While touring Fez last weekend, our Corporate Service Corps team got tickets to the closing ceremony for a Sufi festival. We saw traditional Moroccan music being performed and three whirling dervishes. Whirling dervishes are a practice of the Sufi sect within Islam. They perform a dance twirling in place in a long, weighted robe or sema. It is quite hypnotic to watch this religious dance. The dance is performed to express emotion and achieve the wisdom and love of God. Even not understanding the words being sung or the meaning of the specific movements, you could feel a powerful sense of mystery.
Instead of paying for the festival tickets we made a small donation to local Moroccan charities. Coincidentally, one of the organizations being supported by the event was CIAT, the Moroccan Center for Integration and Assistance through Work, which one of our CSC teams is working with, and which we all visited this week for our Community Service Day. So we started the week making a unplanned donation to the charity we visited Friday.
The CIAT visit was truly inspiring. CIAT’s mandate is to help mentally disabled train to be able to do common roles in society. The charity runs a bakery, a restaurant, cafeteria, organic farm and plant nursery. If you are ever in Rabat I strongly recommend eating at Gusto, the CIAT restaurant, which had one of the best Gnocchi’s I’ve ever eaten. It even inspired my first TripAdvisor recommendation!
At CIAT, the disabled are working all the main tasks – baking bread and pastries, serving in the restaurant and kitchen, and planting and tending the fields. They also clean and package the harvested food in both traditional Moroccan baskets for sale in the medinas and in more modern packaging for the supermarkets. In the plant nursery and in packaging they work pretty much completely independently.
Some of the disabled in the nursery showed us how to start a seedling, take a cutting and plant it, and transplant something that had outgrown its pot. Our teachers – the disabled people or ‘DPs’ as they are called here -– were perfectly expert at each of these tasks. Despite a language barrier, they were able to teach us the basic steps and encouraged us to figure it all out. Although I am pretty sure they politely did some re-potting after we left to get things up to their standard!
This work is so important because, just like in most countries, the disabled are significantly under-represented in the Moroccan work force. Our host told us that 20 years ago in Morocco, the mentally handicapped would have been hidden in the home. It’s great to see that opening up.
Ronald Reagan once said something to the effect that the ‘best social program is a job’. There is dignity in work and joy in being valued for your contribution. You could see that in the faces of our teachers and in the other ‘DPs’ working in the various functions we toured. CIATs goal is to be self-sufficient and some of the component businesses are already there. As a training program, the next step is sending their trained staff out to work independently in commercial bakeries, restaurants or farms. A good reminder that it is our abilities that should define us. Not our disabilities.
“The measure of a man, or woman, is not so much what they have accomplished, though that has weight. It often is much more though what that man or woman has overcome to accomplish what they have.” ― Leif Gregersen, Through The Withering Storm