Morocco International Understanding and Citizenship Center

  Explore • Understand • Serve

Testimonials from program leads and professors

"Dear Lotfi,
…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
Virginia Tech

Cher Lotfi,

…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.

Sylvie Toux
Dickinson en France

"Dear Lotfi: 

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

From Winter in Morocco:  A Study OF Contrasts 
By Nancy Kay Hayden
March 13, 2009

Mrs. Nancy Hayden: International security policy expert, with 25 yrs experience in cross cultural exchanges among the scientific community in Europe and Asia.
 Principle Member Technical Staff, International Security and Nonproliferation at Sandia National Laboratories. 
Program Lead for C-WAC at Sandia National Laboratories and  phd candidate in public. policy at The University of Maryland. 

"...I rejoin my fellow students in downtown Rabat for the last of the lectures, and then pack up for our communal weekend excursion north and east to the imperial cities of Fez and Meknes.  It is here that we meet a remarkable individual – Lotfi Lamrani – who has been hired by AmidEast to be our guide. 

Over the weekend, Lotfi escorts us through the silent and mysterious Roman ruins of Volubis outside Meknes, treats us to a display of the graceful and noble Arabian horses in the Royal stables, and navigates a path for us in the narrow, colorful, dizzyingly lively and winding maze of the Fez medina, bartering with the shop merchants on our behalf as we go.  Lotfi teaches us much about public leadership with his gentle manner, humor, wisdom, attentive care, gracious hospitality, and personal sacrifice. Our whole group agrees that Lotfi is a treasure.  It is not only his fluency in English, French, and Arab language that we value, but his understanding of Morocco, its place in the region, and his grasp of the universal human rights, democracy, and leadership issues that are the purpose of our trip.   He not only grasps the underlying principles, he lives them.  Several years ago, Lotfi gave up a high-paying job as a businessman in Casablanca and moved to join his wife in the beautiful mountain village of Azroul to raise their six children.   He now works as a carpenter to put food on the table, while dedicating the majority of his time and effort to running a nonprofit association, which he founded to build cultural understanding.   He proudly tours us through the classrooms where students and teachers from the local schools sit side by side to study English.  These rooms also serve as the headquarters for hosting exchange groups from abroad.  We hear of the film "Crossing Boders"which he helped produce, in which eight youths – four Moroccans and four Americans – travel together to discover each other’s beliefs and cultures, and to dispel negative stereotypes in the process.   

His challenge to integrate roles as a grassroots leader, concerned parent, and political activist within his relatively poor community is made evident by the favor he requests of me as we tour the public school that his children attend in Azrul.  “Please give this money to the principal”, he asks, extending a roll of bills discreetly.  “The school needs safety improvements, and if I give the money directly to them, they will never cease asking for more.   You can give it in the name of the group”.   Touched by his generosity, we take up a collection.  He tells us later that the amount given will not only pay for the safety improvements, but new doors on the stalls of the restrooms.   We are amazed at how far a small donation can go.  Spending time with Lotfi, I am inspired to realize that one may not need the blessings of a well-placed political network after all to make a difference in the world.  A vision, hope, dedication, and desire to work hard to serve others well may be enough to get started and make progress here in Morocco. 

Lotfi is a Godsend for me personally, as he eagerly agrees to act as guide and interpreter on my research adventures during the latter part of my trip.  He takes ownership of a part of the research, offering to set up interviews with like-minded individuals as himself, who are working quietly to improve conditions in Morocco.  “You need a different perspective”, he says, “than what you hear from those who are so well-connected”.    This is yet another instance of the helpful and giving nature I find so ubiquitous in Morocco.  We agree on an itinerary that includes Sidi Moumen – the shantytown outside Casablanca where the 2003 bombers lived, Sidi Ifni – a southern seaport near the contested region of the Sahara, and Rashidia and Ouarzazate – outposts near Algeria, in the borderlands of the high Atlas mountains and the vast Sahara desert, at he crossroads of ancient Berber trade routes.

…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”,[18] 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.[19]   (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

Testimonials from students

Discussions with an Imam

Category: Student Post Leave,
By Andres Morana, Virginia Tech University, USA.

I had the honor of having an imam speak to us about the Islamic faith as well as speaking with many other people about their religion.

Islam is one of the three religions of the book (along with Christianity and Judaism) and is one of the most tolerant ones. Everything is done in the name of Allah/ God; greetings are often along the lines of May god/ peace be with you. Before every action- eating, going out, waking up, etc.. You say “bismillah”, or in the name of God. Allah is an integral part of the Arabic language and culture.

Some quick points to hit on- nowhere in the Quran is killing ever condoned, and neither is polygamy in the modern sense or the poor treatment of women. The Quran discusses polygamy because of the wars the happened early in Arabia, many men were killed and so to prevent widows from dying men were encouraged to take more than one wife, with the direct stipulation that said only if one is just and right in the treatment of them. Also during this era many women gained influence because of the lower population of men due to the war and became strong merchants.

Also in the Quran it states that to kill one person is to kill all of humanity.

Unfortunately, the problem of interpretation is widespread throughout all the religions, and truly pious Muslims condemn the use of Quranic verses or Islam to justify radical extremists.

Interpretation reflects personal ideology, and it is a shame that this problem will always exist and be fueled by selfishness.

I found it interesting that the imam can live a normal life- have a family, work, and then also be extremely devoted to the religion. He told us that the increase of his faith allowed him to disconnect from the material world; he realized that material objects were unimportant. His devotion to his religion made him think of his own soul as made up of 3 parts; the subconscious, the conscious, and faith.

-Andres Morana

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...

By Andres Morana
Major: International Studies
Minors: Leadership, Arabic, Geography, 21st Century Studies

All of my amazing experiences in Morocco were thanks to one legendary man, Lotfi Lamrani. Words won't do this man justice as anything I can say about him is an understatement. I had the honor of having multiple conversations with him ranging from Moroccan culture and religion to good music and.....
.... After a series of very fortunate events, Lotfi eventually started his own NGO in Morocco as part of an international NGO. He has directed 7 documentaries, all without profit, (and completely unscripted) that explore cultural differences, overcoming them, and building ridges between them to achieve a goal. he is a very ambitious and inspiring man.All of the amazing people and experiences we had are thanks to this wonderful man.

Besides his amazing resume, he is a very insightful and scholarly man. I had the privelege to discuss a wide variety of topics, especially religion. I won't go into detail, but all I can say is that his openness and honesty made me feel enlightened after every conversation. My favorite thing he kept repeating was at the end of the day, labels do not matter. Christian, Muslim, Jew, activist, etc are irrelevant as long as you practice your faith dutifully.

Having to say goodbye was tough, but he has inspired me to follow in his footsteps. I am still formulating every thing but I want to start an organization that seeks to overcome stereotypes by putting people and groups in close situations requiring them to connect and bond and overlook any stereotypes that may exist.

It almost brought tears to my eyes when he called me his son in Arabic and English when we said goodbye. If you are ever in Morocco, make sure to look for him!