Helpful Morocco

The smile faded on Juliet Kinsman's face and she suddenly stopped telling her story about Ghita Ait Moulid in Morocco whose picture appeared behind her on the large conference screen. “Do we know if she’s OK” she said urgently, breaking off her presentation to speak to a colleague in the audience.

“She is”, came the answer.

We shared the relief on Juliet's face, her smile flickered, and she turned back to the room to continue telling us about the inspiring work of Education for All; a small charity in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco which provides boarding houses to enable girls from remote villages to attend school and helps to lift them from restricted opportunities and helps small rural communities.

It was just one of many moments when speakers’ voices broke with emotion as they stopped to think of what they had experienced, witnessed or heard about in Morocco since the earthquake last weekend. I was in a room full of the Pure community, the incredible passionate group of people focused on experiential luxury in the travel industry who had arrived or were travelling to their annual event in Morocco when the earthquake struck.

Sustainable writer and consultant Juliet, together with Olivia Cryer from the Conscious Travel Foundation quickly arranged an event in London just a few days later, to try to answer the question “how can we be helpful” in the face of the increasing number of extreme climate events.

“Listen to and tell personal stories” was the message from Jean-Marc Flambert, who has supported communities in Haiti and Sri Lanka after hurricanes and the tsunami of 2004. He compared an official statement about the earthquake with a personal message he’d received from a friend in Morocco. One was full of stiff formal statements of sympathy, the other full of emotion, kindness, gratitude and reassurance.

That aligns with behaviour change theory which says that the person giving a message can massively impact the way the recipient receives it. In a time of crisis it is always better for a statement to come from a person, rather than an anonymous “spokesperson”. It’s definitely worth looking at the writer and presenter Alice Morrison’s Instagram account @aliceoutthere1 to see how impactful personal stories can be. She’s sharing pictures of local people helping her, welcoming her and the reality of life now in Marrakesh.

The  traditional broadcast and print media is always full of the worst impacts of a crisis. That’s natural. That’s the news. It can sometimes frustrate people on the ground that news broadcasts don’t show the reality behind the disasters – in most cases the whole country is not affected, even streets a few blocks away from a collapsed building can be completely back to normal. Even Times' journalist Chris Haslam writing from Marrakesh, expressed dismay about the news coverage in this piece about why the country needs travellers to return.

The news pages and broadcasts show the worst and leaves those images in people’s minds.  Then tomorrow’s news quickly takes over and the earthquake in Morocco is just one of many such global incidents. An audience without any more information may be left with the impression it’s not safe, that they may be in the way, that they may not be welcome.

So that’s something we as the travel industry, we as travellers, we as the community need to do. We all need to be showing and sharing images and pictures of the reality. We also need to support the community and be clear what it needs, where visitors aren’t able to travel, or where the community needs more help to recover. Sustainable writer Holly Tuppen asked us to consider the pressure on hospitality staff who are supporting visitors when their own families and communities need help. Tour operator Intrepid Travel, which is fundraising for Education for All announced its tours were restarting to Morocco that day, on amended itineraries.

Editor of Times LUXX Lisa Grainger asked a very good question – why can’t the travel industry respond and donate unused flights and hotel rooms to those in need in a crisis? A question we in the industry need to ask ourselves.

The other powerful message from Jean-Marc was “not just to give, but to buy” Think about the people of the country, keep it personal. While major aid is essential in getting a country’s infrastructure back, the artists, the craft sellers, the restaurant owners need us to given them our money. “If everyone here went to a Moroccan restaurant tonight, that in itself would support change, you know you’d be supporting the community,” he said.

And then, while we are all still reeling from the impact of the earthquake our news is full of the tragedy unfolding  in Libya as the “medicane” weather event Storm Daniel triggered the collapse of dams and unimaginable loss of life.  The city of Derna did not have a regular tourism conference with hundreds of travel delegates visiting annually and working with its citizens. Civil conflict has reduced contact with the outside world.

In a year’s time, at the next Pure meeting, the world’s travel industry will gather together in Morocco, to meet old friends, visit the places and people they have supported and will continue to support.

That won’t happen in Derna. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all travel to Libya since 2014.

And yet. The same principles of buying and not just giving, of keeping it personal and sharing to support the community also apply. Hunt out Libyan communities in the UK, artists designers. If you can’t visit, share your support with the community here who can then support people on the ground.

And keeping it personal, who is Ghita Ait Moulid? She was a former student who boarded at  Education for All. Ghita’s mother one day quietly told Juliet Kinsman about the damage to her eye inflicted on her as a housemaid and explained she would have had to send Ghita to become a housemaid at the age of twelve if the Education for All boarding schools had not existed. A week ago the family and school were celebrating the fact that Ghita had just graduated with a first class degree from SIST (Superior Institutions of Science and Technology) in Casablanca.  

This week, of the two hundred girls who were about to start school, around fifty have not yet been accounted for. Five out of the six schools run by the organisation need to be rebuilt.



Written by Debbie Hindle

Chief executive, travel