Tourism has made a significant contribution to an increase in the Moroccan standard of living, particularly in the cities. However, Essaouira is a particular case. Essaouira is the only city in the Province and it is only the size of a large UK market town (pop. ca. 70,000). The rest of the Province – a population in total of around half a million – is rural, eking out an existence through farming. The city simply does not have the industry or infrastructure to support such a large and under-developed hinterland, but this does not stop poorly-educated, low-skilled workers flooding in with the hope of improving their lives in Essaouira’s main economic sector: tourism.
Tourists to Essaouira don’t often see the crippling poverty behind the smiling welcome but it exists and the kids often come off worst. The Bayti charity helps them and their families get on the right track, providing educational and psychological support, activities to promote social integration and a hot meal for around 100 kids, as well as counselling and legal help for parents.
Bayti, which means “my house” in Arabic, is a Moroccan national NGO which has been working in Essaouira for 15 years. They work with children from difficult family backgrounds and those who live on the streets. Next time you feel pestered by a child selling tissues or shining shoes on the main square, ask yourself why kids as young as 8 are doing this. It is not their choice; this is how they supplement the income of their families who may live several to one room, may have lost jobs or face medical or addiction issues. Girls don’t normally sell tissues – they can earn money by other means indoors, for example through housework or prostitution. Whatever their circumstances, by the standards of most tourists – even those who seek to travel Morocco on the cheap – the families which Bayti seeks to help live in crippling poverty. It is not hard to imagine the many vicious circles their staff seek to break when working with these kids.
To celebrate 15 years of Bayti in Essaouira, a local NGO, Association Argania, and a Belgian non-profit, Swira, organised an international volunteer week over Easter 2014 to renovate the Bayti building, undertake activities with the kids and highlight the incredibly important work conducted by this organisation in the most challenging conditions. Compared to Western standards, labour and materials are cheap in Morocco and – with the help of individual donors, local authorities and corporate sponsors – already over half of the target budget of €7,000 has been raised. You can help reach the goal by donating online here. If you are in Essaouira, you can contact Swira on +212 (0)6 33 87 04 11 to donate in cash.
All involved in this initiative hope that it will be the start of a new era for Bayti. As in many developing countries, organizations such as these don’t receive the government assistance or corporate support that they need. With the 15th birthday renovation project, it is hoped that a process will begin to put Bayti Essaouira on a more stable footing with long-term financial support that can secure a brighter future for disadvantaged and marginalised kids in Essaouira. After all, don’t we all deserve somewhere we can call “home”?
For further information on this initiative, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Update January 2015: If you would like to support Bayti Essaouira now that the volunteer activities are over, please see the crowdfunding campaign here.