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.

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.

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.

Site Utility Installation

Throughout the winter local project manager Youssef Jini worked with the Amzrai tribe to install running water on site.  The water comes from a spring in the near by foothills; use was granted to us by the owner of the spring for the lifetime of the library.  The water is important because it is necessary for mixing the earth during renovation.  In addition, the locals built an access road to the building.  This road will allow for easy transportation of stone used in foundation repair and wood for the ceilings and floors.

Project director, Cloe Medina Erickson, will arrive in Morocco April 28 and spend the next two months working on the beginning of the renovation.  Seven American university students and two Moroccan students will work side by side with the locals for six weeks on the initial stages of the renovation.  This program was made possible through a partnership with Montana State University.  The team will work under the supervision of a master earth builder restorationist and master carpenter.  The students will learn ancient earth building techniques.

Photos of the restoration work will be posted in July.