…We were thoroughly impressed with your work and the wonderful programs and opportunities your organization can provide to our students. It is clear to us that you have a well-organized, community-based program that will provide a great educational experience to students while allowing us to give back to the community as well.
Diana M. Ridgwell, Ph.D.
Director of Student Development and Director of the Undergraduate Research
Institute, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
…Thank you also for the meetings and encounters that you organized for us and for your generous hospitality. We learned a lot about Morocco, its new constitution, its people and their engagement into social and political issues.
My best wishes to you and your family.
Dickinson en France
Esalaam Aleikum. I share the enthusiasm of three groups of University of Maryland students about your planned October visit to Washington, DC. Two of these groups already have benefitted so much from your guidance and kindness in our study abroad trip to Morocco in January 2009 and 2010…
M’a ssalama, Dave"
David A. Crocker
Senior Research Scholar
School of Public Policy
Institute for Philosophy & Public Policy
Director, International Development Specialization
Director, College Park Scholars Program in Public Leadership
…Lotfi and I develop our research agenda sitting in an Italian restaurant eating pizza in Casablanca, waiting for the time pick her (Suzan; Nancy's friend joining us from the States) up at the airport. I need for Lotfi to understand my questions behind the questions we will pose to those we meet, as I will be dependent upon him as much more than a translator. He must be an interpreter between cultures that go much beyond country of origin. My life experiences, growing up in a privileged middle class democratic society, with access to education, travel, and means to realize my hopes are so very different than the life experiences of those I expect to meet. For their part, they have much to teach me about perseverance in the face of adversity and managing periods of transition. I want to know what gives them faith in their efforts, hope, and courage to dream, and what can take these away…
…With a better understanding of my goals, Lotfi helps to set up appointments with diverse community organizers, each working in their own way to bring about needed social change – the women of the Agence De Femme Democratique de Maroc in downtown Casablanca, two young men leading efforts to clean up Casablanca’s shantytown of Sidi Moumen, the founder of an after-school care center in one of the lower income areas of Salé, a teacher from Sidi Ifni, and a lawyer from Azrul. Our route starts on the outskirts of Rabat, then south to Casablanca and beyond - drawing near to the edge of the contested lands of Sahara, before turning inland to visit the Berber villages of the Atlas mountains before heading north back to Casablanca.
Our first visit is in Salé – a “bedroom community” across the river from Rabat. Many of the capital city’s workers live here and commute daily across the river, leaving their young children behind for long hours. What is life like for these young ones, growing up in neighborhoods where they can look out the window and see the palace a few miles away as the crow flies, but a world apart? Their homes are on the fringe – where the perception is, according to one Rabat resident enrolled in the University of Maryland, “no one really lives, they just sleep”. But the children do live here, and we talk with one young man who is concerned about the growing vulnerability of these youths, who are often unsupervised while their parents are working, to the messages of extremist recruiters who have targeted certain lower income areas of the city.
Our host (who spoke under conditions of anonymity) at the Association de Salé sees his efforts as a part of the global fight against fundamentalism and terrorism, carried out at the local level. His after school program provides a safe and fun environment for young boys up to twelve years old, and engages teenagers to help run enrichment activities. By fostering a communal spirit of caring and providing additional educational and sports opportunities beyond those offered in the public schools, he hopes to “save the youth from extremists”. “Is this a large problem here in the local neighborhood?” I ask. “Quite”, he responds.
The radicalization process seemingly happens almost overnight, he explains. Extremist ideas associated with what Western authors have dubbed “Political Islam”, have been introduced into Morocco by foreigners who have exploited poverty and social injustices to recruit followers. The terrorists responsible for bombings in Morocco were noticed by their communities to have changed appearances; they started to wear beards and to talk like preachers. The same thing is happening in this neighborhood, which he fears is a haven for terrorists.
“Where do the ideas come from?” I ask. “In Morocco, the king, the government, and neighborhood associations are working hand-in-hand to fight ideas of fundamentalism and terrorism. When we know where the ideas come from, that will be the end of the problem.” I think to myself, “Can it really be so simple?” He goes on: “People are fine - open and free - whenever there is wealth and money. In poor neighborhoods, people target youth.” He tells me of a local who, within a week after suffering an injustice from the government, was approached and offered gifts and money to start a business. The “manipulators” eventually paid for his wedding and marriage as well. “Other young men in the neighborhood,” he says, “who have been deprived of everything see the gift-giver as ‘prophet’. They willingly become like slaves and do whatever they are ordered to do.”
I realize I have once again stepped into a different world. This is no academic debate about social grievances and terrorism – it is real. Sitting in a little school chair, sipping ritual mint tea at a child’s craft table under the watchful eye of Bugs Bunny and Sylvester, I am surrounded by familiar objects as can be found in any after-school care facility back home. Yet there are every-day struggles for these residents of Salé that my children will never have to deal with. I am the first “outsider” to come and see the efforts of these volunteers. Our visit, he says, gives everyone involved “much energy and hope.” Through Lotfi, he articulately shares his views on democracy, power, and citizenship in Morocco. Then he describes the struggles his association has getting support, without political connections.
