The Sidi Moumen cultural centers provide resources, opportunities, and hope to youth and their families in one of Morocco’s roughest slums.
By Carolina McCabe
Rabat – Founded by Boubker Mazoz in 2007, the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center has become a beacon of opportunity for youth from Sidi Moumen in Casablanca. The center, run by the Idmaj Association, has finished building its third facility.
The lack of opportunity, violence, illiteracy, and government policies within the Sidi Moumen community resulted in intense poverty. In the 2003 Casablanca bombings, all 12 bombers came from Sidi Moumen. Again, in the 2007 Casablanca attacks, the suicide bombers originated from Sidi Moumen.
In 2003, King Mohammed VI introduced “Cities Without Slums,” a program aiming to eliminate all slums from the country by 2012. The project included building sufficient, affordable, and sanitary housing for families to relocate to during the demolishment of the old slums.
Since its launch in 2004, the UN-Habitat supported program has reached one of the highest rates of reduction of slums at a global level. More than simply replacing the housing, helping the community rise beyond the hopelessness that had encompassed it for so long was a continuous battle.
Teaching youth to teach others
Seeing the challenges the community faced, Boubker Mazoz, a Moroccan who previously worked for the US State Department, founded the first center in 2007 with private funding. According to its website, the mission of Sidi Moumen is to “encourage at-risk children and vulnerable youth to stay in school and avoid delinquency, drug addiction, and extremism.”
Through classes, activities and safe spaces, the center provides youth with the skills to become future leaders and upstanding citizens. The center offers courses in various languages, music, leadership, and art, among many other programs. Idmaj hosts exchange programs and conferences to encourage youth to take advantage of new opportunities and share their experiences with others.
The Idmaj Association, which runs the centers, is an association of youth who are from the neighborhoods that they serve. The founder, Boubker Mazoz, aimed to train young people to become leaders and participate in the operation of the center. Now, over 90 percent of the staff are from the Sidi Moumen community, and most of them were originally students from the center.
Salma Elmettichi, the deputy secretary general of Idmaj, started attending the center when she was nine years old. Thirteen years later, she attributes her accomplishments to attending the center as a child. Elmettichi received her bachelor’s degree earlier this month.
“The center gave me the most important thing. The center gave me hope. I had a life without hope, I didn’t know what to do,” Elmettichi told Morocco World News. She continued, “The center showed me how to set my goals. It showed me that one day I could be an important person. The center gave back the trust that I lost when I was young.”
Bringing families together
Beyond engaging with the youth of the community, the centers capitalize on the opportunity to involve their families too. Expanding into cooking, embroidery, and recycling classes, the center incorporates the mothers of the youth as well.
“The center has made families closer. For me and my family, before the center, my parents didn’t know who I was,” said Elmettichi. “When I came to the center at nine and did things that I loved to do, my parents, especially my mom, were able to see that I was talented. It helped the bond between me and my family grow.”
Walking into the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center, there are security measures to ensure the safety of the youth. However, once inside the grounds, the center is colorfully decorated with murals surrounding the combined basketball and soccer court. An old school bus is converted into a classroom.
Trailers painted with bright colors contain sewing machines and a group of mothers embroidering together. Fifteen young boys and girls bang their makeshift drums in unison as they sit for their drumming class.
Inside the facility, students fill classrooms learning math, English, and leadership skills. Pictures cover the walls of the theater room, highlighting past productions and performances. There is a sense of hope that surrounds one when they enter the facility. Youth from all around the community are learning, engaging in conversation, and putting their passions into practice.
“The center supports youth who came from hard social backgrounds, like myself and others who don’t have a lot of money. The center has helped us study so that in the future we can change our social situations,” said Elmettichi.
The newest facility that has been constructed, but not yet inaugurated, is a four-story building, which holds classrooms filled with musical instruments, art supplies, libraries, technology labs, a stage, exercise equipment, sewing machines, and more. The center will be able to cater to more members of the community and encourage youth to engage in what they are passionate about.
“With the third center, we wish to get the chance to help more kids succeed in their studies and succeed in their lives,” said Elmettichi. “Our lives were changed when we entered the center, so we hope to help others who need our help to change their lives too.”