Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Children's Library in Fez a Hit

The Medina Children's Library opened its doors last week. While the aim was for a "soft opening", with the official launch on February 28, the enthusiastic response has surprised  organisers

On Wednesday January 21, the new Medina Children's Library of Fez opened to the public. There was no formal announcement, and no proper signage. Yet children and their parents flooded the two room space, keen to find out what this small facility was all about. For many, it was their first experience of a library. 

More than 20 children attended that first day, and each of the following two days saw more than 30 children admitted. By Saturday, a system was put in place with a maximum of 10 children at a time for hourly sessions, overseen by two librarians. 

"This is the first time I have been in a library," said Aisa, 10. "Everything is beautiful - the room, the books and the storytelling."

When The View From Fez visited on Monday, minutes before the 4 PM opening time, children ran along the street towards the library laughing and shouting. More than 20 children lined up, impatient to enter. It seemed extraordinary that this amount of enthusiasm should be generated by a small library providing books in Arabic, French and English. It wasn't for a movie, or a musical, or a new video game parlour, but for children's books they could read in a quiet, warm space, with local librarians on hand to explain words they didn't understand.

Daily story reading sessions help to bridge the gap between the written and spoken words. After a story reading session by Aicha Morelli, Hassan, 13, said, "This is my first experience of a library. I am learning a lot from the books, and I really liked the story today. It was about how to collaborate with others, and how that will help us in our life."

While in Western countries, children have a plethora of entertainment and educational options available to them, in the Fez Medina there is precious little for children. There are few, if any, children's books available in the home and no playgrounds. When not at school, kids spend their time with their families. Or boys hang out on street corners, perhaps kicking pieces of rolled up paper in the place of a soccer ball, while girls help their mothers with cooking, or looking after younger children.

Aicha Morelli is one of the story readers giving daily sessions

The aim of the Medina Children's Library is to improve literacy levels in the Medina, by encouraging children to develop a love of reading. While the general level of illiteracy in Morocco hovers around 30%, in the Fez Medina that figure is considerably higher - particularly among women.

The Medina Children's Library of Fez is a private initiative by members of the recently formed non-profit Fez Association for the Children of the Medina, which is comprised of two ex-patriot residents of Fez and five local Moroccans, supported by donations from Riad Laaroussa and The View From Fez. Other local businesses, such as Mint-Teez Silk Screen Studio, have given their services free of charge. 

The Medina Children's Library is free to enter, and after the lending system is put in place, books will be available for borrowing by a subscription per child of 20 dh (US $2) per year.

More donations are being sought to increase the number of books and pay for ongoing costs. 

"Historically, Morocco is primarily an oral culture, but to participate in the modern economy, young people also need to be able to read and write well," said Suzanna Clarke, treasurer of the Fez Association of the Children of the Medina. 
"Books are a way of not only accessing information, but of stimulating a child's imagination. There is a saying that, "a child who reads is an adult who thinks". 

"We have been thrilled by the response of the local community. There is clearly a big need for a library here in the Fez Medina. If we can generate enough donations, we would love to increase the size of this library and be able to offer books to teenagers and adults. And perhaps even to broaden our services to other forms of media, which is the direction libraries in Western countries are moving in." 

The Medina Children's Library of Fez officially opens on Saturday February 28. 

Donations to purchase books and pay for running costs are welcomed. Please contact medinachildrenslibrary@gmail.com 

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New Directions for Moroccan Investment and Tourism

Morocco's Ministry of Tourism, Dr. Lahcen Haddad, recently wrote about the future directions for Moroccan tourism and the fact that the country is aiming to diversify the origin of its investors and aiming to work together with Spain to offer a combined destination for tourists from Asia and America

Cosmopolitanism finds its purpose in a country where modernity and Arab, African and Berber traditions form an exceptional mixture. Last border of Africa or gateway to Europe, Morocco is a multifaceted country awaiting discovery. However the sector is experiencing a somewhat delicate moment, largely due to ignorance, putting all the countries of the Maghreb on the same footing. Can you talk to us about security in Morocco and the profound transformation that the country has undergone since 2011, a key factor contributing to its economic growth and social stability?

Morocco has a certain approach that it has undertaken for a long time. These are political reforms, reforms in the economic sphere as well as social reforms. Reforms also in the religious sphere: it is a country that is a model in Africa and a model in the Middle East in terms of management of the religious field. This enabled the country to gain some significant strength allowing it to make the transition without any violence. For us the Arab Spring was a social blessing, a collective boon in one sense, because it freed a lot of energy but there were reforms that were already under way, on the ground. Through the release of these energies we have taken a quantum leap with the Constitution of 2011. We were already prepared. Morocco is culturally and historically known to be a country of tolerance, a country of moderation, a country that is a plethora of different cultures and different visions, but at the same time there were reforms that were initiated, especially with King Mohammed VI after his enthronement in 1999.

So there is the security of Morocco. It is an intellectual, cultural, political security and it is something that exists in the genes of Moroccans, in their culture, in their way of doing things. So that’s the basics. But there is also a lot of professional groundwork that must be recognized as the security service in Morocco.

