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Investigative Field Report (Morocco, March 31 – April 9)

Wed, Apr 27, 2016

In The Field

Sahara Children co-founder Lisa Delsante departed from Newark airport en route to Marrakech along with volunteer Teresa Vivancos. She writes:

We spent a couple of days in Essouira to discuss a plan and explore the labyrinthine streets of the sea-front town. On April 3, co-founder Liz Williams met us where we traveled to Marrakech and made final preparations for the trip through the Dades and Tondra Gorges.

Early the next morning, the three of us set out along with our driver and Berber (Tamazight)/Arabic translator, Mbarak. Berber is one of the oldest languages known and while it is now being taught in schools, the language and heritage were not always recognized by Morocco. Our first stop was Ouazazate, about five hours away, where we arranged to meet Samira Kadir, the head of Tagmat, an association we partnered with in 2012 in an animal banking plan. The association focuses on very poor women living in the tiny village of Toundoute.

Samira characterized our ongoing support as making a huge difference in the lives of the women and children of Toundoute. Sahara Children provided three separate gifts of goats: the first group was a herd of 11 goats, the second was seven goats, and the third was four goats. Tagmat purchased two male goats of the same stock to use for breeding. With each female baby born, a new family on the waiting list receives the offspring as a way to jumpstart their own herds. The goats help provide milk for the children to drink and for the women to make cheese.

Before reaching the Toundoute commune, we picked up supplies for emergency aid kits for distribution among the nomad families living in a very remote region of the Atlas Mountains. In addition to heavy-duty healing cream brought from the States, we purchased rice, sardines, shelf-stable cheeses, cooking oil, and soap that we packed in large multi-purpose buckets. The cost of each was approximately US$45.

Toundoute, our next destination, gave us a chance to see the goats first-hand as well as meet the families that have benefited from the project. We were met by Rashida, the local representative of Tagmat, who provided us with a full report on the goats. Cheese-making output has been lower than initially hoped. During last three to four years, only 16 babies have been born. We are awaiting a report from a veterinary pathologist to investigate the matter more fully.

From Toundoute, we traveled about three hours to spend the night in M’Samir on the Dades Gorge. In the morning we headed east to find the nomads. Driving through mountains for a couple of hours, the road eventually became a trail of rocks and boulders. Two more hours. Still looking for nomads. Through jagged terrain we traveled around 10 miles per hour to safeguard against a blown-out tire or tip-over into a gully.

We passed empty nomad camps and began to wonder whether they had moved on given the harshness of the environment. We saw a donkey grazing atop a mountainside. Mbarak thought we might find some nomads around the next bend, and he was right. At the first tent, we were met by a family of five children, three girls and two boys, ranging from about 3 to 13 years old. They were wide-eyed and remarkably quiet. The children’s parents were with their herd nearby.

The eldest boy welcomed us into their tent where he prepared tea on a fire. The tea glasses were carefully unwrapped then rinsed with boiling water before any tea was poured in them. The youngest boy brought us one of their young goats. It was a very sweet-tempered black baby who was quite content being held and fussed over. We then presented and explained why we were giving them the supplies.

The second camp was a family of four — two children with their mother and father tending to their herd. The third camp was a family of five children plus a widowed mother, so the oldest son was with the herd in the field. The next camp was what looked to be a family of eight children plus the parents but we saw only two girls, one about seven and the other about 12. They were very shy, hiding their faces behind their scarves and turning away. I pantomimed an explanation of the items as we departed.

The last camp we visited was up in a cave in the side of a mountain with a tent extending out and covering the entrance. This was a friendly family of three children, two girls and boy ranging from 2 to 7 years old, with their mother. The father was with the herd. After some warm conversation, we presented the container of supplies and were met with sincere thanks. We also gave the children some toys and got a smile out of baby Mohammed.

Finding the road after leaving the last camp, we traveled to Risani and Merzouga, our last stop. Another couple of hours led us to a desert camp in the Erg Chebbi dunes where we spent the night. We discovered a school that was established in the dunes for the families of nomads who have decided to settle. The school was comprised of a teaching room, kitchen, teacher’s sleeping area, toilet, and dining room. A small solar array provided electricity to the building as well as a small battery for storage. The school had been originally established by a Spanish organization but funding to run it was sporadic. About 15 students were in class, half the usual attendance due to sandstorms in the region. The children ranged from about 5 to 12 in age, equally split between boys and girls, though the older students were mostly female.

During our lunch break, we had tea with the teacher and head of the association in the school’s dining room. We identified a need for a door in this area, especially with the sandstorm conditions at hand. Contingent on the cost with installation, we agreed to fund a new door as a gesture of interest in assisting them, pending discussions with the full board and the final results of the installation.

Morocco

Morocco

Morocco

Morocco

Morocco

Morocco
Photos by Liz Williams

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V3/Travel Mindset have returned from the Sahara with a video for Sahara Children. Many thanks for their efforts.


Larger view and additional info on youtube.

Video from the field produced by Isabelle Silbery

Larger view and additional info on youtube.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video
Larger view and additional info on youtube.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video
Larger view and additional info on youtube.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video
Larger view and additional info on youtube.

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