There are few times in life that we have the chance to make our dreams come true. I have always wanted to have a career that would allow me to help people the most in need. In the 1990’s, as I was growing up, the AIDS epidemic was destroying Africa. I can remember telling my mom “When I’m old enough I just want to go to Africa and hug those babies.” I was 12. The years rolled on and as my peers were making class presentations on football stars and fashion trends I talked about female genital mutilation and the Ben Barka Affair. A totally normal 15 year old right? I guess you could say my heart was always somewhere else.
Then life happened.
At 18 my life changed forever and suffice to say my dreams of Africa went out the window – I had my own baby to hug. I had so much support and a lot of determination to finish university no matter what. Many options were presented but only one was right for me. As hard as it was I had to keep that little person. In doing so, I gave up on all hope I had ever had to make my Africa dream come true. Resigning that dream was soul-crushing.
But Allah (God) had other plans.
I met the other half of my heart, he picked me up, loved me, and brought a new world for me to love. I feel in love with Morocco, the people, the food, the colors and smells but no matter where you are or how wonderful a place seems, lurking under the covers is the dirtier side. It’s not as shiny – frankly it’s pretty ugly.
The first time I saw a woman on the streets with a baby I wanted to give her all that I had. But, there were so many. Then it was like I had walked into a wall. This would have been me. If I wouldn’t have been born where I was – I would be that mother. I walked away on the brink of tears when all I really wanted to do was give her a hug. In all my struggle, I thought I had really done something. But, this mom, she chose her child even if it meant an existence that was dependent on begging.
Over the years these moms and babies have stayed very close in my heart and mind. As the years have gone by my appreciation for the safety net that exists in the United States has only grown greater. I want to give Moroccan women that. I have a dream to open a home in Marrakech for women and their children. It will be a safe place where moms can go to school as well as learning a trade or profession to support themselves. Housing will be provided and cooperative childcare and meals will be standard. When they are ready and able, support will be given to find housing and start them out on a positive note. This dream remains in my heart.
I know that it will take years for me to launch such a program however as we prepared for our last trip this fall I was determined to do something positive. I launched Mobiles for Morocco to bring baby mobiles, clothes, and toys to an orphanage in Marrakech. And, you all responded more than I ever imagined.
Within a day of putting up information there were monetary and physical donation pledges made. It kept coming in the days and weeks that followed. As we left I had one large suitcase full of 50 pounds of clothing, mobiles and toys. Nearly $400 came in and many parcels of mobiles and clothes – some from as far away as Ireland! – came. As each new package came I was overflowing with emotion. I had hoped to bring just a few items with but thanks to you I brought A LOT of things!
When the day came I met Nora from Life in Marrakech and her mom to go to the orphanage. We were also joined by her lovely kids as well as MarocBaba. When we arrived I took a deep breathe and in we went. First the baby room where a dozen-or-so little babies lined the walls in their cribs. I was happy they all had names and I wanted to hold them all. One tiny two month old just called out to me. As soon as I picked him up and held him, the tears started.
“I know your mama is missing you tonight,” escaped my mouth.
I kept sucking in air and trying not to cry.
The next two rooms had babies a little older. Nora’s kids helped distribute toys and choose where to place the mobiles. The smiles of these little ones was so contagious. It was harder to hold the older ones because they just wanted to stay in our arms, putting them down was heartbreaking and met with small cries of protest. I remember my own boys at that age squirmed to get out of my arms, these toddlers laid on our shoulders and stayed still. More than one stole my heart.
This orphanage is privately run and most of the children who were there when we were are waiting for paperwork to finish processing before they can go to their forever families. There are a handful of orphanages in Morocco that will adopt orphans to the United States.
If you have a Moroccan spouse or are living in Morocco the situation may be different. This specific orphanage does not adopt orphans to the US. Donations however, are always welcome. In addition to caring for these children, the second floor of the building has several guest rooms. Just a short walk from the orphanage is a children’s hospital and the rooms are for parents who have children needing long-term treatment at the hospital.
It wasn’t until my mom pointed out a profound fact about this trip that I realized just how full circle my life had come. She told me that my dream had come true. I wasn’t sure what she meant. She then reminded me of my childhood dreams. The ones I had give up when my life was turned upside down. I followed my heart and did what I thought was right.
This will not be the end of my journey or this project. If you would like to get involved or have fundraising ideas for this orphanage please contact me. When these little ones move on, there will be more waiting to take their places.