That said, of course there's the context that should not be ignored, the amalgam that is done. For example there is an amalgam which is very easily made in Europe. Morocco is a Muslim country so it's not like other countries. Communication must be carried out at all times to say: we are a country where all investors and tourists are going to have security. Thus that’s why we are also in touch with tour operators, with tourists, to communicate, to say that Morocco is a country that should be visited; that when we visit it, we cannot fear anything: there is good mobilization, there is an important plan to ensure security.

However I believe that terrorism is a global phenomenon. No country is immune, but if there is an approach, it should be a joint, international approach and a response to such a phenomenon from all nations that cherish freedom. If we take into consideration several issues - and that‘s what we also want to say - the first issue of a person against terrorism is development, human development too. Reducing marginalization and youth disenchantment is very important. The second thing is better management of the religious field. This is where Morocco can also be a model. There could be a lot of work to be done that we can already do. The third thing is all effort that must be made on the issue of the financing of terrorism, because that’s where a big part of the problem originates too.

Morocco has become a pole of attraction for foreign investors and a reference in Africa. Morocco is also a gateway for Europe to invest in Sub-Saharan Africa. Morocco began a trend which was to invest in Sub-Saharan Africa and it also gave stability to the entire region. What is your opinion on the subject where companies like RAM play a key role?

For investors it is very important. And the reason for which there is an interest on the part of investors is because Morocco has worked on improving the business climate. I believe that we are moving up in the ranks to become a much more attractive country for investment and funding resources. Secondly, Morocco is a responsible country, which protects investors. And thirdly, the dynamics that Morocco is experiencing gives investment opportunities that are very important. And the fact that we say “Morocco, a platform for Africa” is not just rhetoric. Morocco has always had in this sense, since the Middle Ages, a cultural, historical and political relationship with Africa, but now it is the second largest investor in Africa.

Moroccan banks exist in about 25 African countries. RAM flies to 33 airports. All major Moroccan groups are very present in Africa, and are out there creating value, making investments and creating employment. And there is a possibility to make this kind of investment in a triangular manner. I believe that the future is Africa. And if Europe, the West and industrialized countries are serious with respect to Africa, the number one ally to really go to Africa will be Morocco.

Tourism plays a very important role because it is also a factor for development in the interest of all the inhabitants of the country and all regions. I would like to know your vision. What role will tourism play for the economic and social development of Morocco?

We started Vision 2020 in 2010. There was a two-year shift due to the Arab Spring and the change experienced in Morocco. So the realization of the vision really began in 2012-2013 with a two-year delay. But we are on the right track because every year we produce about 10,000 to 12,000 additional beds, which is no small feat. The second thing: we're bringing to the foreground certain regions. If you look at the area of Casablanca-Rabat, there are a multitude of hotels, convention centers and products that appear. This region will emerge in 3-4 years as a destination of great potential for investors. We have already started with the new port of Casablanca or the second phase of development of the “Vallée de Bouregreg” with the Moroccan Tourism Development Fund (FMDT); and in the Tangiers-Tetouan region. So maybe in 4 years we will have 4 regions that are truly competitive and mature. They are the regions of Marrakech, of Agadir, of Casablanca-Rabat, and of Tangiers-Tetouan. And we're working hard to bring out other regions like Fez, Meknes, the Atlas and the valleys, Ouarzazate.

Another thing that is being done is that we are improving the quality of our services, be it: hotels, cities, or airports. I believe that we are advancing at the right pace with regard to Vision 2020, and we are doing all this within the context of a vision that is sustainable, that is protective of the environment, of human resources, of natural resources as well. It has a positive impact on the community. And this is the most important factor of all; that tourism is a means of economic development because it is a sector that creates employment. We have created around 50,000 jobs in tourism in the last three years; but not only that: we are also creating an economic dynamic where small and medium enterprises emerge in the tourism sector. As an example: 150 travel agencies have been created in recent years.

What is the role of foreign investors in tourism in Morocco and what mechanisms have been established to channel the interest of investors and financial agents?

The role of Moroccan investors had become much more important for tourism during those years. But now we are witnessing a new expansion, a new craze of foreign investors who come from China, who come from the United States, who come from other countries, from Russia, but also from the traditional investment markets for Morocco which are France, Spain, Germany, the UK and Italy. We are diversifying the origin of investors. We are dealing with Asia, with Europe, with America, with the Middle East which is very important. So we are diversifying investors. And we are also diversifying the tools. For example Sovereign Funds which are important, that’s the Middle East with Wessal Capital and the FMDT. China also, where there are Sovereign Funds that are important. But there are also private investments from other countries.

If we look at Spain, 10% of GDP is tourism. And there are a lot of Spanish hotels like the Melia group, which are present in many countries worldwide. I think that it is also a field to work together in both countries, because Spain can also be a platform to attract tourists and investors to Morocco.

We work with a lot of Spanish groups and also with Spanish brands. We work for example with Sol Meliá, Iberostar, Barceló, Hotusa, Husa Riu. These are important groups that are in Morocco, that know Morocco well.

