Tag Archives: blog

The Demographic Dividend and the Power of Youth

The Demographic Dividend and the Power of Youth book coverI am very proud to announce that the fourth book to which I have contributed on Morocco was published earlier this month. The Demographic Dividend and the Power of Youth is an anthology of essays from around the world about harnessing the energy and potential of younger generations.

My chapter takes case studies of successful interventions on youth and women’s employability undertaken by The Challenge Group in sub-Saharan Africa and applies them to Morocco. Although in many ways North African countries are economically more advanced than those of sub-Saharan Africa, they face similar challenges in their youthful populations. They also share dual needs to ensure young people have marketable skills while stimulating micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, as the backbone of any economy, to create jobs.  Continue reading

Fanon Yesterday, today

Frantz Fanon: Hier, Aujord'hui film poster

source: vimeo.com

Frantz Fanon is a key author for anyone interested in development, colonialization or the post-colonial experience. I first came across him during my Masters on Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and bought a copy of The Wretched of the Earth as some not-particularly-light (but very relevant) holiday reading on a trip to the country of the living revolution, Cuba. An opportunity to see Hassane Mezine’s documentary, Fanon: Hier, Aujord’hui (Fanon Yesterday, Today) in the 2019 Africa in Motion Film Festival was an opportunity to learn more about Fanon’s life and philosophy and also to discover the continuing relevance and legacy of his work. Continue reading

Film review: Sofia by Meryem Benm’Barek

Collective Museum of CasablancaIn the past two weeks, Casablanca has come to Edinburgh! The showing of Sofia by Meryem Benm’Barek in the 2019 Africa in Motion Festival coincided with the exhibition on the Collective Museum of Casablanca at the City Dome on Calton Hill. Both give pause for thought on the lives and lived experiences of marginalised groups in Morocco’s biggest city. Here, I consider Sofia and its messages around women’s rights. Continue reading

Volunteering in Essaouira

I receive many queries regarding volunteering in Essaouira. It seems that many people like the idea of giving something back to the local community. I have written previously about so-called voluntourism and the need to help in a helpful way. I think it is important, before embarking on a volunteering experience to consider three key points.

Giving and getting

Firstly, what can you offer? It is all very well being willing, but given education and literacy levels among the most disadvantaged in Moroccan society, it is unlikely – unless the volunteer has a reasonable command of Darija (Moroccan Arabic) that their intervention will be very effective. Exceptions to this rule include fundraising, where the object of any communication is likely to be a foreign donor, rather than a beneficiary, or teaching. In Essaouira, Association Bayti can normally use support researching donors and drafting grant proposals. The staff there speak French, but limited English. The English Street Class project facilitates native speakers of English (tourists and expats) in teaching English to locals in a street-based classroom. Other languages are also offered.

Secondly, who will benefit? Strategic volunteering is good for the CV, but the volunteer and beneficiary will get most out of the experience if the placement is well-structured, with appropriate line management or mentoring support. I have heard too many stories of volunteers not being adequately managed so their time and their skills go to waste. The Collectif Marocain de Volontariat is working to ensure volunteering placements are well-structured with a framework of skills which are measured and assessed. I know an Essaouira-based member, if this is of interest.

Finally, is this really volunteering in the true sense? Stories abound online of the supply of volunteers outstripping the demand for their labour, so schools get painted several times per year, or worse, apparent charities have to create problems for volunteers to solve (see J.K. Rowling’s campaign on orphanages). In some cases, work which really should provide employment for a local is advertised as a “volunteering experience” – I have seen accommodation providers, businesses, who do this. Do your research and check your facts.

A desire to volunteer is laudable – both in terms of helping the disadvantaged and as a means to build skills and work experience. But doing it in a foreign, developing economy, is a whole different ball game. Ensuring the volunteer has something concrete to offer, that the receiving organisation is equipped to host them and that the work to be done is necessary, will ensure that all concerned get the maximum benefit. For organisations in Essaouira which I support, see this page.

Creating a local association

If volunteering isn’t enough, or you are based in Essaouira and would like to make a bigger, better or different contribution to the many non-profits already on the ground, there is the potential to have a great impact. You will need to work with local associations and authorities to make it work, and so communication skills are essential. During my work with the High Atlas Foundation, I worked with innumerable schools, individuals, local officials, local associations and private businesses and it isn’t easy to coordinate all those interests, much less to handle different working cultures and attitudes towards charity. In addition, in the past it has been easier to set up a charity (association) than a business in Morocco, due to the amounts of bureaucracy involved in the latter, so many non-profits are in name only. If this spurs you on to create your own association, the members of the board will need to hold Moroccan residency. You will need to register the association at the Town Hall (Baladiya) – there is an office there especially for that. Then it is necessary to hold a formative meeting (assemblee constitutive) in the presence of a representative of the local delegation of the ministry most allied to your cause. Once established, you can get your official stamp (tampon, needed to sign letters and cheques) and open a bank account. You will need to hold an annual general meeting to update members and make key decisions.

