I have just returned from a gruelling visit to the Centre de Formation des Métiers de Montagne (CFAMM) as the Moroccan guide training school is called. The training programme initiated as a collaborative venture between The Donkey Sanctuary and Edinburgh University is now in its fifth year.
The school lies over six hours by mountain road from Marrakech and is situated in a beautiful valley, popularly known as ‘La Vallée Heureuse’, the happy valley.
The mules of the Central High Atlas have been the backbone of the mountain tourism industry in Morocco for over thirty years but it is only since The Donkey Sanctuary funded the initiation of a training programme for the guide school that any significant educational initiative has been made to improve mule welfare.
The week’s course introduced students to a range of subject materials. These included:
- the history of the mule and of mountaineering
- team leadership and the role of the expedition leader
- ethics in mountaineering and mountain leadership
- equine anatomy, nutrition, behaviour and training
- harnessing and harness related injuries (prevention and treatment)
- first aid and emergency care
- examination of the mule and team selection
- reflexivity in professional practice.
The course is based on experiential learning techniques and draws heavily on my background in outdoor learning. I am fortunate to be able to call on Professor Hassan Alyakine of the vet school in Rabat and SPANA Maroc. His assistance on these courses has proved invaluable over the years and is particularly appreciated during the hands on practical sessions we run.
This year we had an intake of thirty students, all of whom are hoping to find work in this thriving industry. They are all too aware of how easy it is for minority groups to be exploited and that mules are no different in this regard.
I will be returning to the guide school in May to undertake the challenging 300km trek from the school to the Toubkal.
As part of our recommendations for this year’s trek, we are again seeking to reduce the average load the mules carry. It is hoped the authorities will add a further two mules to the team. We are also working with Montagne Propre to try to ensure that all recyclable waste is transported back to Marrakech for recycling. The mules have a key role to play here in protecting the environment. As ever, it is man that is the problem. By working together with our partners in Morocco, it is hoped that we continue to raise standards in pack mule welfare and environmental advocacy.