- WHAT WE DO
- THE PROJECT IN MOROCCO
In southern Morocco, we find a place where the need to improve the living conditions of the local population and to value the traditional architecture are essential: the oasis of M'Hamid, in the province of Zagora (Souss-Massa Drâa).
There, traditional techniques are still alive, and the inhabitants build and repair their houses according to these techniques. This knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation, but this fragile architecture is going through difficult times and it is the moment to get closer and work towards its preservation.
The M'Hamid oasis is located in the Draa valley, southeast of Morocco. It is a place geographically far from the large population centers and in an arid environment, close to the Sahara desert.
The economy of the local population in the Draa Valley is based on subsistence, and has always been linked to the agricultural exploitation of the fertile lands. In this environment, the ksar was the traditional village.
Dwellings at the ksur (plural from ksar) wre built with earth, in an ingenious relationship between humans and their environment, through a form of urban planning and architecture suited to the harsh climate of this pre-Saharan region, where temperatures exceed 50ºC in summer. It is a functional architecture, fully adapted to the place, which is based of the materials available in the environment. Traditions learned and tuned for centuries determine the population way of life.
The great territorial transformations that the country has undergone in the last years is having an important effect in the oasis. One of the most evident consequences is the widespread adoption of foreign urban and architectural structures, with the consequent abandonment of traditional architecture, an architecture built entirely with earth and of high patrimonial value.
Traditional construction techinques are in danger. The introduction of the concrete block as an alternative material, "noble and durable", is putting at risk the heritage of the oasis.
The local economy is also being transformed, and the agrarian economy is changing towards the tourist sector. However, these activities are centred at the edges of the state road, near the hotels, leaving aside the traditional settlements and distributing benefits unevenly among the population
Nevertheless, there are families that have chosen to continue living in the ksur maintaining their traditional habitat and their local identity, trying to link the economic development of the area together with the respect for traditions, taking advantage of the high value of their landscape and potential of the oasis.
This is the local context of our work, a project to support local development based on the conservation and restoration of the cultural heritage of the ksur of the M'Hamid Oasis, through architectural and construction workshops.
We have been working in different ksur since August, 2012, through traditional architecture and construction workshops. These workshops are the tool that encompasses a large part of the association’s objectives, such as the improvement of living conditions in the local villages, and increasing awareness about traditional architecture. However, the idea is to go beyond this, using the workshops to bring local development.
Interventions revolve around the restoration of an architectural element in a village’s public space, thereby making the most of a meeting point that the entire village can identify with. The designated elements are community buildings, including access gates to the ksur, mosques, wells, etc. The choice is made in consensus with the local population, through the local associations we work with, all of which are linked to the development of the oasis.
Intervention work is carried out by local master builders, who are hired for their extensive experience in traditional construction techniques, as well as by younger assistants, hired to learn from them and to keep alive their crafts.
Workshops are attended by participants from all over the world, with different ages and professional profiles. In addition to the important technical and professional experience, each participant takes an undeniable personal experience away with them when they go.
These workshops consist of hands-on work experience: intervention in the designated architectural element. Additionally, they involve documentary and inventory work with regard to existing heritage: ancient mosques, marabouts, gates, etc. as well as the drawing up of plans.
The documentation process, in addition to being a useful tool for better understanding the subject at hand and facilitating intervention on it, is an effective learning method for workshop participants, who assess the monument in person.
Terrachidia seeks to promote cultural exchanges, also strengthening individual and collective identity. Our awareness program encourages an increases sense of identification among the population of the oasis with its heritage.
This part of the project seeks to deepen the protection of the cultural heritage of the M'Hamid oasis. It also helps to improve the quality of life of women and their families by supporting women artisans to be agents of their own development, contributing to poverty mitigation and sustainable development.
In 2015 the creation of several women's cooperatives dedicated to the production of handicrafts was noted. After a period of identification, meeting with women groups and other members of the community, the following conclusions were reached:
From Terrachidia it was mandatory to support this initiative with a proper training for women, improvint their personal and collective empowerment, and their position within the community.
Terrachidia began to work with them using the same methodology as in the architecture workshops: we place them as teachers. This fact not only promotes empowerment, but allows them to see the traveler's interest in their traditional crafts and materials. This experience had a great impact and helped to reduce certain cultural barriers. In addition, new products have been tested, which may have a better outlet beyond the local market.
The project is being carried out following the mentioned methodology, and it will continue by supporting women organizational structures, and finally the marketing strategy.