This level of engagement is not to be entered into lightly and many I have seen try have failed. A good first step is to collaborate with local associations working in your chosen field and seek to complement or expand their activities. We did this with the Baraka men zbel project, which was about educating local youngsters about the environment while collecting litter in their neighbourhoods. Ultimately it failed because the person who wanted to run it (with a view to creating their own association) had underestimated the skills and time required and the local associations with whom we had partnered saw this activity as a nice add on, but not essential to, their core activities. Following a change in the municipal waste contractor, this work is now taken forward by the Essaouira Beach Cleaning project with different partners and participants.

I am always encouraged by non-Moroccans who wish to make an effort by volunteering in Essaouira – no matter how small or how grandiose a gesture – to improving the lives of the Moroccans they meet, befriend and work alongside. Hopefully this article will support some of them in making the biggest impact with the resources they have.

Life in the sun: owning property in Essaouira

Riad Chbanate EssaouiraOver the years, many people have asked my advice about owning property in Essaouira. Perhaps, like me, they dreamed of buying an old medina townhouse and converting it into a guest house, now widely known as a “riad.” (Although, in Essaouira, houses are typically too small to be genuine riads, which traditionally had gardens and fountains in the central courtyard). Or perhaps they dream of retiring to the sun, to a rural idyll with a pool on the doorstep, surrounded by olive and and argan trees. Either way, my advice is “try before you buy.” It’s easy to be led by your heart and not your head. When I arrived to live in Essaouira in 2012, I did some serious market research and developed a number of business plans before deciding that running a boutique B&B just wouldn’t be viable for me.  Continue reading

Sharing – a common currency in Edinburgh and Essaouira

Generation ShareI attended the Edinburgh launch of Benita Matofska and Sophie Sheinwald’s “Generation Share” book not really understanding what the “Sharing Economy” was, but feeling some kind of resonance and a desire to learn more. I not only learned what it was, but I was inspired and I realised that sharing is a key aspect of my life. Continue reading

Africa in Motion 2018: Apatride

Africa in Motion Film Festival 2018 - Apatride

Apatride (2018)

As part of the team of the Africa in Motion (AiM) Film Festival 2018, I was able to indulge my passion for Moroccan film through my participation in an international symposium on the Global Reach of Moroccan cinema, part of the Transnational Moroccan Cinema project at the University of Exeter and also to see UK Premiers of new Moroccan cinema. One such film was Apatride, directed by Narjiss Nejjar.

Apatride is translated as “stateless” and this status describes – among others – those expelled by Algeria in the 1970s following the Green March of 1975, when the Moroccan state staged a mass march to claim the Spanish Sahara from the colonial power. The protagonist, Hénia, is one among 45,000 families expelled from Algeria to Morocco and she spends her life trying to return to her mother, who was left behind. Producer, Lamia Chraībi took questions after the screening of Apatride at the Edinburgh Filmhouse on Saturday 27 October. Continue reading

Africa in Motion; Morocco in Motion

Africa in Motion Film Festival 2018Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of Moroccan film and I love attending film festivals to see the latest independent releases. The Africa in Motion (AiM) Film Festival, run every autumn in Edinburgh and Glasgow, is one of my favourites. And this year I am part of the team! Not only that, for the third year running Africa in Motion is collaborating with the Transnational Moroccan Cinema project at the University of Exeter. Contemporary Moroccan cinema is gaining an international audience and Moroccan film-makers are building great reputations.

This year’s AiM Film Festival programme features no less than five Moroccan feature films – several of which will have their UK premier – plus three shorts. A workshop on experimental documentary-making will take place in the prescience of filmmaker Ali Essafi (La Septieme Porte, Ouarzarzate) and artist Touda Bouanani (Fragments de Memoires, Une Personne) at Edinburgh College of Art. And a weekend-long international symposium at Edinburgh University, Morocco in Motion: The Global Reach of Moroccan Cinema, aims to expand the debates and discussions on the global reach of Moroccan cinema with academics, film-makers and cinema-goers. Continue reading

Volunteering, voluntourism and helping in Scotland and Morocco

Volunteering, voluntourism and helping The other weekend, my husband and I attended an induction session for prospective volunteers at Edinburgh charity, The Welcoming Association. The Welcoming works with newcomers to Scotland, including but not only, refugees on the UN Syrian Vulnerable People’s Resettlement Programme. We want to volunteer as a befriender family, hopefully supporting the transition of an Arabic-speaking family into local life in Edinburgh, sharing our experience of (re)newcomers to the city and exchanging languages and cultures as a family. We are really excited to learn who we will be matched with! The session left me thinking about volunteering, voluntourism and helping in both Scotland and Morocco. Continue reading

Art Deco Casablanca

Art Deco Casablanca architectureI find Casablanca, Morocco’s commercial hub and biggest city, hard to like. It’s a big, grubby urban metropolis. However, if you look hard enough and lift your head above street level, it has Art Deco features to rival Miami or Berlin, Art Nouveau swirls reminiscent of Vienna or Glasgow and – of course – all with an Andalusian twist. I was asked by Virgin Australia Voyeur Magazine to summarise the charm of Art Deco Casablanca in an article about global Art Deco. Here is a screenshot of the piece. The article can be viewed on Magzter (registration required).

Virgin Australia Voyeur Magazine March 2017 - Art Deco Casablanca