Meet Jamila: Dar Taliba director and environmental role model for girls

By Pommelien da Silva Cosme, Communications and Field Officer, Global Diversity Foundation

21 December 2018

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”.

The project is not only providing a healthy outdoor activity for the students in residence, it is also encouraging them to share the knowledge they gather during the trainings with their families, which can be very useful given the environmental challenges local communities are faced with. “I think drought, lack of quality seeds and the use of chemical fertilisers are current issues that are challenging the cultivation of healthy crops in local communities,” Jamila says. “The training we did on producing organic fertilisers is a good example of providing valuable skills and knowledge that is relevant for our students as well as their communities”. Throughout the school year, we distributed plant saplings, vegetables and medicinal plants such as thyme. The students brought these home to their families, where they shared their learning and planted saplings in their home gardens.

As we walk towards to garden to start our training on compost, I ask Jamila about her hopes for the future of the project. “I hope we will be able to continue these trainings in the future in order to support and educate the big number of girls that are coming from different villages in the region”, she says. “I also hope our work will inspire a number of students to pursue higher education in agriculture so they can return to their communities and support them with new knowledge and techniques.”

In collaboration with our local partners and Radiant Design, we are actively engaging the Dar Taliba girls with local biodiversity conservation efforts and rediscovering local cultural heritage related to plants, which is in need of preservation for future generations.

Learn more about this project or support students like Jamila here.