Monday, November 1, 2010

Deep South – Morocco

The Erg Chebbi dune complex

Impressive Todra Gorge
I have been to and written about Morocco so many times and yet it never fails to leave me with impressions of wonder, not least of vast empty tranquil spaces where it is possible to be completely immersed in nature, like a grain of sand is to a desert so but am I in life! Such a grand landscape is presented with perspectives beyond words, from the towering High Atlas Mountains to endless rolling dunes of the Sahara, from Palm lined valleys to multi-coloured striated flat topped mountains; it is a place of unimaginable beauty. The country also has an added attraction and great bonus for me acting as it does as a bridge between the more southerly regions of Africa and Europe for migratory birds. Little wonder I am constantly drawn by the calling of this exotic place and also its people.

A return from her labours
Certainly I have been lucky, not to mention privileged, leading many tours of inquisitive nature lovers to the deserts, mountains and cultural centres of this western outpost in North Africa. It has been during the course of these visits that both Spanish Nature and Worldwide Birding Tours, tour operators with a real difference, that I have become acquainted with various communities of native Berbers and country dwelling folk. Their existence is often one of pure subsistence, days full of barter, tending of livestock and crops. What little money there is comes from sons and daughters working in other parts of the world, where they can find gainful employment and money enough to send home to their families.

Desert in Bloom
My own qualifications do not lead me to assume or advise on how best economic problems for this region can be solved. Deep in the south of Morocco life is lived on the edge, between a rock and a very hard place, when the rains come in sufficient quantities there can be times of plenty but, as often is the case, existence is a struggle, there is little or no employment and people make do the best they can. What I and Spanish Nature decided to do was work to our strengths and offer what little help we could. Together with partners such as Audubon Society New York and the Andalucia Bird Society, we have embarked on an education programme to promote nature within local schools, help provide services for women’s cooperatives and generally give assistance by whatever means are at our disposal.

Desert Wheatear
It is an opportunity for us to put something back into an area that gives us so much in terms of pleasure and enjoyment of a natural world full of discovery and beauty. Before the joy of witnessing the smile and laughter of the local children, my time here in the deserts had been fulfilled by finding such treasures as Desert Sparrow, but now my visits are full of rewards and wonderful experiences working with children and empowering local women’s enterprises. If my many visits for witnessing the wonderful diversity of avian delights had been worthwhile, now we have so much more to look forward to whenever we travel the palm fringed valleys into the furthest reaches of the Sahara region. Now I am not only greeted by Brown-necked Raven, Cream-coloured Courser and Hoopoe Lark, but by the beaming faces of children portraying such friendly welcomes.

Children at Mhamid showing their new field guides
For our most recent visit to the ‘Deep South’ we prepared a field guide to 52 species of birds found in Morocco. The guide was illustrated with photographs naming and describing the birds in both French and Arabic. It was an essential and integral part of an education project we had named ‘A Bird a Week’ for introducing into various schools in the Sahara region. We were also able to supply crayon sets, together with bird colouring sheets, outline drawings prepared by my co-conspirator Barbara Vagliano, and, along with other items, these were freely distributed among the schools i.e. some 2,000 field guides! As part of the process we held meetings with school teachers and were able to discuss how best the programme is introduced to the children and also get their most valuable input on the progress being made so far. Each teacher was presented with a specially compiled teacher’s pack, which explained the programme and how to interpret all the facts for each bird described in the field guide.

Some of the staff and children at the cooperative in Zagora
The education programme focuses on local birds and local habitats; it is place-based learning and encourages a sense of pride in one’s own community. Gaining knowledge of the local environment empowers students to take an active interest in protecting it. Our involvement with women’s cooperatives and associations is all about improving the quality of life for marginalised women and children. The cooperatives and associations, to some extent, also take an active role in education, either for the hard of learning or general education, in these cases we are of course also including them in the ‘A Bird a Week’ programme. However, more practical help for such things as donations for electricity supplies, stationary and clothing is most beneficial. Two of our recent tour party made the magnificent gesture of giving sufficient money to pay for electricity connections to the association in Mhamid, thereby allowing women to operate sewing machines for the manufacture of clothing and items for resale. A really big thank you to Norman Cook and of course Barbara!

Barbara explains the teacher's pack and concepts
Of course our work here has only just begun and another joyous aspect is both the willingness and wonderfully generous contributions made to this work by our travelling companions, more friends than customers. Several have donated binoculars, to help children observe their birds, telescopes, which we have donated to local guides, clothes, pencil sets, crayons, notepads and also money!  So many have been and witnessed the programme firsthand, others have given just from a generous spirit and a kindness we have come to so much appreciate. For me the project is meaningful, helpful and so very rewarding. I am proud to be working with Spanish Nature, a company not paying lip service to responsible tourism, but actually becoming involved with putting something back into those local economies and communities we visit. Thank you one and all for your incredible support.

Cream-coloured Courser
If you want to help our efforts with our education project, plus helping marginalised women and children in Morocco, or fancy accompanying me on one of my many journeys to this exotic destination, please see the links below. I have also included a link to the Responsible Tourism page of Worldwide Birding Tours; here you can read the policy and strategy of this tour company for nature lovers. The whole experience of projects like this help very much to demonstrate the company’s description is more than just a play on words ‘Travelling Together as Friends’…..

Why not join me on one of my many tours to Morocco?

Spring Safari - March
Autumn Safari - September

Worldwide Birding Tours - Responsible Tourism: Strategy and Policy

If you would like to help in our projects and education programme please do let me know via the following link: Contact us

From my base in Spain I am able to do short tours to Morocco. If you would like to tailor a visit whilst in Spain, please let me know. See link: 3 Day Short Breaks

To contact Peter please use this link: Contact

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