People of Morocco rally to send aid to struggling earthquake victims

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In front of El Morjen shopping mall in the Marrakesh city centre, dozens of volunteers from local organisations have gathered to receive donations for people affected by the earthquake that shook Morocco on Friday.

Lorries queued in front of the shopping centre as volunteers loaded them up with food, bedding, clothes and toys.

Abdelkarim Alrazi, of civil society organisation the National Foundation of Education, Culture and Coexistence, said they had shipped more than 5 tonnes of donations with the help of 60 volunteers.

“We are divided into two groups: one collects donations here [in Marrakesh] and the second deals with the transfer of these donations to the affected villages,” Mr Alrazi said.

After visiting the affected areas, Mr Alrazi said that the priority was to provide shelter to help people exposed to elements in the Atlas Mountains, where the quake struck. The temperatures there range from scorching heat in the day to unbearable cold at night.

However, there is a lack of co-ordination in carrying out these initiatives, he said. Authorities help to deliver the donations to affected villages, where roads remain blocked following rock slides. But not all victims benefit equally.

“I wish there was more co-ordination between organisations to make sure that there’s a balance in distributing the aid,” Mr Alrazi told The National.

“Some villages receive a lot while others receive nothing.”

Volunteers in front of Morjen mall in Marrakesh gather donations to be sent to earthquake-ravaged villages. Ghaya Ben Mbarek / The National

Volunteers in front of Morjen mall in Marrakesh gather donations to be sent to earthquake-ravaged villages. Ghaya Ben Mbarek / The National© Provided by The National

Achref Akrach, 19, is a member of local NGO Draw a Smile made up mostly of young students.

He and his friends are loading their fifth batch of aid for people in Al Haouz district, which was hit hardest by the 6.8-magnitude quake.

“We already sent four donation trucks to Amizmiz, Chichaoua and Ouerguen; today we will be sending a fifth one to another town,” Mr Achref told The National as he took a break from loading a lorry headed to Chichaoua, 71 kilometres away from Marrakesh.

“Food is fortunately available thanks to God, but people now still need more tents, clothes and covering to protect them from the cold,” he said.

“Those people need us, we cannot fail them. I spent one night in the cold on the day of the quake so I cannot imagine what they are feeling after several days with nothing,” he said.

Volunteers in front of Morjen mall in Marrakech gather donations to be sent to earthquake-ravaged villages. Ghaya Ben Mbarek / The National

Volunteers in front of Morjen mall in Marrakech gather donations to be sent to earthquake-ravaged villages. Ghaya Ben Mbarek / The National© Provided by The National

Helping hands from afar

Not all the volunteers are from Marrakesh. Kaouther said she came with a group of friends from France as soon as they heard of the destruction the earthquake had caused.

She did not think twice when she saw the images of the terrible loss people had suffered.

“The Moroccan people need us during this time … This is the fourth truck that we managed to fill up and is on its way to Chichaoua,” she said.

The volunteer effort is not limited to Moroccans: Kaouther’s friend Farid is a French Algerian who came with her with the same goal.

“As a Muslim and a citizen, it is an obligation to come here and help,” Farid told The National.

“We are only a group of friends who chose to do this … We mobilised through social media and launched a call for people to help.”

He said they were making sure that the aid being sent was what was really needed.

“We have the contact of some people who are from those villages and who know best what are the needs there. They are the ones we listen to and we collect donations based on what they say.”

More help needed

At Errazi Hospital in Marrakesh, where some of the survivors are still fighting for their lives, an air of desperation and fear lingers.

Sihem, 41, came from Casablanca to offer her help, but instead of focusing on the remote villages where most donations are headed, she decided to come to this hospital.

“I was going to the mountains but my sister, who lives here, said I should come help people at the hospital who are getting less help,” she told The National after distributing food and water to the families of patients.

“Some people are still wearing the same clothes they wore when their houses collapsed on their heads – they need help,” she said.

At Marrakech Blood Donation Centre at Errazi Hospital, people donate blood to help victims. Ghaya Ben Mbarek / The National

At Marrakech Blood Donation Centre at Errazi Hospital, people donate blood to help victims. Ghaya Ben Mbarek / The National© Provided by The National

At the nearby Marrakesh Blood Donation Centre, dozens of people waited under a massive tent for their turn to donate blood.

“This is the first time in my life I’ve come and donated,” Zahia, 65, told The National as she rested after making her donation.

Marwen, an 18-year-old blood donor, said: “We need to stick together; people lost their families and we need to do everything in our power to get over this.”

The Mohammed VI University Hospital and its annexe of Errazi are regional medical centres that already received a large number of patients before the earthquake. Now they are under increasing strain.

Morocco has accepted limited foreign aid and focused more on domestic campaigns run by the government and individuals as well as local NGO initiatives.

However, the biggest challenge is getting the aid to victims who can only be reached by helicopter or with the help of pack animals such as donkeys.

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