Hope from the Empowered Hopeless
By Rabih Hasbany
“Hope“, a brightly painted building in Kenitra, 40 kilometers north of Morocco’s capital Rabat, stands out among its pastel-hued neighbors. It is a kindergarten run by a group of Yemenis who came to the country to study but could not return as a result of the ongoing war in Yemen. It is Morocco’s first refugee cooperative.
Morocco is home to about 7,500 refugees and asylum seekers from more than 50 countries. More than 3,000 are Syrians, the largest group, followed by about 700 Yemenis who have sought refuge from the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
Recognizing this movement, the government adopted a new immigration and asylum policy in September 2013. This offered new protections for refugees in Morocco, providing access to public education, health services and the job market.
In 2016, the country introduced further changes allowing refugees to establish their own cooperatives, which benefit refugees seeking sustainable livelihoods.
Realizing he needed a means of supporting himself, Abdullah, the head of the Hope kindergarten cooperative, approached some of his Yemeni friends in Kenitra with the idea of establishing a cooperative that would make use of their academic backgrounds.
The school was launched in 2017 and currently enrolls about 70 children. The kindergarten was well received by both the local and the refugee communities.
Khadija, a Moroccan woman, opted to send her daughter Malak to this school after her neighbors told her good things about the ‘school of the Yemenis’. ‘Since this is run by the Yemenis, the cultural exchange and knowledge that Malak will pick up will also be very useful,’ said Khadija.
According to Khadija, many foreigners face discrimination in Morocco and experience isolation. ‘You see how these Yemenis come and impose themselves in such a positive way. This is something great and amazing. Of course, the Moroccans will embrace them and welcome them in society,’ she said.
Abdullah wants Hope to set an example for Moroccans to go ahead and follow their dreams. ‘If you have an idea, don’t sit at home. Come out and seek help implementing it. The government helped us. It will help the locals too,’ he said.
Theological Reflections and Missiological Implications
The model of care provided by those in need in this situation reminds us of the story of Ruth, the Moabite, whom God uses to bless his people and bring salvation to them. It also brings to our minds the story of the Good Samaritan, who was marginalized in society yet became a proactive agent of self-sacrificial service and self-giving love. Moreover, Jesus was marginalized and persecuted by religious and political leaders of his era, yet he took the initiative to contribute to the wellbeing of the community. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and released people from their bonds. The church in the MENA region is encountering refugees and asylum seekers on a daily basis. To what extent is the church encountering Jesus, Ruth, and the Good Samaritan in the faces of the marginalized?
It`s dignifying to refugees to take these initiatives. Rosebeth Moss-Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, states poignantly:
When we do change to people they experience it as violence; when people do change for themselves they experience it as liberation.
The Yemeni initiative is an example for all refugees in the region, who often live in tension with their host societies, to study the needs of their new communities and evaluate the resources available to them, such that they might implement cooperatives for the wellbeing of the community along the lines of Jeremiah 29:7:
Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
Nadia Khoury Accad, director of Tahaddi Community Health Center, quotes the words of Lila Watson, Aboriginal activist and academic from Queensland, Australia:
If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us walk together.
This is an invitation by all the people in need in our communities, for the church not only in Morocco but also in other countries of the region. For those of us able, we should walk alongside others, allowing them to initiate in projects that move them from being passive recipients of ministry services to become active social workers seeking the common good of their communities.