When he received the call about the earthquake that struck near Marrakech, Mohamed was four hours from the Rif – his home – in Fez, visiting his wife in hospital.
It was Sidi Massinissa on the phone, telling him that the Rif Tribe Foundation was sending aid to the Atlas Mountains region, so Mohamed jumped in his car to drive the four hours north to to al-Hoceima and join the team’s effort.
Al-Hoceima is the headquarters of the Rif Tribes Foundation, a grassroots organization that works to support the Amazigh people of Morocco’s Rif region, an underdeveloped area that lacks services like good hospitals, forcing Mohamed to drive for hours to see his wife in the hospital. was admitted.
Regardless, when he received the call to action, Mohamed felt energized. “When Massinissa called me, the first thing I thought of was helping our brothers in the Atlas,” he told Al Jazeera.
Echoes of the past
Sidi Massinissa du Rif, great-grandson of an anti-colonial fighter, founded the Tribus du Rif Foundation to advance the Amazigh community of which he is a part.
When he heard about the devastating September 9 earthquake, it brought a feeling of deja vu, as if it had happened to him before.
Indeed, he had, but not in exactly the same way. On February 24, 2004, he and his family were awakened by shaking, people screaming and collapsed buildings in the town of al-Hoceima, in the northeastern Rif Mountains.
Even though he was a child at the time, he remembered the panic, sadness and helplessness of that moment 19 years ago well enough that when he learned what hit Marrakech , the feelings came back in force.
He therefore decided that his organization, based in al-Hoceima, would work in favor of the rural tribes of the Atlas, affected by an unprecedented crisis and who were begging for help.
After launching a major fundraising campaign – supported by celebrities, socialites, artists and art and fashion houses – the Rif Tribes Foundation raised more than 200,000 euros ($214,000) to purchase and transport supplies from the Rif to the Atlas Mountains.
On the way for more than a day to the Amazigh village of Taroudant, south of the mountains, the organization set up its base on Friday with its supply convoy.
The plan was to coordinate and send aid to the most remote and isolated villages, focusing on areas still inaccessible by most state and large organizations, concentrated in and around Marrakech. Their plan was to reach isolated Amazigh communities, where the state of the roads made access difficult.
So far, they have reached the villages of Talgjount, Timlit, Tibit and Igli, distributing food, hygiene products, blankets and mattresses to hundreds of families – large tents are on the way to temporarily house the many people left homeless because of the earthquake.
“Our region and their region are both marginalized”
The road from Taroudant to Igli is particularly difficult for the Rif Tribes team, it takes Mohamed two hours through complicated roads to finally get there. But, being from the hilly Rif, he is used to the maneuvers that such driving requires.
However, he is happy to do this work. “Our two regions are marginalized; we have nothing, but we are one people. I came here not knowing when I will be able to find my wife and children, but this is all I can give,” Mohamed said, with tears in his eyes.
Lalla Ghizlan Baryala, an Amazigh activist from the Middle Atlas region, told Al Jazeera she was grateful for this solidarity with her region, which, like Mohamed, is often forgotten.
“The Amazigh tribes and families who live in the Atlas are not well located (…) in fact, we, from the Atlas, always say that we are a forgotten region, deep Morocco which does not attract the attention of the state.
“Until an earthquake occurs, people do not realize that there are social, cultural, economic and medical deficiencies, as was so palpable on this occasion,” lalla said, adding that she hopes this event will make both local authorities understand. and the outside world take more account of rural communities.
A story of shared struggle
In fact, long stretches of the Atlas are severely lacking in medical facilities. In normal times, the medical emergency is compounded by the fact that villagers often cannot even get to the hospital, since they usually only have livestock as a means of transportation.
The Rif is also experiencing a similar reality. Although it is the region with the most cancer patients in Morocco due to the legacy of the 1921 Spanish chemical bombing, major hospitals and professional medical facilities are only a few hours away of road.
This is why, for example, Mohamed has to drive four hours from Al-Hoceima to Fez every time he visits his wife in the hospital.
Sharing a history of isolation, both regions protested, demanding visibility, in 2017.
It began in al-Hoceima in late 2016 with a wave of protests dubbed the Hirak focused on the lack of infrastructure, hospitals, schools and job opportunities. And it continued in the Atlas, where hundreds of people decided to walk 97 km on mountain roads to protest against marginalization and social exclusion.
This common struggle allowed the victims to very easily contact the volunteers of the Rif Tribes Foundation.
“People were very grateful that we came from the Rif to help them,” says Massinissa.
“They told us that they still remembered the same thing that happened to us in 2004 and that they knew that the Rifians would be the first to understand what was happening and what the needs of the rural communities were. »
In fact, other associations and teams of volunteers from the Rif had already gone to certain villages in the Atlas to provide assistance during the first days of the earthquake before the arrival of the Foundation of the Tribes of the Rif, indicated villagers in Massinissa.
“From the Rif to the Atlas, united as one” is a slogan that the youth-led Foundation uses on social media to reflect the spirit of its mission and its residents who share a commitment that does not stop in the Rif, extending to all. other tribal and marginalized communities in the country.