Before you board that plane for Morocco, remember to pack a book or a dozen. Not just for yourself, but for the Morocco Library Project!
The Morocco Library Project is one of the most outstanding, grassroots, non-profit organizations operating in the country. In honor of International Literacy Day, what better way to celebrate than to highlight one of Journey Beyond Travel’s favorite non-profits!
In 2013, Barb Mackraz traveled to Morocco for the first time. She didn’t know what to expect. She certainly didn’t expect to fall in love, but that is exactly what happened. The entire country, its blend of cultures, warm hospitality, and general verve she saw in the people inspired her to do something more while she vacationed.
Though Morocco is gorgeous, it does lack a reading culture. This is exactly what Barb wanted to help out with. After some thinking and planning, she started the Morocco Library Project, a joint US-Morocco effort.
The idea of the project is simple: to encourage and promote reading and literacy throughout Morocco. However, it’s difficult to promote reading without some good books and a library. This is exactly what much of Morocco was missing! With of the help of some friends and donors in the US and in Morocco, Barb got to work building a library.
You can find the first library — well known throughout Morocco as “The Purple Library” — in Erfoud, at the sandy edge of the Sahara. The Purple Library is a true collaboration. Teachers and students repurposed an old room in the Moulay Rachid High School, painting it purple, from which the name derives. Back in Palo Alto, Barb’s hometown, a collection of books and other materials was curated and sent over. The project also helped raise funds for repairs and furniture.
The Morocco Library Project didn’t stop in Erfoud.
Since 2014, it has spread all over the country to feed Morocco’s nascent bookworms! From one library to literally dozens, the Morocco Library Project has spread across the country, reaching into communities outside the urban centers that have few resources available.
“A library isn’t just a collection of materials,” Barb says. “It’s a space for good things to happen.”
And good things really do happen!
At first, the libraries all served as an after school center for students to do their homework and participate in the English Access Program. In this program, they worked with tutors and other teachers to improve their English comprehension in addition to their other school work. There was also a popular bookclub, CIRCLE, the first ever of its kind in Morocco. The bookclub gets highschoolers interested in reading and discussing some of their favorite reads, such as The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
Today, there are all kinds of activities taking place in libraries throughout Morocco. Students read for pleasure and put on plays of all sorts, from Sophocles to Shakespeare. They even write their own poetry. These libraries offer a space for young people to come together, share a love for reading, and find new and creative ways to engage in self expression.
“They are collaborative in this space in a way they don’t get in schools,” Barb says. “MLP has helped inspire a movement all over the country, to encourage literature and reading in environments that never had this before. That’s the beauty of it.”
Here are just a few of the other great stories to come from the Morocco Library Project:
- The Chouiter English Club near Marrakesh, inspired by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, started their own environmental club.
- Around Essmara, in a remote region of the Sahara, schools were too far apart to have one location for books, so they started their own mobile library.
- Students, like Ferdawss Ben Malk of Taroudant, are reading a ton more and discovering, as Ferdawss says, “that it is not books that have changed the world, but readers.”
- Encourages literacy among females in Morocco. Girls make up over 60% of the enrollment for the book clubs around Morocco!
What You Can Do
If you’re looking to add something more to your sustainable tourism, give a thought to donating books, other materials or funds to the Morocco Library Project. If you want to donate books on your trip, young adult reading is popular (think Harry Potter and The Fault in Our Stars), as well as easier to read classics, such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Old Man and the Sea. Biographies of well-known or inspiring people, such as Steve Jobs or Malala, are in high demand and so are STEM-field resources and books about nature. Of course, if you just want to give a thinking game, like Scrabble, or some funds, you can do that too!
After all, traveling is so much more than seeing great sites and eating wonderful food. It’s about engaging with other cultures and people. And what better way to do that than through a good book!
For more information on how to donate, please contact the Morocco Library Project through their website: https://www.moroccolibraries.org.
About the Author
Our Insider Guides are written by Morocco expert, author and photographer Lucas Peters. After spending years traveling to the distant corners of Morocco and writing about his adventures, he penned the best-selling guidebook Moon Morocco. He is now based in Paris, where he lives with his wife and son.