As Morocco marks Down Syndrome Day, 25-year-old Nassim Gryech’s inspiring journey showcases the transformational promise of social inclusion.
Miami – March 21st was officially declared by the United Nations in 2012 to be the international awareness day for Down syndrome, as individuals with Down syndrome have three copies of chromosome 21 (trisomy), instead of two.
In an effort to raise awareness of both this day, and the importance of integrating people with intellectual disabilities into society, Moroccan associations and individuals throughout the country have shown tremendous effort in working towards an all-inclusive society.
As it stands, the integration of individuals with Down syndrome in Morocco is challenged by social stigmas. Individuals with intellectual disabilities in Morocco often, find themselves marginalized and alienated in a society that sets predetermined notions about their social and mental capabilities.
Organizations such as ANAIS, the national association for the integration of people with mental disabilities in Casablanca, recently launched a new community project during the COVID-19 pandemic in hope of promoting equality for individuals with Down syndrome.
On December 3rd, 2020, ANAIS publicly announced the opening of the first cafe in Casablanca which offers pastries made by students with Down syndrome. In partnership with BHF Atlas peintures and La Buvette du Maroc, ANAIS was successfully able to launch the project called “Le Coin Anais”.
“‘Le Coin Anais’, is a venue that will offer unprecedented solutions to the problem of exclusion of young people with mental disabilities in the job market. It will do so by putting them in a real employment environment and by allowing them to attain a sense of autonomy and socio-professional integration” said Latifa Arsalane, the head of the Communications and Fundraising Department at ANAIS.
This innovative, community project aims to demonstrate that, with the rightfully allocated resources and suitable training, individuals with Down syndrome are able to work in roles with the same expected standards as any other employee in society.
An hour away in the capital city of Rabat, 25-year-old Nassim Gryech, a Moroccan man with Down syndrome is taking matters into his own hands.
From spending hours in his home studio painting to coaching elementary students, Gryech has set his own goals in the battle for equity and to redefine the meaning of an inclusive society.
After being expelled from a public school in Rabat in 2008 due to “his condition, crumpling up his envisioned path towards attaining a normal education,” Ihsane Greych, his sister, told Morocco World News, Gryech did not let that unfortunate event hold him back and subsequently set to join a more accepting community––AMSAT.
AMSAT, the Moroccan Association of Support and Assistance for People with Down syndrome in Rabat, provided Gryech with a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere, encouraging him to explore his hobbies and enhance his social skills. There he was able to take part in one of the country’s most applauded projects set to promote the inclusion of kids with Down syndrome––ASMAT Restaurant, a restaurant managed by individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Today, Gryech is a talented, social, and intellectual man who takes great pleasure in painting and helping others to learn how to do so. He uses his talent to show those around him that “given the right tools no one is a burden in this society” his sister explained.
At the start of the pandemic, when social distancing and isolations were alien practices to the world and many were left unsure of how to deal with such uncertainties, Gryech redirected his quarantine-induced anxiety towards painting. “This,” his sister described, “is what kept him going through those uncertain times.”
His unique artwork makes use of warm colors, delicate brush strokes, and a mixture of both geometric and circular shapes––inducing a cheerful and lively atmosphere. Gryech first started taking art lessons in 2011 and became an independent artist in 2018.
On March 13th, 2021, Special Olympics Morocco invited Gryech to host art workshops for elementary kids where he instructed students on the basic skills and techniques used in painting.
In line with the vision to promote the integration of individuals with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics Morocco launched the “Lead to Include” initiative, giving opportunities to talented individuals like Nassim Gryech to give back to their communities and most importantly contribute towards building a more inclusive society.
Evidently, initiatives like these mark a major milestone for the country in its agenda to promote inclusivity and equity among all its citizens. It further contributes to raising awareness about Down syndrome and the professional integration of people with disabilities––laying the carpet for Moroccan citizens to take a closer step towards adopting a more inclusive lens through which they approach societal standards.