The series of scandals concerning charitable residential homes' in Morocco hit the headlines for a long period. The scandal of the Ain Chock Islamic residential home provoked concerns among the government and the media about the deteriorating conditions of these Homes. Accommodation conditions of other Charity Homes were reported to the media, including the Mohammedia Islamic Orphanage.
Some young journalists have shot a documentary on the bad conditions in which the Mohammedia Charity Home residents live. However, some officials lobbied against broadcasting the video tape on the Moroccan National channel, TVM.
If the Ain Chock Charity Home residents were relieved after the King's visit, the Mohammedia Orphanage residents are longing for another visit from the King to save them from their 'piggy' life.
Morocco Times went to the Mohammedia Orphanage and met with its desperate residents who constantly call on the government and the civil society to help them out.
'Seer Hta tabra ‚ad aji'
It was 3 pm when we arrived at the orphanage in which 13 families and 70 single residents live. We came across a little boy next to the orphanage. He seemed so sick and desperate. After talking to him, we knew that he was one of the Mohammedia Orphanage residents, but now he found himself on the street.
“I got sick and the Orphanage administration expelled me, saying clearly : 'Seer Hta tabra ‚ad aji' (go away until you are cured),” said the boy.
What the little boy said was embarrassing, but what we saw inside the Charity Home was more shocking.
'Baraka ‚yeena min el blabla'
We saw an old person smoking a cigarette, sitting next to the Orphanage door. We approached the man, trying to talk to him about the situation of elderly people in the Charity Home. However, he refused to talk to us, saying 'Baraka ‚yeena min el blabla' (enough please, we are tired of talking), adding that many people had already come to talk, but nobody dared to change their situation.
Ahmed Naoual, in his 70s, was among the five old people who were recently transferred to the 'Tit Mellil' centre, on the pretext that they were mentally disabled. However, Ahmed preferred to come back to the Mohammedia 'piggy House' rather than endure the horrors of that centre.
When we entered the Residential Home, the first thing we had noticed was the absence of the administration or any other official. The director's office was closed. Later, we had learnt from the residents that the administration quit the Home one year ago.
Since then, there had been nobody to take care of them. Though the Home's conditions had been deteriorating for years, the situation worsened when the administration left.
The place was closer to an animal farm than a Charity Residential Home. Rubbish was everywhere; the squalid smell makes you feel sick; sewage was running across the floor, making it difficult to walk.
We met with some residents who told us about their journey with suffering.
Jemila Hammou struggling to find a job: 'Ouled El Khayriya' can't find himself out
Jemila Hammou, 32, has a BA in law and is unemployed since 2000. He described the miserable conditions in which he and his friends live.
“We don't have the minimum facilities a residential home should have. The administration closed one year ago and left us to struggle for our living on our own. We have no income, we are unemployed, no sanitary and health facilities, and even the younger kids had to drop out of school because they don't have money to buy books or pay everyday transport,” said Jemila.
Jemila was desperate when telling Morocco Times he believed prisoners' conditions were better than theirs.
“At least in jail, the prisoners have all the amenities, from adequate accommodation to cultural facilities. The only difference is that we are free, but it doesn't make much difference. We feel like we are in a detention cell,” he added.
Jemila and other residents struggled so hard to complete their higher education, but found no job opportunities, as for them they will still be “Ouled el Khayriya” (people of the Charity Home). Jemila came in with his CV and dozens of his friends' degrees. He said that the educated residents had to put another address in their CVs to increase their chances of finding a job.
“What is frustrating is that the director of the Home and other officials are trying to spread a bad image about the residents as delinquents, which is not true,” Jemila said.
The other residents couldn't wait until Jemila finished speaking. Their hearts were broken. They wanted to speak and to tell everything about their situation. They are dreaming of a David Copperfield's spell to take them away from their hardships.
Touhami Zitouni and Abdel Haq Ramzi dreaming of Spain: “Hargo” more than 50 times.
Touhami Zitouni, 27, came to the Home in 1984. He had a very poor background with a family living in one of the shanty towns of the city of Mohammedia, about 60 Km from Rabat, Morocco's capital. He has a diploma in tailoring and other one in repairing office machines. He does informal jobs just to ensure his daily survival.
Touhami told Morocco Times that the Home administration has been treating them as if they had come from another planet.
“We have no value. These officials are stealing Orphans' money and let us live in this piggy Home, and now they are accusing us of 'invading' the Home without legal documents. Most of us have been here for more than 15 years, and now they want to expel us from here. Where will we go?"
