Back in February, we started our C.L.I.M.B. project – Creating Leadership in Mountains and Beyond. This program would enable Moroccan youth to develop motivating personal growth goals while discovering the amazing landscapes of their country. The goal of this project was to work with underprivileged youth in our community to complete a six-month long outdoor leadership program that incorporates excursions and leadership building activities. The culmination of this project was for the youth, who completed the program, to climb the highest mountain in North Africa, Mt. Toubkal. CLIMB has five main goals:
- To foster an appreciation for the environment among youth in our communities .
- To provide an environment that encourages and supports self-discovery and self-awareness.
- To develop critical thinking and decision-making skills.
- To teach youth the necessary skills to safely experience the environment while incorporating sustainable practices.
- To create an opportunity for youth to experience the diversity of Morocco, in terms of the natural environment and the people.
Several volunteers have completed this program in the past, but there were two big differences between their communities and ours: we live in a city and it’s very flat, they lived in rural communities in the mountains. This presented us with a big challenge – our city kids have never done anything like this ever before. There isn’t a single hill in our town. We live at sea level, and none of our students had ever experienced altitude. Most do not regularly exercise. But, our students were very motivated to do this, so we went for it.
We couldn’t have completed this program without our amazing counterparts. Meet our lead teacher – Yassine. From the beginning, Yassine had always been interested in hiking and camping, but hadn’t had many opportunities or confidence to do these things. He’d mainly only seen that kind of stuff in movies and TV shows. We wouldn’t have done this program if we hadn’t known that he had such a big interest, and we couldn’t have done this without him.
We had 5 teachers that taught all of our weekly classes from February through May. We provided them with information and lesson plan ideas; they did the rest. For 12 weeks, the classes taught the students about ecology, pollution, first aid, nutrition, hydration, team-building, problem-solving, etc.
In order to prepare the students for the physical aspect of hiking Mt Toubkal, we did a number of exercises classes and excursions to nearby destinations throughout the summer. Our first excursion was just a few kilometers outside of town, to an empty farm field. What was interesting about this trip was that a lot of the students were concerned about the safety of walking outside of city limits: Aren’t there a lot of dogs out there? Shouldn’t we tell the police where we are going? Are you sure it’s safe? We did tell the police to make them feel better, but there were no safety concerns, but it did provide us a lot of insight into their mindset and their culture. And everyone LOVED this excursion – in fact, many of our students went out there again the following weekend.
Our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th excursions were to nearby towns with small mountains, each excursion with increasing difficulty.
Next we did a Toubkal scouting trip with two counterparts. We did this in order for our teachers to learn the route, to prepare for leading the rest of the students, and to better prepare everyone. We knew the students would believe the teachers more than they would believe us – so we left it up to them to stress the importance of getting in shape and emphasizing what they need and don’t need to bring with them.
And then for the big trip! This required a 6-hour train ride plus a 1 1/2 hour taxi ride to Imlil, our base for the hike. This is easily the farthest all of our students had traveled from home. Since it was in the mountains, it was also a nice reprieve from the summer heat. We had some struggles up the mountain, hydration being the main issue, but everyone made it to the Toubkal Refuge. A few students opted out of summiting the mountain the next day, due to shoe issues and general shortness of breath because of the altitude, but we’re very proud of the effort from everyone.
I can’t really describe the effect this trip had on our students – most couldn’t believe that this landscape happened in their country, many had never traveled without their family, had never been on “their own,” never thought they would be capable of climbing a mountain, let alone the highest in North Africa. Some families told their daughters they would never be able to do this, but they did it. It was truly an incredible experience to be a part of this program and watch everyone grow because of it. We felt very humbled and honored, and so glad we were able to finish this program before the end of our service.