AUIers Bring Valentine’s Day to Essalam School

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It’s a snowy Monday night in Ifrane, Morocco. At AUI’s student lounge, a few college students sit on red couches and joke around. They are here for Design for Change, the campus branch of an international organization that aims to empower kids in Ifrane area schools. As the club’s president, 20-year-old Younes Akherfi, sums up recent Valentine’s Day fundraising activities, more students enter, and the room is soon filled with around 40 of the club’s 60 active student members. One of the school coordinators, Safia Sekkat, 19, introduces this week’s activity: Valentine’s Day cards with 180 primary schoolers at Essalam School.

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(Debbi and Akherfi at Essalam School)

Nassim Debbi, 19, first came to Design for Change events because of his friends. After attending a few sessions, he decided to become involved, first as a member, and then as an administrator. In early February, he was appointed as the club’s secretary. He believes his role is to interest AUI students – who must, if undergraduates, complete 60 hours of community service during their time at AUI – in his organization. According to Debbi, participation benefits AUI students as well as Essalam pupils.

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“When you spend a lot of time here with old people… you need the feeling of being with kids,” said Debbi. “When I want to have time for me, I prefer to spend it with kids than (to spend it) alone.”

Sekkat agrees.

“I feel really good when I go (to Essalam School) and work with them,” said Sekkat. “It brings you happiness.”

On the road to Essalam School, AUI’s shuttle bus, crowded with 26 club members (participation numbers shift, says Akherfi, due to difficult weather conditions and exams), sounds like a bus full of children going to summer camp. Snaps of Darija and claps of laughter fly across the bus as Sekkat attempts to take attendance. After 10 or so minutes, the bus arrives at a small school, and AUI students pass a stream of small, red-faced children in colorful coats and oversized backpacks. The school’s vice director, Ms. Soraya, divides AUIers into groups of six, which will shift and regroup throughout 4th, 5th and 6th grade classrooms for the next two hours.

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The 5th grade classroom is filled with murals, maps and student artwork. A small coal oven and a couple of radiators heat the room.

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After playing a game, AUI students hand out heart-covered papers, and children begin making valentines. A teacher asks what the children love.

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“My dad,” says one. Another shouts, “Allah,” while others mention their friends, school and king. “And also yourself,” says the teacher, smiling.

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Though activities with children make up a large part of the club’s activities, Design for Change hopes to make another lasting impact on the schools it visits. Last semester, the club attempted to renovate a classroom in another Ifrane school, but the project was taken over by the city. This semester, it hopes to use the 8,000 Moroccan dirhams raised last semester, the 4,000 dirhams received every semester from the university and the 6,000 dirhams raised through this year’s Valentine’s Day fundraisers for a new project at Essalam.

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“The school is destroyed,” said Akherfi.

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He believes Essalam lacks hygiene. Therefore, Design for Change hopes to renovate the school’s cracked, leaking bathrooms, some of which boast gaping holes in the walls between stalls.

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From talks with Ms. Soraya, Akherfi believes the project will cost 10,000-15,000 dirhams, a sum well within the club’s budget. Akherfi says Design for Change will begin filling out paperwork for this project next week.

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“We try to create a new environment that (Essalam students) didn’t have before,” said Akherfi.

Future plans include renovation of the school’s hilly, rocky soccer pitch.

After the day’s activities, AUI students depart for campus. Several children wave and run after the bus. According to Debbi, the children ask for AUI students’ numbers when the semester ends, and they do call.

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“The kids hold AUIers accountable when we don’t come,” said Debbi.

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Essalam School is one of three Ifrane-area schools in which AUI’s Design for Change is active.

Thanks to the incredibly helpful members of Design for Change for letting me tag along!

And, if you’re interested, here’s some measly video I shot that day:

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this post about Essalam School, Sophie! I really enjoyed reading about Design for Change’s work there. My favorite line was “The kids hold us accountable when AUIers don’t come.” Awesome partnership!

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