Touhami said hopelessly: “had el maseoulin tays‚w bina” (these officials were exploiting us for years to get money from the state and donors). He added that "they got billions of dirhams, but their situation is worsen".
Abdel Haq Ramzi, 24, came to the Charity Home in 1990. He said he had tried to immigrate illegally to Europe more than 30 times, risking his life.
Ramzi told us about his adventure with migration, about his friends who had died either in the sea or in the Charity Home from disease or from hunger.
Charity Home's residents took refuge in clandestine migration
Lack of future prospects, instability, poverty, and unemployment force dozens of Charity Homes' residents to leave Morocco illegally, seeking a better life.
Everyday, many of them attempt to reach Spain from Morocco's coasts, aboard makeshift boats. While some manage to achieve their dream in their “Alice au pays des merveilles”, dozens are intercepted on their way or arrested on the Spanish territory before being expelled.
Many Moroccans like Touhami and Abdel Haq want to cross the strait of Gibraltar to reach the land of promises and possibilities. They are resorting to the highly dangerous and inhuman alternative of clandestine migration, giving up their rights in exchange for a new, clandestine life.
Most of them have an idealized picture of life abroad. They are strongly influenced by images conveyed by the media about a Europe where everything is possible, and by a set of stereotype stories told by people who have returned back home from host countries - often claiming to be living very comfortably.
Their ignorance is certainly and skillfully used by expanding networks of smugglers for their own, considerable enrichment. These smugglers are encouraging immigration as they propose a “ready-made” new life, “proper” papers and promises of employment which, in most cases, mean undeclared work or prostitution. They go clandestine, stowing away on ships or lorries, or paying large sums to make the crossing in small boats called 'pateras'.
Touhami and Abdel Haq can't afford to pay sums to smugglers. So they use their modest means to immigrate, usually using vans' tires as makeshift boats. However, they have never managed to reach their dreams.
Abdel Haq said he doesn't understand how each time he came back alive. May be he was lucky to come across fishermen who brought him back to land.
In turn, Touhami said he would try again and again until he would manage to reach the other side of the Atlantic. For him dying is no longer important, since his dreams were already killed in the Charity Home.
Hard Times and Great Expectations
All of these residents have a different story with suffering and hardship, but each has one common dream, a King's visit to the Home to see the miserable conditions in which they are living.
All of them said at once “May God protect the King, we hope that he will come to save us like what he did with the Ain Chock Orphanage. We are confident that sooner or later the King will come to rescue us”.
Their situation reminded us of Charles Dickens' Hard Times when one of the novel's character, Stephen Blackpool, said with his worker's strong accent “Look how we live, an' wheer we live, an' in what numbers, an' by what chances, an' wi' what sameness; and look how the mills is awlus a-goin', and how they never works us no nigher to onny distant object-'ceptin awlus Death. Look how you considers of us, and writes of us, and talks of us, and goes up wi' your deputations to Secretaries o' State 'bout us, and how yo are awlus right, and how we are awlus wrong, and never had'n no reason in us sin ever we were born. Look how this ha' growen an' growen sir, bigger an' bigger, broader an' broader, harder an' harder, fro year to year, fro generation unto generation. Who can look on't sir, and fairly tell a man 'tis not a muddle?”
Complaints and legal suit
The Home's residents told Morocco Times they were surprised to know that the administration is suing them for 'invading' the Home, and that they have no legal documents indicating they are residents.
In turn, the residents resorted to one of outstanding lawyers in Morocco, Abderahim Jamai to help them get out of their horrible situation. They officially and publicly sued the director of the Charity Home, the governor of Mohammedia, and the city's national cooperation delegate.
The residents told Morocco Times that they had also phoned Abderahim Harouchi, Minister of Social Development, Family and Solidarity, to explain their situation. However, they got nothing but calls from his assistants warning the residents to stop complaining.
Harouchi said earlier last month that the Accountably Office will audit, following the King's instructions, 250 charities to end the mismanagement of funds, stating that the government has allocated MAD 14 million to improve living conditions in charitable institutions.
Lobby group censored broadcasting documentary on residents' situation
The home residents tried to reach the media to make people aware of their situation. The Moroccan National TV, TVM, shot a documentary on the situation of the Home's residents.
Soon after the first broadcast on TV, the Home's officials stopped giving food to the residents for one week as punishement for having told the truth about their living conditions. This forced some to go on the streets to beg to ensure their daily meals.
The Moroccan TV channel came back for the second time to shoot other scenes of inhuman practices against the Home's residents. However, this time, the 'sanction' was even tougher than the first one. Some officials close to the Home's administration lobbied for banning the documentary from being broadcast on TVM. That way, their cause wouldn't be heard.