Today we went on an adventure with Mohamed El Mansouri, the manager of Rebali Riads,
you know, that cozy place in Sidi Kaouki I’m always gushing about. One of the things that initially drew me to Rebali was their dedication to giving back to the local community.
After talking with Alisdair he welcomed us to visit their projects in the outskirts of Essaouira, so we made the long journey from Mirleft to Sidi Kaouki yesterday morning. Though the bus ride was long and involved many changes and patience, that’s the theme of most of Morocco – patience and persistence pay off. We were treated to window seats and watched the waves crash in Taghazout, the sun bake the buildings in Agadir, and the surprising greenery of Smimou before we pulled again into the windy city and hailed a taxi to Rebali.
We arrive late in the evening and slide right into our cozy bed. Tomorrow, we have some exploring to do.
Mohamed took us to find the director of the school district so that we could be approved for a visit, and I was glad to know that even for small, rural schools there are security measures in place.
We load into the sun baked Kangoo and I’m grateful for the heat since the morning wind cut through my sweater. After crossing the single lane 12 kilometer stretch that unites Sidi Kaouki with the main road we make a left hand turn and drive into the fields. Soon we arrive at a dirt road with no name and deep craters, stones, and branches. This is not a hospitable road and I don’t imagine anyone crosses it unless they have to.
Just moments before we were driving past large villas with strikingly colored exteriors and expansive, manicured lawns. Now, I was fairly sure the Kangoos tires weren’t going to survive.
After many bumps, I see it. There’s a blue and white building stark against the rich green argan trees. It has what looks to be the walls of a Roman bath in the front yard, and a small separate building which is confirmed to be the outhouse.
The first thing I notice: there’s nothing around.
Where do these children come from? I peer in the first building and count 18 heads, some wrapped in scarves and some with rumpled hair. It was hard to imagine what villages these children come from — there are no houses in sight. Just then, Said comes out to greet us.
Said lives on the property and his deeply freckled but smiling face has the kind and wise eyes of a true teacher. He shakes our hand and warmly welcomes us to his school. He is very clearly proud to be here, and it’s nothing less than heart warming.
The students were quite solemn when we entered the lowlit room. They pretended to be focused on their books but with such an intrusion as us, it was easy to tell they were deeply curious.
Maddy was able to snap a few shots while they were still studious staring at their work, but when I snuck behind him and made silly faces everyone burst into grins and laughter. I noticed each child has their own pencil case, school bag, and essential supplies. Everyone’s clothing was well mended and free of stains, though it was obvious most of them had been worn by a sibling or two before them. Everyone had the essentials, but nothing more.
Several years ago Mohamed learned of this school, with holes in the roof and chunks missing from its walls — it was a school district rumor. He made the long trek out to see for himself and as he said “it was like a war had been there” a massive jagged skylight let in all the elements, the shutters were missing slats and locks, and the outer walls look as though they had suffered gunfire, though this was simply the toll of time.
Mohamed, using the funds from Fleewinter’s program, gathered a team of builders from Essaouira to make the long journey each day in order to repair the structural damage. It took them three months to get the school functional, and every item had to be brought in on that long, rough road.
A long journey is something the students know plenty about; every day they walk for anywhere from one to three kilometers each way in order to get their education. That’s a long way for such little legs, but they’ve got big dreams.
They’re not the only ones who make an effort to get to school each morning, the second teacher, Rachid has to wake up extra early to feed and water his donkey, before setting off on her back with the sun behind him. A bike’s tires cannot handle the road, and there’s no money for a car, so each day he comes as humbly as another teacher the world loves; each evening he locks the doors of his classroom and leaves the school the way he came in.
I can’t help but be inspired by the hard work and dedication that is being given to the education by everyone involved. Through the generous donations of Rebali Riad and Fleewinter’s other guests, the persistence and patience of Mohamed wading through the mire of endless technical details that arise, the tireless attitude of the children who trek their way to education, and to the teachers who so humbly and happily guide these children to a better future.
If you’d like to see more done for these children and those like them, you can choose to make a direct donation to Rebali Riads in the name of the school using this contact form or if you’d like to get in touch with the teachers directly you can contact me if you’d like to gift educational toys to this particular school.