On our first visit to Essaouira, Morocco’s most beautiful seaside resort, in 2005, it rained constantly for three days and we spent most of the time in a hotel bathroom, suffering from food poisoning. It was an inauspicious start to what has become, for us, a life-changing relationship with the town and its people.
Now we have three lovely apartments – a beautiful bed & breakfast and 2 other funky & romantic apartments - a shop/gallery called Mashi Mushki (‘No problem’ in Moroccan dialect) – and have just opened Essaouira’s first charity shop, raising money for Project 91, a charity we’ve set up to help young people into work.
We’ve always believed in responsible tourism and social enterprise and, having received and learned so much from Essaouira and its people, it feels only right to put something back by doing what we can to help a generation coping with huge changes on its doorstep.
Essaouira is a magical place, one of the jewels in the crown of Morocco’s burgeoning tourism industry. With its year-round sunny climate, UNESCO-protected walled medina, endless sandy beaches and warm, tolerant people, the town is firmly on the way up.
But for all the claims that it’s becoming the new St Tropez, Essaouira is still in Africa, and alongside the stylish beach cafes and arty boutiques, life in the medina can be tough – especially for the young and unskilled. Despite a rapidly growing economy and the Government’s efforts to improve education, literacy rates remain low and lots of young people leave school early and with few prospects.
Project 91 is all about giving them a hand so they can share in the town’s success. We find and create opportunities to help young people improve their chances, providing practical and vocational courses to help them become more employable.
With the money we raised last year we are funding free English classes for teenagers (four boys and two girls), and are paying for a year-long hairdressing course for two 21-year-olds (one boy, one girl) – to help them gain the skills and qualifications with which to earn their own living. We’re also paying a local woman struggling to keep her children in school, to work in the shop for 2 afternoons a week.
We give 10% of the profits from Dar 91 and Mashi Mushki to the charity; it will also receive 100% of the profits of the Project 91 shop, and whatever other donations come its way. People staying in Dar 91 and elsewhere give us clothes to sell, via our Leave Your Wardrobe in Morocco campaign. And our Moroccan friends and neighbours help out too – the electrician re-wired the charity shop for free, for example.
This year we’ve already heard that a teacher who has stayed in our accommodation several times plans to raise funds for us through a non-uniform day at her school, and we’re one of the designated charities of Air-Port 2013, an art exchange and exhibition happening in Essaouira and Antwerp.
Seven years since we first visited, Essaouira is a big part of our lives, and we feel blessed to be starting to help the young people around us. And that rainy, vomit-filled first weekend… it’s just a distant memory.
See the incredible work of this project with a stay in captivating Essaouira.
Discover more responsible holidays to Morocco.