of its wilderness, Hattigarh has one of the leading Tea Gardens which have a good produce and number of labourers are employed in the tea gardens neighbouring the region. And it is these labourers’ children who were being left out of schooling, basically due to lack of any facility in the near vicinity. 38 years back some kind hearted officers in olive green identified this problem and there was a humble beginning of the concept of a small school for children belonging to poor and backward sections of the society.

That was the beginning of the “Vikas Vidyalaya” at Hattigarh in Udalguri district of Assam with merely 120 students in five rooms converted into classrooms. “When you educate a boy child you educate a person but when you educate a girl child, you educate a family” said the Commanding Officer of Army and this was exactly the Vikas Vidyalaya is doing. The school at its inception could only aim to impart education to primary classes by managing teachers from within the forces deployed here and locals of the area.Vikas Vidyalaya grew from strength to strength and added students, teachers and infrastructure and today it stands tall with 567 students studying from Nursery to Class VII from the age groups of three to fourteen years. The school runs with self generating resources but provides quality education and is strictly following the syllabi slated by Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). The school is imparting quality education to children from the nearby Tea Gardens and poor people of the nearby villages. The school is also creating an employment opportunity for the locals and have involved them in this noble cause.

According to Principal of the school kind hearted officers used to adopt children by voluntarily offering to pay tuition fees since the school was established in 1976. The principal also said that the school has been organising summer camps for teachers for better education.He further said that the school has also been organising vacation classes for slow learning students during puja vacation.The school in the last 38 years has produced number of students who has excelled in their careers and on them the school is proud off. To include, some of the ex students of Vikas Vidyalaya, are Tea Estate Manager, Software Engineers, Businessman, teachers at reputed schools and five of the school teachers are its ex student.

Speaking to us Mrs Eva, a teacher who has spent 15 years in this school mentioned how the school nurtured her and today she is committed to teach young children of the region who are deprived of quality education. Mrs Hanufa another teacher of the school teaching in Vikas Vidyalaya for last 20 years mentioned how our friends of the Nation in Olive Green laid, its foundation and is still committed to this noble cause. He also mentioned in the past one year, the school has made considerable improvement of the infrastructure and modern amenities like computer lab, DTH for recreation of students, Aqua Guard and Water Cooler for safe drinking water and by her experience she is confident that this will further attract common man of the region and in sending their wards to the school, who otherwise are not able to afford quality education for his children. Master Asique Ali a LKG student fights with his parent to come to school even when he is unwell, as he gets to meet his friends, gets to play and learn only at the school. No one dare not advice him to be absent from the school even a single day.Ranjita Ghosh, a teacher of the school told correspondents that she was proud to be a teacher of the school.She has been teaching in the school since 2012. It needs mention that she too had been a student of this school. More than 1700 students have passed out in the last 38 years and are now aspiring to broaden their scope by adding higher classes.

Secret killing: AGP leaves Mahanta in the lurch

19 Nov 2007 - 12:58pm | pbaruah
Its a big blow for former Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. The party he headed earlier now leaves him in the lurch.

And that too at a time when the retired Justice K N Saikia panel has indicted him in the secret killing cases.

Asom Gana Parishad president Brindabon Goswami says his party will not shield Mr Mahanta saying he is no longer with the regional party.

Talking to the correspondent here, Mr Goswami says his party will not share the blame with former Chief Minister. Instead, his party seeks action against him if really he is found involved in the crime.

The biggies of the party will meet on November 21 to discuss the implication of its MLA from Hajo and former minister Nurul Hussain.