Imzouren, Al Hoceima
Imzouren is a city of roughly 100,000 people on the northern coastline of Morocco, near the Rif mountains. It is located in the province of Al Hoceima, not far from the eponymous provincial capital.
The north is one of Morocco's poorest regions, with over two thirds of people living without their basic needs. The vast gulf between living standards in the city and the countryside means that as much as 40% of the rural population go without clean water, while nearly half lack access to sanitation.
Cannabis farming brings real risks
Gender inequality is a big problem in the Imzouren area. While illiteracy among mean hovers at just under a third, 56% of women in the region are unable to read or write. In some areas, estimates put female illiteracy at 90%.
Morocco is one of the world's biggest cannabis producers, and the Rif region near Imzouren is the country's cannabis powerhouse. Counter-narcotics efforts by the Moroccan government have been moderately successful in reducing production. Nevertheless, over three quarters of a million inhabitants of the northern regions are thought to be engaged in farming cannabis. Growing cannabis is considerably more lucrative than conventional farming, with income around 18 times higher.
Despite the financial benefits, cannabis farming is a dangerous trade, both for farmers and their families. Violence and corruption are daily threats, and arrest is an ever-present risk. In 2008, nearly 29,000 people were charged on drugs-related offences.
Children raised into a life of crime
For the families of cannabis farmers, legal intervention can have devastating consequences. Not only does a wife lose her husband and children their father; the whole family loses its source of income and is left vulnerable to poverty.
Children from these families are raised against a backdrop of crime, with important opportunities cut off as a result. Often, their education is affected, and with it their chances of success in later life.
What are we doing to help?
SOS Children has worked in Imzouren since 1988.
Caring for children with no one
For many children in Morocco's north, a family life is impossible. In our Children's Village, we provide a loving home for children who cannot grow up with their parents. Every child in our care benefits from the love and support of an SOS mother, growing up alongside their SOS brothers and sisters.
Helping the community
Much of our support goes out to those from the wider community. We ensure that vulnerable children receive every opportunity they need to escape poverty. Our nursery school provides early learning for children from the Village and the wider community.
At primary school, youngsters begin their journey into the skills-based learning which will stand them in good stead for future employment, as well as all the usual academic subjects. Through workshops, we provide an introduction to woodwork and metalwork, textiles and other key practical subjects.
When children in our care are ready to leave the Village, they move into shared accommodation in a range of nearby locations, such as central Imzoren, Fes, Sale, as well as the provincial capital Al Hoceima.
Here, we continue to support them as they adjust to independent life, and help them prepare for all manner of new experiences from homemaking and financial responsibility to career planning.
In 2004, the province was hit by a severe earthquake, measuring 6.5 on the Richter Scale. Around 600 people died in the disaster, and much damage was sustained to buildings and homes. In the aftermath of this terrible event, we were there to help those worst-affected. As a long-term presence in Imzouren, we will always be there to support the most vulnerable people when disaster strikes.
With our support, children in Imzouren enjoy the childhood they deserve and look forward to a bright future.