After years of neglect, mentally and physically disabled children in rural Morocco are learning to read and write at a center for handicapped children in the ancient city of Demnate. We have more about Hassan Khallaf and the organization Attadamoun Association for the Handicapped, in this edition of Making a Difference.
In the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, the ancient Moroccan city of Demnate is a gateway between the agricultural plains to the north and the Sahara desert beyond the mountains to the south. Much of the commerce that passes through its gates has changed little in more than 1,000 years.
But some of the thinking in Demnate is changing, thanks to Hassan Khallaf and the Attadamoun Association for the Handicapped.
"I grew up in this city," said Hassan Khallaf. "But for the handicapped, we didn't use to see a lot of them. You rarely see one, two or three. What we thought is that handicapped children didn't used to exist in Demnate."
Khallaf runs community outreach programs for the center, where 40 physically and mentally handicapped people between the ages of 5 and 28 get the education they have been missing.
"All the time, they were kept at home," he said. "They didn't have access to education and all of them were illiterate. Now, thanks to the monitors [teachers], they are able to read and to write and even to practice other types of activities."
The center is almost entirely funded by the French branch of Catholic Relief Services. But it also generates income through the sale of crafts made by young adults learning a trade. Hayat ben Moumad used to sit at home all day. She says the five years that she has been coming to the center have changed how she sees Demnate and how Demnate sees her.
"I am not only meeting people here at the center, but while I am walking home too," said Hayat ben Moumad. "And that has helped me make more social contacts. Hassan Khallaf says the center has increased the visibility of handicapped people in Demnate, making people reconsider their prejudices."
"Their views and their attitudes have changed," he said. "So they started to say that handicapped children should be taken into account as part of the community. They no longer see handicapped children as marginalized."Khallaf says his work at the center has broadened his sense of community.
"As a Demnatese - someone born, who grew up in Demnate - I said to myself, 'Somewhere, you've got a duty toward this community," said Khallaf. "You've got your job. You studied here. You have your own family. So you should contribute something as a citizen.'"
Hassan Khallaf says the challenge now is to establish a follow-up program for young adults who need advice and credit to help establish and finance their own businesses.