Morocco is the first tourist destination of Spain after Europe and you have a strategy to attract a million more Spaniards by 2015.

We already have two million but we count Moroccans who are in Spain and also Spaniards. But we get around a million Spaniards.

So what can be done to attract Spanish tourists? We will tell them to take their cars and come! Despite the economic crisis in Spain, the flow of Spanish tourists has not decreased. Now we're a little better connected from Madrid, from Valencia, from Barcelona; even from Malaga now, which is very close to Morocco, we are well served. That will continue improving. There is reason to think about San Sebastian and perhaps Galicia and Asturias for further connectivity. There are a lot of airlines that are interested.

Our three major markets in Spain are Madrid, Barcelona and Andalusia. But we are looking elsewhere too. I believe that the Basque country is important and we can have a greater flow from the Basque country and we are working on the airline possibilities. I believe that Galicia is very important for us as well, and that we can have air traffic flows from there.

We are also working on combined tourism with Spain. For distant destinations such as Brazil, we would like people to come to Spain and Morocco. For China we would like them to come to Morocco and Spain. Therefore this combination is important because someone who might travel for 12-14 hours would want to visit more than a country, like the Chinese for instance. But even for Brazilians: Brazilians want to come to Morocco, but they want to go and see Spain and Portugal which are important to them. We are working on that and it’s important for us to work on that; and especially Latin America: for us there are important markets in Latin America that we want to do either directly or through Spain.

Spain is a destination for Moroccan tourism. There are between 300,000 and 500,000 Moroccans who travel each year to Spain, with substantial purchasing power, who spend more than two weeks, families who go especially to the Costa del Sol. So with Spain it’s a win-win tourism: there are Spaniards who come to Morocco and Moroccans who go to Spain.

Whenever you go to a country you keep an image of the country. For example many people who have been to Spain keep the image of paella and bullfights, etc. What image do you want people to keep when they come here to Morocco?

I would like them to remember this image: snow-capped mountains, oasis as in Marrakech and nearby beaches. You can see it all in one day: you can go from the top of the mountains and two hours later be in the desert and again two hours later be at the beach in Essaouira where you can swim. It is this Morocco which I would like people to remember.

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Security in Morocco ~ Travel Forums Reflect Concerns

Concerns about security issues and recent events in France, Belgium and Germany have fuelled travellers' fears about safety. The most asked question, in relation to Morocco is: "is it safe to visit?"

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, many tourists wishing to visit soon in Morocco solicit
the opinions of several of online discussion sites such as TripAdvisor or Fodor to overcome their fears. The View from Fez also receives frequent questions on security and solo travel in Morocco.

The question that comes up most often is: "Can I get safely to Morocco after the French
attacks?" This is despite the blindingly obvious fact that Paris is some 3000 kilometres away!

Thankfully, most responses rightly point out that the attacks took place in France and terrorist risks relate more to France than Morocco. They also point out that Moroccans strongly condemn the recent attacks and has a valued reputation as a safe hospitable destination.

Other potential tourists seem anxious because they wrongly equated Moroccan people as supporters of ISIS. It can not be stated more clearly - the Moroccan government and the population despise radical groups and Moroccan Security has an ongoing and successful campaign against dissident elements.

On other sites as Routard.com, users are unanimously reassuring potential tourists by pointing out Morocco's stability and and control of security issues.

While it is true that nobody is able to predict where terrorists will strike, foreigners on
holiday or living in Morocco praise the efficiency of joint police and military patrols. See our story on Morocco's enhanced security plan "Hadar" HERE

Unfortunately, some foreign governments security warnings appear to be out of touch with the reality on the ground. While it is understandable that governments err on the side of caution, some are less than realistic in their assessments of conditions in Morocco.

The Australian "Smart Traveller" website that, despite recent events, has not been updated since October last year,  warns:

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Morocco because of the threat of terrorist attack against Western interests. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

There is a possibility of retaliatory attacks against Western targets in Morocco. The Moroccan authorities have warned of an increased threat linked to the number of Moroccans belonging to international terrorist organisations operating in Syria and Iraq.

We have received reports that terrorists are planning attacks against a range of targets, including places frequented by tourists. Tourist areas have been attacked in the past.

You should monitor the media for reports of protest activity and avoid large gatherings and demonstrations as they may turn violent.

You should exercise particular caution on weekends, including in the period surrounding Friday prayers.

There is a general threat of kidnapping against Westerners in North Africa. You should maintain a high level of vigilance at all times and especially when travelling in southern and border areas of Morocco.

As an Australian resident in Morocco pointed out, "There have been no kidnappings of tourists in Morocco. However, the warning that appears to be the view from the embassy in Paris, it certainly is out of touch with the reality here in Morocco. Maybe they should come see for themselves."

In contrast, the American government travel warning website, lists problems in Libya, Mali, Syria. Ukraine and other hotspots, but makes no mention of Morocco as a country where tourists are more at risk than they are in any place.

Common sense dictates that travellers should always be alert but this applies just as much to Sydney, New York, London or Paris as it is does to Marrakech. Have a safe trip!

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