By Ouassima Boujrad
By Ouassima Boujrad
Ifrane – On a cold Monday night in Ifrane, I was sitting on the balcony, drinking a hot cup of coffee and reading one of the most popular books by Paulo Coelho. It was The Alchemist, a novel that could wholly change your personality and your life in positive ways. Through this particular novel, you can develop qualities of wisdom, leadership, self-confidence, optimism, and persistence in your dreams and desires to create change. As I read that “there is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: it is the fear of failure” (Coelho, 141), I was reminded of something that I heard before, but when and where? Then I remembered: The words reminded me of Khadija, the leader of an association in the Azrou region that I once had the opportunity to visit. It was the first time I had ever discovered the world of volunteerism, a world that I had never been invited to see or decided to explore myself.
It was August 30th, the first day of my leadership classes at AUI (Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane). The professor mentioned that volunteerism is part of leadership because volunteers do such incredible work. Volunteer work builds leaders, who in turn inspire others. As a student of leadership, I felt that I had to get closer to this world. I learned that volunteering, contributing to change, giving without receiving, and creating what is lacking in my country are my own duties as a citizen. The need for volunteers is great, and as future leaders, we should plan to fulfill this vacuum. Every individual is responsible for his or her community’s development, and a better future depends on these contributions. If we do not do it, then who will?
Why wasn’t I aware of the great need for volunteer work? Who is responsible? Would I have learned of it if I hadn’t been a student in leadership classes? I blame myself, society and my 15 years of education. I was instructed that we are citizens and that we have rights and duties, but what are they exactly? No guidance. I was told that we should donate to associations as much as we can; it is a noble action. Yet almost no one around me has ever donated because they believed that most of their donations would actually go to the members instead of the beneficiaries. Why should I care about volunteer work? How would I get involved? How could I trust the associations? It seemed impossible, yet it happened. I believed that it was time for me to go to one of the associations in the region of Ifrane-Azrou. I would see for myself what is really there and verify what had been said about them.
Three months later the day of my visit to the association finally arrived. It was a beautiful fall day in Ifrane; orange, brown and green tree leaves completely covered the ground. The only thing I knew about the association, apart from its logo and name (Association Wlidatna Pour Handicapé), was that it had won the Leader of the Year Award (LOTY) at a conference organized by the Leadership Development Institute (LDI) at AUI last year. The purpose of this annual event is to gather leaders of associations from Ifrane, Meknes and local regions such as Azrou in order to celebrate volunteer workers’efforts and reward them for the part they take in the development of our community.
On the road to Azrou, I read some historical facts about volunteerism in Morocco. There were few resources on this subject, but I came across some brief records about volunteer work during colonial times. Moroccan citizens were not allowed to engage in volunteer work for fear of encouraging the fight for independence and Moroccan territorial integrity. As the imperialist powers had full jurisdiction over their colonies –since they were in the position of protectors — they had full control over every single action in Morocco like in any other African colony at that time. For that reason, volunteer work was limited to help offered to illiterate people in filling out administrative papers
Azrou, located in a mountainous region, is known for its agricultural products, particularly barley, apples, cherries, and livestock. Next to a souk featuring Azrou’s fresh vegetables and fruits stood the association’s tiny building. I knocked on the door and as I waited for someone to open it for me, I heard a lot of noise inside the building: children crying, women talking and sounds of movement, along with smooth tweets of birds and female voices tenderly calming the babies.
The door was unlocked by Khadija Aloui, the president and the founder of the association. With a cheery face and a big smile, she welcomed me into her attractive, colorful association. On entering, I saw signs for the three major halls: Multidisciplinary Hall, Skills Development Hall and Gaming Hall. What I liked about the association at the first glance was that it was well organized and beautifully colored, just like a small garden. I saw kids of different ages, each group in a specific hall doing a particular activity. They looked happy and fully engaged, while their mothers were hosted in a separate area as they waited for their children. With faces of joy and cheer, they were interacting with each other, talking out loud and laughing. It was the first time in my life that I regretted not learning Amazigh, because I did not understand a single word.
Before going for a general tour of the association, I requested a short conversation with Khadija Alaoui. It was a comprehensive talk about the association: its foundation, mission, vision and obstacles. After presenting myself and explaining my interest, I asked a number of questions about the association.
