Moroccan Ministry of Culture partnership approval!

I am very pleased to announce that the Moroccan Ministry of Culture has approved our partnership proposal. They have agreed to fund the restoration of a second igherm in the region (there are eight historic igherms). Work on this igherm will begin in April of 2011. The community is currently deciding on the best use for this igherm and is contemplating renovating it into a preschool or women’s birthing center. Either of these uses will compliment the library in the Amezray igherm.
The partnership from the Ministry means that as an organization all of our fundraising dollars will go directly to the uses within these historic buildings and to the management and operation costs of the development projects. The actual restoration will be funded by the Moroccan government.
“The ighrems (fortified granaries and saints’ houses) in Zawiya Ahansal have a great value and give beauty to the whole region because they are old historical monuments. “The igherms are our future and through them we can create future projects. They are everything, we don’t have anything else.”
Ahmed Amahdar, the Sheikh of Zawiya Ahansal.

Project expands to include women’s and newborn health initiative.

Over the past six years I have had the opportunity to work intimately with
locals on the Igherm Restoration Project in the remote region of Zawiya
Ahansal, Morocco.  We have successfully restored one of the region’s eight
igherms (fortified granaries) and are in the initial phases of two more
restorations through the generosity of American Donors and partnerships
with the Moroccan Ministry of Culture and the local community association
Amezray SMNID.

The initial goals of the Igherm Restoration Project were to preserve the
region’s cultural heritage, through the restoration of their igherms, and
increase literacy rates in the region and supplement the inadequate
government education through the establishment of community education
projects within the restored igherms.  Through our work other community
needs have come to light that are too great to ignore, especially that of
women’s and newborn’s health.
Rural Morocco has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates
in the developing world.  This is due to many circumstances, including
remoteness, traditional beliefs and distance from clinics and hospitals.
Partnering with the Global Midwife Education Foundation,, we are currently in Morocco establishing a
program that will train 8 to 12 traditional birth attendants in 2011.
These birth attendants, along with a newly establishment government
clinic, will ultimately serve the region’s population of over 10,000
This initiative compliments the goals of preserving the region?s cultural
heritage and decreasing illiteracy and will brighten the future of young
women such as Saadiya.
Saadiya’s bright eyes reflect the energy and innocence of a 17 year old.
She lives in the village of Aguddim; with a population of just over 1000
people it is one of the largest villages within 100 kilometers.

Saadiya giggles when she mentions her engagement to a
young man from Ouarzazate.  Ouarzazate lies just over the rugged Atlas
Mountains to the east and is a big city in her eyes; it has hotels,
schools and even a hospital.  She will get married when she turns 18, the
youngest legal age for marriage in Morocco.
She is able to read and write only a little due to her third grade
education.  She desperately wanted to continue her schooling but
sacrificed her education because her family needed her at home to help
with field work, house work and her two younger sisters.
At this point in life she will probably never accomplish her hope of
higher education but because she has the rare opportunity to marry a man
from the “city” she will have an opportunity most women from Aguddim never
will, to give birth in a hospital.

“I am afraid to die in childbirth,” she admits.

Living the High Life

MSU grads use talents to help develop community in mountainous Morocco. 

“Just as Cloe Medina Erickson, ’00 M Arch,, has always known that it was her destiny to work in Morocco, Kris Erickson, ’97 Photo, has known that he was made to climb mountains.
The two have found a way to combine their passions by helping villagers restore an ancient building located in a remote and mountainous area of Morocco.”  MSU Collegian, Spring 2010 Issue

Download full story here. 

Exterior Renovation Completed!

I just returned from nearly four months working in the field.  It was an extremely successful trip on numerous levels.

We finished the exterior renovation of the igherm including the martoub (stucco finish), new roofs and reconstruction of the six original decorative towers.  The local association Amezray SMNID has provided the project with potable water and will be responsible for oversight of the library’s operations and finances.  The French Association Les Amis de Amezray has agreed to sponsor and oversee the training of locals to become librarians. Montana State University graduate architecture student Jaron Mickolio completed the design for the computer rooms, reading room and book stacks.  The Caid of Zawiya Ahansal will be donating all of the local government’s history books on the region, tribal records and family trees to be housed in the library.  They want the library to be a place for researchers and professionals to come and study in addition to being for locals and school children.  The library will serve over 10,000 local men, women and children.

East facade finished towers.
Igherm during construction with Mount Aroudane in the background.