If you would like to make a donation directly to this orphanage funds can be transferred to SGMB Al M bank in Marrakech Account # 022 450000 174 000902747453
What about the children that won’t be adopted?
I truly believe that every child needs and deserves to find a loving, supportive home. But, the reality is that adoption isn’t an option for all children. In a perfect world it would be but we know that this is not a perfect world. In Morocco about 6000-7000 children are abandoned at birth each year, primarily by single women (according to UNICEF). This remains a problem and with tightening grips on international adoption, programs need to be in place to support these children.
As fate would have it, I was contacted by SOS Children’s Villages last fall during Orphan Awareness Month. I quickly made the connection and asked them if there was anyway I could visit one of the children’s villages in Morocco. I wanted to know what the next step was for children who were not adopted.
Before we went to visit, I had a long conversation with Claudia Ender of SOS Children’s Villages-USA where I learned about their model. The concept (and organization) was founded by Hermann Gmeiner in Austria after World War II. With so many war orphans he envisioned a place where they could find a safe home with a mother and siblings.
His idea was revolutionary for the time as it created a sustainable model for caring for children instead of an institution to house children. Up to eight live in a house and they remain together as a family unit. Each house mother cares for the children as they were her own. She also has one mother’s aid who helps if a child is sick and the mom needs to take them to the doctor or if mom just needs a break.
After some arrangements with SOS US and the SOS village here (it was the closest to Marrakech), MarocBaba and I took the short drive to Ait Ourir. We didn’t have an address, but were told to just ask anyone in town and they would know where to send us. Honestly, at this point I had an idea in my head of what we were going to find.
I imagined maybe one or two multi-story homes that had families living on different levels. It puzzled me how everyone in town would know where to send us. I kind of felt like the children must be pariah’s if everyone knew where they were. What we found blew my mind. This is a video filmed at Ait Ourir – it’s not mine, and it’s narrated in Darija but you won’t need to understand what the narrator is saying to see and get an idea of what you’re seeing.
It wasn’t a few houses, it really was an entire small compound and it was gorgeous! Inside the walls were villa style homes for the families, gardens with lots of fruit trees, and peacocks wandering the grounds! An administration building, and a community center as well as a kindergarten and nearby primary school also made up the buildings. We were told that local children also benefit from the school, as there are a certain number of places available for them to attend too.
Inside the community center were rooms for art classes, music enrichment, and technology (computer) classes. The support of corporations such as Dell (who sponsored the technology room) and McDonald’s (the music area), makes this a reality. One hundred children call the village home and come from all over the country. SOS also has villages in Agadir, Dar Bouazza, El Jadida, and Imzouren. Once children reach their teenage years they move to a youth facility in Marrakech or Mohammedia that are single-sex apartments, similar to dorms with a house mother.
The reality is that not all children who are in need can be or will be adopted. It was amazing for me to see this wonderful facility that has been established to help those children transition through life. I was struck by the fact that the work being done here is very much in line with the Islamic concept of caring for and raising a child and it was a very far cry from my concept of an orphanage. This is not an orphanage – this is a home, and even though it’s not traditional in the sense of two parents + children it was easy to see how the bonds formed in these families are just as strong, if not stronger.
SOS operates around the world in 133 countries providing thousands of orphaned and abandoned children a safe place to live, learn and grow. While disaster relief is not their primary goal, they do offer emergency relief in regions all over the world who are reeling from natural disasters and conflict.
The last question I asked Claudia was how people could help support SOS. First, spread the word. Let other people know about the work that is being done. Second, is financial support. SOS is an NGO, meaning it does not receive financial support from the government, it is an independent organization.
You can sponsor a child in Morocco for 100 dirham (about $12) a month – or an entire family for 900 dirham (about $100). This money provides support to meet the basic needs of the child. You’ll receive updates on your sponsored child twice a year and if you’re ever in Morocco, you’re welcome to visit the village and your sponsored child.
For more information on sponsoring you can contact the head of donor relations in Morocco – find more information here. If there’s a specific village you’d like to sponsor from let donor relations know. For general donations or to select a different country for sponsorship, visit the main SOS-US donors page for information or donate directly.
Special thank you to SOS US team, especially Claudia Ember for arranging our visit, the Ait Ourir administrators and family that welcomed us to their home, educators who showed us around the school, and the children for allowing us to visit their home!