The ever-increasing economic demands of the growing association could mean the women cannot keep going.
Rabt – In a small community nestled in the foothills of Morocco’s Atlas mountains, a handful of women can be found working diligently inside of a brightly decorated building. Just a few years ago their numbers were growing and business was good.
Now, as they struggle to continue, the rooms that used to be home to excitement and the sweet smell of herbs are filled with worry.
Their organization, called Association ACHIFAE, was once able to provide support for their community and empower local women through small business.
“Before the association, we were just housewives, we had no jobs,” said Fatima Dghoghi, the head of the organization.
However, despite their initial success, they came across obstacles they lacked the resources to overcome, and now, hope for the future is starting to fade.
A life-changing opportunity
Located in the small town of Ben Smim, around 95 kilometers south of Fez, Association ACHIFAE was born in 2006, with the help of an NGO that visited the rural community. While there, they encouraged the local women to start a project that could have a real impact on their lives.
“Then we thought about our ancestors and how they used plants for medicines and other purposes,” Dghoghi said.
Each of them had been taught by their families which plants growing in the nearby mountains could be used to treat symptoms of illness. Fevers, coughs, and stomach aches, among other ailments, all have traditional treatments.
They brought this idea to the NGO, and it was decided that the women would form an organization to create and sell products made from the same medicinal herbs and flowers that had surrounded them throughout their lives.
Association ACHIFAE was officially created, with its original membership consisting of just 16 women from Ben Smim. The NGO helped them pay to receive training, and the women pooled together their money to buy the necessary equipment.
“We are financially limited, but since we were excited about the project, we wanted it to happen,” Dghoghi said.
The machine used to extract materials from the plants cost the association 1,000 MAD [€94.13], a big investment for women in their financial situations.
They started small, and set up operation in a few cramped rooms of a building that served as a youth center. They would go into the mountains regularly, pick the herbs, and make small batches of rose water, almond oil, and their other products to sell.
As time went by their products began to gain popularity, among both locals and tourists. Soon, with perseverance and a bit of help, they were able to buy better equipment. The association was growing, and the women who worked with it found that they were able to improve their financial situations and help support their families too.
“Even if the outcome is not huge, it still matters,” Dghoghi said, and explained that this was especially true for those women who were single mothers or whose husbands could not work.
Eventually, the Moroccan National Health Security Office of Food (ONSSA) visited and connected the association with local supermarkets. Before long ACHIFAE products were being sold across the country, even in large chains like Marjane. What had started with just 16 women had grown to 50: Things were going well.
But in 2016 their products were pulled from stores by ONSSA. The stated reason was that their facilities were not up to standards. They were told they needed a larger space, specifically designed for their activities.
Association ACHIFAE was still working out of the only space available to them, however, and that was the small youth center in Ben Smim. They lacked the resources necessary to buy land or create their own facility.
“The money that we make can barely help us with our families, how can we afford construction or land?” Dghoghi asked.
With their income so severely decreased, many women had to leave the association in search of other jobs. Now only seven remain, a size even smaller than it started in 2006. Those that still work for the association are searching desperately for a way to keep the organization alive.
“We don’t want to give up. We want to continue, that’s all we want.” Dghoghi said, continuing, “We need help, women are really in need in the region.”
The organization that the women and community of Ben Smim relied on is on its last legs, only able to continue on the smallest scale, a level where it is impossible for them to gain the financial resources they need.
They are struggling to continue, but there is still a chance that they will be able to return to their position of support in the community.
If you are interested in supporting Association ACHIFAE, you can reach them at [email protected], or by calling +212(0) 6 02 87 31 57.