During my visit I attended numerous meetings focused on the future of Zawiya Ahansal with the local government and tribal leaders including the Sheikh, Caid, Moqaddam and Caliph.  At the moment Zawiya is lucky because its leaders are very open-minded and eager to develop the region in a sustainable manner that respects their culture.  They are so grateful for all that we are doing in the region that on more than one occasion I saw these grown government men cry – with real tears of happiness for our work and efforts in the region!

Cloe Medina Erickson meets with local leaders.

“These historic buildings hold the history of Morocco and if we let them die then we will be letting an important piece of Morocco die with them,” Sheikh Ahmed Amahdar

Moqaddam, local tribal leader.

The Moroccan Ministry of Culture heard about the project and invited me to Beni Mellal, the provincial capital, to present our work.  As a result of this presentation they have offered to partner with us and expand our work to include another project in the local village of Aguddim.  This new project will begin in September and will include the restoration of a 300 year-old igherm into a professional residence.  This igherm was originally a saint’s house and once renovated will provide visiting researchers, authors, and artists a historic yet modern place to live and work for extended periods of time.

Saint's house, location of new professional residence.
The saint's house will be returned to its original splendor. Photo: Ernest Gellner, Saints of the Atlas.

In addition to talking with the government about restoration projects we also talked about the most pressing needs in the region in the areas of education, health, and economics.  They have provided me with a list of their top five needs.  Among these is providing clean drinking water to five very small villages in the region, an ambulance, a snow plow (so the ambulance can get out in winter), trail work to Taghia, a boarding house for school girls and a garbage incinerator.

With our new partnerships in Morocco we hope to expand our mission and slowly include projects that focus on both restoration and health, education and economics.
What do you think is the highest priority in the region for our future projects?

A local family that will benefit from the library.

I will return to Morocco in September and we will begin construction on the library, break ground on the professional’s residence and begin discussions on our future goals.

Restoration Resumes

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The harsh winter of Morocco’s Central High Atlas Mountains is waning and restoration of the igherm is now able to resume for the nest two and a half months.  Our goals for this period include completing the  martoub (exterior stucco finish), refurbishing the traditional wood and clay roofs and rebuilding the six decorative towers. One week ago, the local restoration crew began collecting soil for the martoub in preparation for my arrival on March 31.

Mohammed Taiboosh, one of the restoration laborers and also a member of igherm’s proprietary tribe, Ait Bin Ahmed, has three sons that will benefit from the project.

“I am so happy and grateful for this project,” said Taiboosh, “it is going to provide educational opportunities that have never before been available in this region.”

Historically, the majority of the residents of Zawiya Ahansal are illiterate, but Taiboosh has hope for his childrens’ generation and believes the igherm project will help boost their positions in society and future opportunities.

“Literacy is the light for their future. Illiteracy is nothing but darkness.”

At the end of April l will lead a group of project donors on a ten-day excursion through Morocco.  The trip is organized through Bella Treks LLC and will include a four-day visit to Zawiya Ahansal and the project site.  The donors will meet with the people that will directly benefit from their generous donations.

For the second year, the project has partnered with Montana State University and will bring a group of students to Morocco for five weeks in Morocco.  The students will work with the community on the establishment and design of the library, books stacks, computer room and coffee shop.

Cloe Medina Erickson, project manager

Salima Naji restores the old villages of Morocco in collaboration with master artisans. Together they use old methods, while respecting the local culture to preserve the memory of places.  Salima is a consultant on the Igherm Restoration and Library Project.

The Nobelity Project, Dell and 50×15 donate computers to library.

Thanks to The Nobelity Project, Dell, and the 50×15 foundation for donating 13 computers to the library!  Through the Nobelity Project, a certified 501(c)3 education and action non-profit, 8 OLPC’s and 4 laptops have been donated for use in the community room of the library.  The computers will be used to teach locals, adults and children, about basic computer use through a series of training workshops.

The Nobelity Project, founded by Turk Pipkin,  is working towards a better future of all our children. One of our principal goals is to connect people all over the world with reliable information and innovative thinking on pressing global problems like global warming, the energy challenge, global health, economic disparity and development, cultural understanding, nuclear proliferation and general question of war and peace.

Turk Pipkin is the director of One Peace at a Time, an inspiring feature documentary highlighting solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. The film includes the insights of Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Physicist Steven Chu, (Barack Obama’s Secretary of Energy), Dr. Helene Gayle (CEO of CARE, International), American legend Willie Nelson and many others.