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3/20/10 National Park Presentation

On Saturday, March 20th, on the eve of the International Day of Trees, SouqTown hosted a workshop for community leaders from 100km around (as well as anyone else who wanted to show up), to draw attention to our little-known and under-served National Park. The local youth center hosted the workshop - they have the best auditorium in town - so an unusually large percentage of the attendees were young people.

The workshop was well-attended; according to my headcount, we had 45 boys and young men, 42 girls and young women, 39 men, and four women, for a total of 130 folks.

The third presentation came from the director of our national park, aka my counterpart. He spoke about the history of our park, its role in environmental and ecosystem preservation, the endangered and threatened species that live in the park, etc.

Here he is, next to a map of our park:

The park director was one of two speakers who had prepared a PowerPoint presentation. Here's a slide of his that caught my eye:

It shows the relative prevalence of various species of tree, as well as the total forested ground-cover, by region. The national average is 12.6%, it says (though that seems high to me), unevenly distributed across the country.

After the various presentations, the floor was opened for questions and comments from the audience. I was struck by the openness of the forum. Whereas a comparable American workshop might leave a few minutes for questions and comments (with an emphasis on questions, so that the bulk of the remarks come from the invited speaker(s)), this workshop - and others I've attended - allow anyone to speak for as long as they wish. The invited presenters spoke for about an hour and a half, but the audience comments lasted almost 3 hours.

Here, a professor visiting from "Springfield" is posing pointed questions about the lack of public trash cans in SouqTown and the practice of licensed guides encouraging poaching within the National Park boundaries. (I know this because he was the only person, in the five hours of talking, who spoke in a language I know - French. Everyone else spoke in Arabic. Though 90% of the people in the room are Amazigh, no one spoke Tam. I could rant about the cultural and linguistic causes and implications of this phenomenon, but for now I'll simply leave it at ::sigh::) The man next to him spoke about an hour later. By the time I left, about 8:45, the audience had whittled down to 25 die-hards, virtually all of whom were simply waiting to speak.

Quick note about GAD (Gender And Development): The planners scheduled the workshop for 5pm (ie after business hours, because Saturday is a work day for teachers and many others). It started an hour late, as nearly everything does, so twilight was already descending as the first speakers began their remarks. By 7pm, when the four scheduled speakers had concluded their remarks, only 6.5 females were left in the room out of the original 46 - one adult woman, 5 high school juniors and seniors, and one little girl who was there with her daddy and big brother. (She's the 0.5, and you can see her in the picture above. Cute kid!) The other girls and women had left in drips and clumps over the past hour (10 left in a group, then 2 a few minutes later, then 3 a few minutes after that...), as none wanted to be out after dark. By the time I left, only one young woman (plus the little girl) remained. I mentally grumbled against the poor planning - all by men, of course - that had failed to plan for the cultural requirement that women and girls not be out after dark. I also began planning a Take Back The Night march.

In all, the presentations met their goals of increasing the profile of SouqTown and its National Park, educating locals about the role and history of the park, and encouraging people to think environmentally. Plus, the cookies were *delicious*. :)

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