We leave Rabat and head south for the Casablanca airport, where, stirring my sweet strong coffee in the waiting lounge, we watch travelers come and go. I learn more about Lotfi as he passionately and eloquently expresses his own views on the topics of democracy, leadership, and citizenship in Morocco. He left the university after three years of study, not seeing a future for him to help Morocco as a teacher or in a government job – which, in the 1970s and 1980s were the two primary employment paths for university graduates. He explains to me that a critical juncture was reached in 1980, when the number of educated citizens exceeded the jobs available to them. Prior to that time, the government had been faced with the challenges of building up a civil service, creating an administrative infrastructure, and expanding the economy with a mostly illiterate populace. Through an expansive education program since independence, the number of educated citizens has steadily increased. At the same time, the number of civil service and economically rewarding jobs has been steadily decreasing as the government infrastructure has been put in place. When many of his university friends graduated in the 1980s, it took bribes of around 50,000 dirams to get a job as a high school teacher in his hometown of Meknes. Their parents did what they could to pay this in order to avoid seeing their children suffer years of joblessness that ended with drug addiction.
Lotfi sees the big challenge for Morocco now to be in creating employment opportunities to rectify the gap, and to provide a viable future that either meets or changes expectations of citizens to “be taken care of” through government jobs. Some youth are particularly frustrated when relatively uneducated civil servants, who have become tenured in secure positions of decision-making power, especially in local governments, block their future. However, Lotfi espouses the attitude that “if the government cannot take care of me, it is my responsibility and my right to do whatever I want, wherever I like, with whomever I like.” In saying this, Lotfi unknowingly voices the sentiments expressed by former President John F. Kennedy, saying “We must think of what the nation has given to us and what we can give back to the nation at this time.” He recalls that in the 1970s and 1980s, one could not think of doing the kind of political activity through nongovernmental organizations and neighborhood associations such as those in which he is involved without arrest or perhaps even being killed.
Reflecting on responsibility and citizenship, Lotfi describes a program Hassan II initiated in the 1990s to promote entrepreneurship among youth. Under the program, one could acquire up to 250,000 dirams to start a business, which would be exonerated from taxes for five years. In Lotfi’s view, this program failed because the youth were not ready for the responsibility; most participants took the money and spent it on themselves rather than using to start a business. (I am reminded constantly by billboards in Casablanca and Rabat of the analogous problem that persists today with micro-credit loans which cannot be repaid when money is spent on necessities). He describes his own experiences with a similar lack of responsibility among local government officials - expressing dismay with the corruption in local elections and the ease with which positions are bought. In his home town of Azrul, public officials that are barely literate are not uncommon, and are beholden to those who provide them with financial backing. In contrast, at the national level, Lotfi is proud of the efforts of the national government – primarily through the National Development Initiative - to renew infrastructure throughout the country and looks forward, he says, to showing me the many projects. Lotfi ends the conversation philosophically, sharing his commitment to being a “tool” for a future in which Morocco is a fully contributing member of the international community. He does not expect this to be realized in his lifetime, but hopes his children will enjoy the fulfillment of the dreams of today…
On this hopeful note, Susan arrives. We gather her belongings, and head downtown for our second interview."
Nancy Kay Hayden
March 13, 2009
A man and his country
Nomad blog. By chelsea, Virginia Thech Universiy, USA.
Well-traveled souls can vouch the journey, not the destination, is the ultimate value of adventures, and to say that the people you meet aren’t the most influential part, is like forgetting your passport in my eyes.
One man defines why my Moroccan experience was some of the most cherished days I’ve lived.
Lotfi Lamrani opened the door to his country and welcomed us into every room we had time to see.
I’ve been dreading writing this post, honestly, because even when I’m an old scribbler of words, no phrases could portray the honesty, hospitality, selflessness, inspiration, energy and adoration that radiates from this one man.
As his country stirs to move toward stronger NGO’s and a democratic way of thinking, he has embraced a role as the network man of Morocco.
Not only is he a figure-head of NGO networks in the country, but he also organizes programs for groups like ours to build cultural bridges and develop international ambassadors through genuine beyond five-star hospitality.
Lotfi is a hybrid individual of all-business when talking on the phone or lining up meetings and events for us, then he is a devout father of seven who dissolves the world around him whenever a child asks for his attention. He was also an attentive friend to every single one of our needs and questions.
I am also convinced that he doesn’t sleep.He was with us every step through Morocco ensuring our travels exceeded any expectation.
Now that I’ve painted the accurate immaculate image of his personality and demeanor, here is the stroke that has not been placed- he is a man of humility and understanding.
He is a humble carpenter, but also a community leader who wants to help others understand Morocco from an honest experience.
He comes from poverty, improved himself through tedious woodwork, abandoned the typical café lounging lifestyle of men his age, and now upholds his patriotic responsibility through NGO work and international networking for Morocco.
When I asked him why he works tirelessly, almost to point of raggedly, to host groups like ours, he said that this is the one way he knows how to ensure friendship and understanding between countries.
To say he was successful with our experience is an understatement.
Many cohort members claim Morocco as their favorite leg of the trip, and I cried as our plane ascended from the mystical country. We know that all recognition is due to this selfless and inspiring man who says he is nothing but a humble carpenter.
Lotfi is a character I’ll carry each day. He is an individual that makes his difference in this changing world with unshakable self-motivation to improve the state we as people are in.
We grew more than attached to him. He walked us to the gate at the airport where we could not give enough hugs or thanks...