How would you introduce your association to a newcomer to the world of volunteer work who is willing to be part of your association?
Association Wlidatna Pour Handicapé is a nonprofit body with a humanitarian purpose. Inaugurated in March 18, 2012, its mission is to bring change to the region and to put a smile on the faces of poor families by providing medical and educational help for children with nervous system diseases. The association’s role also is to raise money to pay the costs of those medicines that the families cannot bear. Our ultimate goal is to ease the burden of the poor families in the region. Azrou is very poor region where sources of work are limited. How can a father who generates 1000dh per month coverall of his family’s needs for education, health, food and so forth?
The association receives handicapped children of different ages with diverse nervous system diseases, but we deal mainly with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy (CP) affects the children’s body movements. So, we try to engage them in a normal way of life with different activities. We try as much as we can to improve the children’s lives. We know that the mental and physical disabilities of CP are incurable and a lifelong illness, but we seek to reduce its impact on the children’s bodies.
What is the difference between CP and Down syndrome?
CP is a movement disorder due tobrain damage. It can be caused by hereditary factors, such as cousins’ intermarriage, or by problems during birth, such as asphyxia, or following birth, such as high fever, that lead to a destruction of brain cells. Down syndrome, on the other hand, is a genetic disorder with diverse causes.
How would you describe the CP cases that you receive? Which activities does your association provide to assist them and their families?
We generally receive children suffering from one of the three types of CP. Sometimes we get children who are blind, deaf and mute. You cannot imagine how upset their families feel.
They even blame themselves for their children’s cases and feel guilty about how their children were born, which should never be the case. You know, sometimes they prefer death for their children instead of seeing them around because the children sometimes cannot even recognize their parents.
For the activities, we have a three-dimensional project called “Rawdat Al Yassamine”. The first dimension is Incubation, where the children receive physical body training according to their type and degree of CP. In “Kitab” or literally translated “Book”, the children are taught the Arabic alphabet and some basic words used in everyday life. The last dimension is the audio visual, which is a chain of special cartoons selected according to each child’scase and, of course, constructive playthings for mental training. In addition to that, we provide mothers with special courses on how to correctly deal with their children at home. Currently, we are working with 24 children.“Rawdat Al Yassamine” was named after my daughter Yassamine, who died due to CP. I decided to found this association to help children like her, because I know what it means to have a child with CP. I was unaware of my daughter’s illness until it was too late.. However, it is our role to sensitize the families of children with CP. Even if the training does not cure, it will improve their cases.
Is all this work done free of charge? From where do you get money to pay the trainers and buy the medicines that you offer?
Frankly, if we had the funding, we would be doing everything voluntarily. However, you cannot be given trainers, teachers or even the location for free. You have to pay for electricity, water, association logistic materials and the list goes on. At the moment, we have three staff members whom we pay. Our volunteers include two teachers, three nursemaids, an audiovisual person and a doctor. The doctor lives and works in Rabat, so we transport the children to have a general checkup and to document their improvements. Although we would like to handle the financial situation, we wouldn’t be able to. As a result, we try to raise money in different ways because we rarely receive donations. We also ask parents to pay MAD 100 per month if applicable. At the moment, we have a shortage of medicines due to financial problems, but we are doing our best.
As my visit was coming to a close, I took a tour of the association, talking with the children and taking pictures. And, finally, I discovered the source of the tweets of birds that I heard before; there were a couple of green birds placed in the games hall, along with a hamster. The purpose of putting them there is to bring the kids closer and closer to nature.
Visiting this world changed my view of volunteer work. I was astonished by the work they do. They provide help out of nothing and for nothing more than a desire to provide the best conditions for the families and their well-being. Talking to some of the Arabic-speaking mothers there made me feel the importance of the association in their lives. They claim their utmost need for such help, and they generouslypraise the association’s humanitarian mission.
I completely enjoyed the four hours that I spent in the association; it was a great opportunity to learn about volunteerism in practice. I advise every single Moroccan who has never journeyed into such a world to go and spend a day within it. My journey of knowledge and discovery in this marginalized world was a valuable experience that made me realize that volunteerism is about me, you and our cooperative contribution.
Edited by Esther Bedik
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