Children Brave Long Trek to Attend Tent School in Quake-Hit Morocco

Tue Sep 19 2023
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RABAT: In the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in Morocco’s mountainous region, 13-year-old Abdessamad El Berd embarks on a daily journey before dawn to reach the tent school in a nearby town. He walks by torchlight, accompanied by his father, navigating the path while avoiding roaming dogs.

Abdessamad travels 14 kilometers (nine miles) from their remote village of Tinghar to the makeshift school located in the small town of Asni, which has been set up in response to the disaster that struck south of Marrakech.

Abdessamad’s father, 45-year-old Brahim El Berd, expressed his determination to ensure his son does not drop out of school, even though the journey is arduous. He hopes that school buses will soon be organized to ease the burden, stating, “Otherwise, we won’t make it.”

The Moroccan Ministry of Education has established 32 traditional tents in Asni, which serve as a school for 2,800 middle and high school students. While classes have not officially resumed since the 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck on September 8, claiming nearly 3,000 lives, many children are already flocking to the tent school.

At the tent school, teachers provide not only education but also a source of distraction and much-needed psychological support to the children, many of whom have lost family members.

“I don’t feel very well,” said one student, Khadija Ait Ali, 17. “But the fact that I’m back at school, even if in a tent, surrounded by my friends, is a relief. I don’t like being alone anymore because all I think about is the earthquake.”

Psychological Support for Morocco’s Children

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has reported that the earthquake has affected approximately one million schoolchildren in the region. It resulted in the damage or destruction of 530 schools and 55 boarding facilities, leading to the suspension of classes in about 40 municipalities in the Al-Haouz, Chichaoua, and Taroudant provinces.

At the temporary school, teacher Abdellah Zahid, 32, emphasized that, until classes fully resume, the primary objective is to support the children. “We are focusing on listening to our students and providing them with psychological support,” Zahid told AFP, expressing hope of making the challenging school year a success.

Another student, 15-year-old Samira Ait Achichaou, began her journey at dawn with her father, hitchhiking over 40 kilometers from her village of Ousserterk. She acknowledged the difficulty but expressed her happiness at returning to school.

Some pupils continue to grapple with deep emotional scars. Amina Ait Abdellah, 16, revealed that she doesn’t feel ready to resume classes yet, still struggling with the tragedy her community endured.

Tormented by Distress

One mother, Hasna Lahdadi, disclosed that her 11-year-old son, Yahia, is among the children still tormented by acute distress. She tries her best to help him express his anxieties, as he is very afraid of aftershocks, and their house sustained severe damage.

Despite suggestions for her son to switch to a school in Marrakech, he refused, saying, “I want to stay with my friends. I’m happy to see them again.” For many of these children, school has become a refuge, offering a sense of normalcy amidst the upheaval caused by the earthquake.

Jamal Ait Hmane, 43, travels with his 13-year-old daughter to school from the town of Tamgounsi, approximately 100 kilometers away. He remains steadfast in his commitment to ensure that his daughter and others can continue their education, which he believes will help them overcome the tragedy of the earthquake.

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