The Red City: A Center of Hope – by Ahmed Salat

Last weekend’s visit to Marrakesh was different from all the other weekend excursions to other cities in the past four weeks. Due the very high daytime temperatures, people are more active at night thus it was fascinating to see how full the Jemma El-Fnna, the Marrakesh square and marketplace, would get at night even past midnight with people buying and selling various commodities or watching different musical, acrobatic or snake charming performances.

The most important part of the trip was  the visit to the Lessane Arabi Language Center where we had a talk-cum-discussion with representatives from different NGOs working to improve Morocco in different sectors. The presenters were the director of the language center, President of the High Atlas Foundation, a representative from  Les enfants de l’Atlas orphanage and another from Help Adopt Cats and Dogs in Morocco.

What was interesting to notice in this group was that they all were standing up for issues that aren’t cared much about by many Moroccans and as someone who deeply cares about social issues, this was particularly important to me. There are many stray cats and dogs in Morocco that don’t get proper care, get sick or even get killed so starting and running an animal orphanage like Milena and her friends did is something Morocco needs. But the most impressive of these three groups, in my opinion, was the orphanage because it’s a special one! Les enfants de l’Atlas is a home for over 100 children who were born out of marriage. Morocco is a Muslim country and having children before marriage is something that’s not taken lightly. The Quran condemns sex before marriage as stated in Surah Al-Israa, verse 32 : “and come not near to the unlawful sexual intercourse. Verily, it is a transgression of Allah’s limits, and an evil way.” This coupled with traditions, leads to rejection and demonization of ‘illegitimate’ children by the community.

While there’s no official punishment by the laws of the country, there’s a lot of stigma attached to this as such children are not accepted into the family and are not even entitled to some of the services babies born within marriage are, such as immunization. It’s the women who suffer a great deal in this situation because no one would even care to know who the father is as long as they weren’t married. Thus, the mother has only two options:  either leave her family and look after the baby elsewhere or dump it in front of a public office or a mosque. Considering that most of these mothers don’t even have jobs, they have no option but to abandon their babies.  I was reading the orphanage’s magazine where they featured a woman who had such a baby and couldn’t even get her baby immunized because to do so, the officials required a birth certificate which is not issued for such children, to begin with. The mother says she was required to pay 650 dirham (about 65 dollars/6500 Ksh) to get  the certificate from the hospital, an amount she couldn’t raise, and was lucky to get help from a well wisher. This is just one of the many sad stories of these struggling single mothers. According to the ministry of Social Affairs, about 25 babies are found abandoned every day, adding up to a total of about 10,000 babies a year!

I was really impressed with the project, so together with other six friends from the program, we visited the children the following day and oh man, was it nice spending time with these cute angels. Just to give a background information, the center was founded by a Huber Hansjörg,  a former Swiss insurance expert who put a big portion of his wealth into it. The orphanage now has 10 houses- each housing about 10 children- a hospital, school, amphitheater  and a mosque.One house is for children with disabilities and have extra services and more care- even a therapist who ensures that all their needs are met. The children receive lessons in Arabic and French, as well as classes in dance, music and agriculture.  The extensive land forms a village of its own called:

The center has employees who stay with the children all day and night, taking care of the kids like their own and in the summer volunteers usually come into the country to help out. It was a bit sad to notice that the only male figure is the founder which again points to the society’s lack of support for single mothers. Regardless, I was so happy to see the kids taken good care of and despite society’s dislike for them, have found a heaven in Les enfants de l’Atlas, away from the hatred of the society!

Huber Hansjörg

12 comments to The Red City: A Center of Hope – by Ahmed Salat

  • Fabian Mkocheko

    This is a very nice insight. That’s the side of Morocco I never knew existed. It would never have occurred to my mind that an innocent child could be illegitimate in this 21st century, in Morocco The story is a testimony of what most of us choose to ignore and never bother to think about. If more people read such articles I believe we would have more Huber’s for such causes… I like these article.

  • Bethwel Kiplimo

    Really informative read! Does Les enfants de l’Atlas have other centers around the country? Also, what is it’s website? I’d love to read more about it. Thanks again!

  • Never failing to keep me entertained and Furthur educated on your trip. This is definitely my favourite one so far, so glad this trip is helping you grow as a better person. Keep the updates going.

  • Wairimu

    It’s sad to learn that such misconceptions and stereotypes still affect parts of the modern world. Is there a way non-Duke students can get involved in the volunteering programs?
    A refreshing read, as always. Thank you and keep up

  • Kevin Koech

    A very Impressive initiative by Huber Hansjör and Les Enfants de l’Atlas.
    Has there been any efforts to improve the general reception of such initiatives by the local community?

    • Ahmed Birik

      Hello kevin,
      Thanks for the read. Yes, there are a couple of programs currently going in major cities to help such children but they are mostly by foreigners. I personally think people would have been more receptive if the efforts were by fellow Moroccans especially the authority but since the authority doesn’t recognize the institution of children out of wedlock, it’s really hard for the people to accept such children in the society.

  • Hi Ahmed,

    Thank you for the interesting article. Amazing experience.

    Please sharing with us.


  • Thanks Ahmed for the continuous update. The services provided at orphanage is very encouraging. I impressed with the special services for persons with specific needs. Thanks to Huber Hansjörg.

    The issue of demanding for birth certificate to access services like vaccination calls for a serious advocacy efforts.

  • Farzeen

    A very emotional blog! Sad to read the situation of babies and animals. May God bless them!

  • Faith John

    A very involving read! It’s sad to hear about the ‘illegitimate’ children of Morocco. Hopefully we all feel like we need to do more for society. Thank you for opening our eyes.

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