“Take off your shoes, this is holy ground.”

These words mark our mission in Marrakech. Take off your shoes, go carefully towards the other. We meet people who have lost not only a house, but also children, parents… this is sacred ground because this is where the Lord is. We have to enter quietly, little by little, without pushing and shoving, so as not to do more damage. There is not much that can be done but we try to make their day-to-day life more bearable. To accompany, to be present, to embrace.

In September, the earthquake that struck part of Morocco prompted us to offer support for the work that the Church in Marrakech had already begun. The Daughters of Charity have been serving our Moroccan brothers and sisters for many years, so we felt a great sense of solidarity with them in this catastrophe. The Company responded quickly and, with the support of all the Visitatrixes of Spain and the General Councilor, an emergency itinerant interprovincial Community was formed, made up of Sisters from the Communities of Melilla, Nador and Temara. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the Community of Temara went to see the most urgent needs and how the Sisters could help. On 29 September, that is, 20 days after the earthquake, the first group of Sisters of the interprovincial Community arrived.

Beginnings are the most complicated but they are also the most interesting because they involve seeing and discovering. The first thing we did was to get to know what Caritas in Marrakech was already doing and to collaborate with this organization. We met a group of volunteers who were in charge of sorting out donations that were coming in: clothes, medicine, food… Another group took things to the mountain; we started to get into this dynamic in order to get to know the places. Various groups have been formed within Caritas Seismic: logistics, construction of prefabricated housing, accompaniment of sick people… We have been asked to join the latter, although each day we also attend to the many various needs.

The problem with this earthquake is that it was not in a specific location, it has affected many villages and towns on the mountains of Marrakech, so there is a lot of dispersion. It is impossible to reach every place but we are discovering more areas that need help. There are 20 families here, 50 there, 80 somewhere else… and the higher up the mountain, the more isolated the village is, the less aid is arriving. The people in the places we visit inform us of other villages that they know through their relatives and that have not received any assistance. We ask them to accompany us and we discover new mission sites. When we get there, we see the different needs. Sometimes we get to places where there are no portable toilets. We discuss this during the Caritas team meetings and we try to provide those toilets… We come across cases of sick people, of those who need food, of those without blankets…

Every day we go up the mountains, except on Sundays. Our daily trek allows us to encounter new situations and to accompany the ones we already knew. The nearest village is an hour’s drive from Marrakech and the farthest is three hours away. In the weeks following the earthquake, many aid organizations and associations came to help, but over time, they are leaving. People say that we are among the few who remain with them.

What strikes us most is the resilience of the people, the way they have accepted reality. When there is a disaster, it hits the poorest people most of the time. Families who were already vulnerable and living from day to day as best they could, are now left with nothing; they are trying to move on. It is shocking to see how the houses (or what remains) still stand as they were on the day of the earthquake. There are still many places where rubbles have to be removed or houses that are on the verge of falling apart have to be demolished. Since the beginning of winter, people on the mountains have been living in tents because they have lost their homes and are enduring temperatures of 0 °C… We admire how they welcome us, even without knowing us or even without bringing anything because we are there only to assess the situation; they invite us to share the little that they have, usually a bit of tea and bread.

Some cases have particularly touched our hearts:

  • Guita is a 30-year-old woman with whom we have bonded. She married very young, had a child and is divorced; she and her son have been living with her parents. An example of a struggling family! She and her mother worked cleaning houses to support her father who was always ill, and her son. They have managed to build a house by the sweat of their brow. Her father and son died in the earthquake. She has a great need to be accompanied in her mourning and to express what she experienced: how she was trapped under the rubble, surrounded by water and earth, how she heard her son’s last breath and her father dying. She has already put herself in God’s hands, preparing to leave as well. Hearing these breaks our souls; we can only embrace her pain and accompany this life that goes on.
  • Hussein is an 11-year-old boy who lost his parents, brother and sister in the earthquake. He was trapped the whole night under the ruins of his house and his body organs became paralyzed after being under the rubble for so long. He underwent emergency dialysis in the hospital where he was admitted for a month and a half. He used to live on the mountains, an hour and a half from Marrakech; when he left the hospital he went to live with his aunt in Marrakech. He was unable to walk, with an arm totally immobilized but we are seeing signs of resurrection; we continue to offer all the means: physiotherapist, traumatologist, neurologist, psychologist… so that this child can rise again. Seeing how Hussein is smiling, wanting to play, getting used to his new life… fills us with joy. This little boy captivated us from the very first day! As he is a Real Madrid fan, we have written to the team about his situation and they have promised to send us a gift for him.

It is heartbreaking to see so much pain up close but despite the suffering, we believe that as Daughters of Charity, we are fortunate to be here, to serve the most vulnerable, to be a presence in their midst. It is a privilege to be here, even if it hurts because, as they say, “giving oneself entails the risk of affection.” When you give yourself and love people and you see how they suffer, your heart breaks into pieces!

This Christmas, in our little chapel in the living room we made a crib from the rubble of Hussein’s collapsed house (where his whole family died), with the infant Jesus at the center. We placed the phrase: “God with us.” God with us in each person who lost loved ones, things, … lost everything. There, God is with us and we want to be with Him! From this encounter, may He fill our lives more and more with His Life; may we be more and more of Him in our brothers and sisters who suffer the most!

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