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In Morocco, a gardening school blends inclusion and ecological awareness

Youths attend a practical course at Bouregreg Med-O-Med, Morocco's first gardening school, in the coastal city of Sale, on November 15, 2023.   -  
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By enrolling in Morocco's first gardening school, which places environmental issues at the core of its pedagogy, young Hind Bensbitia has sharpened her awareness of climate change and found a future perspective.

Located on the outskirts of Salé, a city neighboring the capital Rabat, the Bouregreg Med-O-Med Gardening School has been offering free three-year training since 2018. It is primarily open to young people at risk of social exclusion or facing academic challenges.

The project, recently honored with the European "Green Skills" award, has a triple aim: raising awareness about climate change, promoting the inclusion of youth, particularly those heavily affected by unemployment, and advocating for gender equality.

"After quitting school, I spent two years at home. I wasn't satisfied; I wanted to be active," says 20-year-old Hind Bensbitia, who discontinued her high school education.

Three years ago, she stumbled upon this Moroccan-Spanish cooperation project initiated by the Spanish NGO Foundation for Islamic Culture (FUNCI).

"Before, I couldn't imagine making gardening my profession. This training has brought me a lot; I perceive the environment and the need to protect it in a different way," says the student clad in a green smock, adorned with her school's logo, where she feels "more in (her) element than anywhere else."

- Drought and Unemployment, a Double Challenge -

Situated on eight hectares near a rehabilitated landfill, the institution promotes an eco-responsible system: "the gardening model is entirely ecological, the building is bioclimatic, designed with raw earth, and the electricity is solar-powered," explains the coordinator, Spanish national Inés Eléxpuru.

The school has a nursery of local plants, better suited to water stress, a crucial issue for Morocco, currently experiencing its worst drought in nearly 40 years.

This situation is expected to worsen by 2050 due to a decrease in rainfall (-11%) and a rise in temperatures (+1.3°C), according to official data.

"Through this training, I realized that a plant's life depends on our willingness to take care of it. Simple actions can make a difference," emphasizes 18-year-old Mohssine Errahimi, encountered in the school corridors, which train up to 90 people per year.

This student worked as an apprentice gardener in hotels and private residences from the age of 16, and one of them encouraged him to enroll in the Bouregreg school.

"After my training, I hope to start my gardening business to contribute to building my country," he confides.

Professional integration of young people is a key objective as they are the most affected by economic difficulties in Morocco.

The unemployment rate for those aged 15-24 reached 38.2% in the third quarter of 2023, compared to 13.5% nationally, according to the High Commission for Planning (HCP).

- Women Gardeners -

More than one in four young people in this age group "is not working, not in school, and not undergoing any training," according to another HCP study published in 2022.

The school trains "young people from complicated family situations (...) and from really precarious and difficult surrounding neighborhoods," emphasizes Inés Eléxpuru.

They are "motivated, want to have a dignified life, and earn money to support themselves and their families," she adds, estimating that 70% find formal employment after graduation, and the training also helps "curb irregular migration."

The institution also has 20 to 25% female students, who are also more affected by unemployment (the rate is 19.8% compared to 11.7% for men).

"The profession (of gardener) is still associated with men. At first, it was complicated, even with clients looking to hire only men, but things are starting to change," reports Ms. Eléxpuru.

"Outside, people disdain you for choosing this training because, for them, it is not suitable for girls," says Hind Bensbitia. "I don't care... I have my family's support, and I will continue."

"There are a lot of stereotypes about jobs that women shouldn't do," adds 17-year-old Loubna Nassif. "I say we need to prove them wrong."

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