Congratulations to Ahmed El Harrad on being selected as Primate Education Network’s (PEN) March Educator of the Month! Special thanks to Siân Waters for her nomination and blog submission. Ahmed El Harrad got involved in primate education when he assisted Barbary Macaque Conservation in the Rif’s (BMCRif) previous Spanish educator as her translator. He currently serves as BMCRif's Deputy Director and Educator. Ahmed adores children and they adore him. He is very good at putting them at ease in a classroom setting. This is important in our project area as villages are remote and don't get many visitors. Passive learning is the norm in Morocco’s village schools. BMCRif's lessons are very interactive and since the children are not used to this approach, they tend to be very shy. Once Ahmed has put the children at ease, they begin to answer questions and engage in activities like colouring a monkey mask with lots of enthusiasm.
Monkeys are often a subject for mockery in Morocco due to cultural and religious beliefs. People are embarrassed to talk about monkeys, much less pretend to be one by wearing a mask. But our simple mask activity can convert this embarrassment into education by teaching our students about the Barbary macaque. The students become excited about the mask, forget about their embarrassment, and connect the activity with the things they learn about the species through our lessons. Ahmed says, "When I started with the education work, I was learning a lot about the macaques along with the children. The lessons are like playing, but we are learning as we play. It's important that we learn about the macaques because they are in a difficult situation and so is their forest habitat. When the children know this, they can make a difference for the future of macaques."
BMCRif also has a portable educational exhibition for which Ahmed is responsible. Ahmed recognized the value of our exhibition after having seen 5,000 people pass through our first exhibition in just three days last year in July. Ahmed is a firm believer in providing everyone with accurate, accessible information in Arabic regarding Barbary macaques. He knows that the Moroccan public lacks an understanding of primates and their conservation. He is zealous about ensuring our message reaches as many people as possible. After seeing the disastrous effect pet keeping has on Barbary macaques as individuals and as populations, Ahmed is particularly keen on spreading the message. He now firmly believes that informing people about the Barbary macaque and its plight in the wild is the only way to see a decrease in the practice of keeping the species as pets and using them as photo props in Morocco. Ahmed also organises the annual BMCRif Football Tournament to provide a positive link between the macaques and village boys who have been their main persecutors.
Ahmed stays updated through PEN on Facebook and is particularly keen to develop some of the ideas he has seen being used by other primate educators. He would like other groups in Morocco to work more on primate education in the region after experiencing the positive results from his own efforts.
Everyone at BMCRif is looking forward to seeing the theatrical adaptation of The Journey of the Macaque Teshta by Monkeys Acting in Schools for Education (MASC) next month in Morocco. The play deals with the wildlife trade and features two animals, Teshta the Barbary macaque and Ahmed the spur-thighed tortoise, that are captured from the wild and are facing a very uncertain future. The tortoise will be played by Ahmed himself. He can't wait to don his carapace made of basketwork!
This blog post was written by Siân Waters, Project Director with Barbary Macaque Conservation in the Rif and Regional Coordinator for North Africa, Middle East, Spain, and Gibraltar with Primate Education Network.