Tag Archives: helping others

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.

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

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

Summer 2016: Charity exhibition of Essaouira naive art

Exhibitions of Essaouira naive art by Ben Ali (Abdelghani Didouh) in Summer 2016.Essaouira naive art is known world-wide. The colourful style is reminiscent of aboriginal and outsider art from other cultures in Africa and on other continents. The Swiri artists are self-taught and many are principally employed in agriculture and fishing.

As I wrote in the Fodor’s Guide to Morocco, “The work of the naïve Souiri artists is frequently exhibited locally, and you can track down artists such as Abdelaziz Baki, Ali Maimoune, and Asmah Ennaji at their workshops in the joutiya, Essaouira’s flea market in the industrial quarter to the north of the medina. Here, their colorful work is displayed in two and three dimensions, often incorporating found objects or up-cycled items from the nearby market.”

This summer, Swiris and visitors will have a unique opportunity to see two exhibitions by local artist, Ben Ali (Abdelghani Didouh). The exhibitions are being held to raise funds for Essaouira-based charity Project 91, to establish a fund for the widows of fishermen lost at sea. Continue reading

Community litter collection in Essaouira, Sunday 23 November 2014

Baraka men zbel! Essaouira November 2014Concerned about the natural environment in Essaouira and determined to make our small city attractive for residents and visitors, a number of individuals, associations and companies have come together under the slogan:

Baraka men zbel! Ça suffit des déchets! Stop the litter!

As a first activity, with a view to many more, a community rubbish collection was held on Sunday 23 November  with local associations, residents and young people in the Skala neighbourhood of Essaouira.

The event was organised by Association Argania in collaboration with the company Écotourisme et Randonnées. As well as a number of local residents and expatriates, several youth associations attended with their members and beneficiaries, including Association Bayti, Association Douar Laraiche, the Basketball Club CAS, Association Swira (from Belgium), Association for the Integration of Disadvantaged Youth in Essaouira (AIeDE) and Peace Corps. In total, around 80 people attended – around half adults (including several youth leaders) and half children and youth.

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The Best of Essaouira: souvenir shopping

Basma shop EssaouiraMany visitors to Essaouira come via Marrakech to the coast (although this will change as more and more airlines fly directly to Essaouira). On arrival, they are often pleased to find that the medina is smaller and less overwhelming than that of Marrakech, and the shopkeepers and stall holders tend to drive a slightly easier bargain than their big city counterparts.

However, many of the shops sell the same kinds of souvenirs you can find all over the country. What if you want items that are distinctly local? Do not despair! Essaouira has a reputation as an artsy town and there are many local and expat artisans and artists offering unique gifts for you to take home. Here are some of the Best of Essaouira in terms of souvenirs.

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Essaouira – helping disadvantaged kids

Workshop at Bayti with High Atlas Foundation

image (c): High Atlas Foundation

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.

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Unearthing the Secrets of Essaouira’s Jewish Cemeteries

the 'new' Jewish cemetery in Essaouira
the ‘new’ Jewish cemetery in Essaouira

Essaouira-Mogador occupies a unique place in the history of Morocco. This is largely based on the exceptional unity of social, philosophical and cultural relations between communities of diverse religious faiths. The High Atlas Foundation and its many local partners have initiated a preservation and maintenance program for the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish cemeteries in Essaouira, which stand as present-day reminders of the peaceful and prosperous coexistence of the past.

Essaouira has two Jewish cemeteries: the ‘old’ and the ‘new’. The photograph (left) shows Malika, the caretaker of both, in the new cemetery. I was very privileged to visit both cemeteries with Asher Knafo, who is a poet, writer, and researcher of the history of Jewish Mogador. Several members of his family are buried in the new cemetery. An article I wrote about my day with Asher was published by Scoop in New Zealand. Read it here.

Exhibition: Mon Essaouira

Abdellah Assemer and his photos

Abdellah Assemer and his photos

Fairmail comes to Morocco! FairMail is a company producing fair trade greeting cards made from photos taken by underprivileged teenagers in Peru and India. Founding couple, Peter den Hond and Janneke Smeulders have now started a project in Essaouira, Morocco.

I met Janneke at the exhibition, ‘Mon Essaouira’ (My Essaouira) at Dar Souiri which runs until today (1 December). She explained a little to me about their work in Essaouira.

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