True Tales of a Wounded Morocco

Interview With Aicha Ech-Channa

Once upon a time, after the Turing machine, during WWII, before nuclear power, the Mother Teresa of the Arab world was born.

In 1941, deep in Casablanca’s downtown, Aicha Ech-Channa came to life. Life wasn’t easy at that time. Time itself wasn’t easy on people. People were allowed to work even before reaching the age of 16. 16 is the age at which young Aicha Ech-Channa started working. She was the breadwinner of the household. She was a socio-medical assistant and she was in charge of leprosy and tuberculosis cases. Not the perfect job for a teenager, but she was fit to do it.

Understanding, warm, compassionate, Mrs. Ech-Channa felt what the patients felt. She had a strong sense of empathy. And that empathy gave her strength to stand up for the weak.

During the first weeks of February, I set an appointment with Mrs. Ech-Channa to interview her about her debuts, challenges, experiences and what young people, to whom she’s passing the torch, should know.

It all started when she began volunteering at the Moroccan League for Child Welfare (MLCW).

She said: “I went to a MLCW kindergarten and there were abandoned children there, but I didn’t see them.” When I asked her what she meant by that, she replied: “They were right under my nose, but I didn’t see them. I took care of them, but I didn’t see them. In the pediatrics section, there were hospitalized kids who had their parents, abandoned children were there as well, but I didn’t see them. Sister Marie-Anne Danielle, who was super strict, gave them a lot of importance, but I still didn’t understand. I really didn’t understand. For me, there weren’t any abandoned children. I have never imagined for a split second that a mother would give up on her baby. I heard about it. But to be honest I didn’t know that it was real. I would hear doctors say: ‘We’ll treat him and patch him up but then again, he’ll return to the children’s house and come back here, damaged’. I still didn’t get it.”

“Even after graduating from the Public Nursing School, I kept volunteering. Despite everything, I remained a volunteer. Later, when I started working in Public Healthcare, in the service of health education, I would have the opportunity to see many other social problems that I wasn’t aware of, and about which I hadn’t known anything.”, said Mrs. Ech-Channa.

“And here I was, a teen plunging deep in a society I lived in, but whose wounds I was totally unaware of. All thanks to volunteering.”, she said. When I asked her why it was thanks to volunteering, she answered: “Because in my job, your work is limited to what you’re asked to do. If you want to take initiative, you have to ask for permission first. And I wasn’t the disciplined type. See, even saying that I was unruly would be an understatement. (laughs) I’ve been a free spirit since my childhood. As a volunteer, I gave the best of me and flourished, but without knowing it. Now that years have passed, I say to myself: ‘Oh my god, I tackled the darkest taboos and sore points, without realizing in what danger I put myself in.’ I did what I did but at the same time I was consumed with fear, because it was during the Years of Lead. You spoke, they beat you.”

Aicha Ech-Channa is known as the Moroccan Mother Teresa for her lifelong battle to change the miserable situation of unwed mothers in Morocco. She considerably helped to transform this once socially tabooed group into an included, respected and recognized population.

As of today, she has spent over 40 years of her life advocating for social change, she has helped thousands of mothers, women, and children, be it during her personal career or through ‘Solidarité Féminine’, an NGO she founded along with her friend and colleague Marie-Jean Tinturier. She won the Opus Prize, received the Legion of Honour, was awarded by the World Bank Group and was decorated by His Majesty Mohammed VI.

She has countless stories to tell. Being her interviewer, I was struck by her sincerity and the warm look in her eyes. And having been a volunteer and taken care of abandoned children, her extremely human speech stirred me.

I wish I could pass on to you all, dear readers, how I felt when facing her. That’s why I’m going to write a series of posts featuring her touching, eye-opening tales.

Stay tuned!


Originally published at www.voicesofyouth.org on February 26, 2016.