Crib of Hope

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Lining the wall of the Moroccan nursery, infants slept.

Twisting my hair in her tiny hands, her brown eyes,–no–her entire body laughed. Even before I picked her up, she shook with glee, stiffened her legs, and tried to jump from the straps of her baby seat into my arms. I thought of my own little girl at six months so precious and full of life. One by one we unbuckled them from seats lined in front of cartoons and held them. The sunny room was abuzz with babies four months to a year old smiling, blowing bubbles, crawling, playing.

Except one. His eyes followed the jingly toy but without expression.He seemed to be observing quietly but didn’t reach, didn’t move, didn’t respond to us.  I raised him above my head and flew him like an airplane.  He smiled, then chuckled. I laughed and cried.

Jodie, one of my coworkers, went to an older boy who lay staring at the lights on a toy truck. She asked one of caretakers the Arabic word for truck and began talking to the boy. Though he couldn’t walk, he came alive—delighting in playing with Jodie, then creating a game of crawling away at lightening speed and being carried back giggling upside down on Sylvie’s shoulder.  In another room Bev and Jason played with other disabled children confined to beds by disabilities.

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In the midst of an orphanage in a troubled world, beautiful bright-eyed babies look into eyes of older souls in a two-way exchange of wonder, poignancy, and peace.    The Association Enfance Espoir Maroc   or “Crib of Hope” cares for healthy and handicapped children, most aged 0-3 who were abandoned and found on the streets. Moroccans may adopt them, and volunteers may donate time or resources. Sponsoring a child for one year costs 1000 dirhams ($100 USD). For more information on how to help go here.  We were asked not to photograph the children’s sweet faces, but you can see their home (for now) below.

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In Marrakesh Girls SOAR

IMG_4075Like many who come to Morocco, I have stepped off a camel onto sand soft as powdered sugar. I have stepped onto a balcony overlooking nothing but ramparts and sea. I have stepped around a corner in the mountains knowing that more blue alleys await. All marvels and memories under the Moroccan sun. But one of my best Marrakesh moments was stepping into a circle of girls who show up Sundays at Peacock Pavilions ready to SOAR.

Since before moving to Morocco I’d been following the award-winning lifestyle blog, My Marrakesh.  I loved the author’s story of moving to Morocco and building a beautiful oasis for guests and girls. Maryam Montague, a writer, interior designer, and international humanitarian aide specialist, founded Project SOAR with her husband, architect Chris Redecke.   I hoped to meet them one day when I moved to Africa but had no idea it would happen so soon.  They are parents of one of my students and this fall the American School of Marrakesh began volunteering with the nonprofit organization, Project Soar, whose mission includes working with girls from the village Dourar Ladaam. From that first Sunday when I caravanned through gates where girls gathered excitedly, I saw all the good growing in an olive grove, hugged girls SOAR serves, and met students and adults of all ages volunteering.  From near or far there are ways we can all help here. IMG_4021 Led by a college mentor (her interview below), they filed in, took their name tags from the board, and joined hands with volunteers from Chicago to Texas, New Zealand to Austria. We all introduced ourselves and then, through wide smiles, the girls said their mantra: “I am strong. I am smart. I am capable. I am worthy.” IMG_4025

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Maryam Montague and a volunteer show the girls America, the home country of  their teaching artist, Designer Amy Butler.
Maryam Montague and a volunteer show the girls America, the home country of their teaching artist, Designer Amy Butler.

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IMG_4103 Half of the girls were led to the arts tent where internationally known artist and designer, Amy Butler, taught them teamwork in making textile necklaces. IMG_4130

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Saloia, fourteen, plans to go to university. She said she has been coming to SOAR for about a year and added: “I have learned sports and arts and how to be independent and work with my friends. I use what I learn here back home to be a good person.”

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Souad (left) is thirteen. She said she has been coming since Ramadan in August : "I've learned to make kites and bowls.  I've learned how to play sports and health information from the doctor who comes when we take yoga."
Souad (left) is thirteen. She said she has been coming since Ramadan in August : “I’ve learned to make kites and bowls. I’ve learned how to play sports and health information from the doctor who comes when we take yoga.”
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ASM student Chama (center) translates from Arabic to English for Khadija (left) who does all things with giggles and confidence.

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Outside, the other half of the girls learned teamwork as well as ASM student, Mehdi, and Upper School Principal and Basketball Coach, Todd Stiede, taught them drills and how to run relay races. IMG_4056

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It takes a village to raise a child. Likewise, children inspire us to rise to our best selves.  On any given Sunday one finds community, creativity, collaboration, and global citizenship here.  Two ASM volunteers explain. Chama: “It’s important to share special moments with people from different cultural backgrounds. We open their minds to a bigger world and the idea that we girls in Morocco can do big things….The SOAR mantra is true, and no one can take that from you.” Says Sophia when asked why she regularly volunteers: “We have to. It’s the least we can do. As much as the girls learn from us, we learn from them.”

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