As coronavirus (COVID-19) claims lives across the globe, Morocco is benefiting from taking early and decisive action to flatten the curve. On March 13tha national lockdown began, requiring citizens to socially distance. Morocco closed schools as one strong measure to prevent the virus from spreading. Most orphanages went in quarantine, but with overcrowding and limited supplies, COVID-19 in an orphanage could be catastrophic.
Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on all parts of society, but some are more vulnerable than others. ‘Social Distancing’ is one key measure to protect against the disease, but is not a viable option for those living in refugee camps, incarcerated, institutionalized, and the 8 million children in orphanages worldwide. It is a cruel and harsh reality that vulnerable communities – including those living in close quarters, lacking in nutrition and hygiene – are the most susceptible to this disease.
In Morocco, the pandemic has not reached catastrophic proportions – but vulnerable populations, like the 65,000+ children in orphanages, are already feeling the impact. Life in an orphanage, even in ideal circumstances, is a life of deprivation. Children in orphanages not only suffer the loss of family, but lack nutrition, hygiene, and adequate living conditions. The coronavirus pandemic is only further exacerbating the great divide between the privileged and poor.
Some of Morocco’s orphanages are faring better than others. Over the past few weeks I contacted the orphanage directors I’ve gotten to know through BLOOM’s work. Orphanages have gone into quarantine, with some brave caregivers staying the course with the children as they face yet another trauma. There are virtually no donations coming in, fewer caregivers, and adoptions have been halted. In the orphanages that already have BLOOM playgrounds and/or fitness rooms, they are being diligently used and cleaned. The BLOOM spaces have allowed the children to spread out, dispense energy and relieve stress. They are instrumental in providing a safe space for the children to be outdoors, playing and exercising during quarantine. The orphanage staff has been incredibly grateful to have the BLOOM spaces to provide relief during this challenging time.
I also learned that one orphanage in Fes is in a particularly dire state. I visited this orphanage in October 2019, and even then, it was overcrowded and in terrible condition. As the pandemic unfolded, they found themselves with almost no food or cleaning supplies. Thankfully, BLOOM was able to mobilize its network and resources to get them immediate aid. One of our partner organizations, EMA (Empowering Moroccan Americans) raised enough funds for 3 months of food and cleaning supplies within one week. Yet, despite this aid, the orphanage in Fes is still suffering. With over 200 boys ages 5 and up, and no space to play, it is impossible for the children to physically distance. They are desperate for more usable spaces in the orphanage for the children to spread out, exercise, play, study, eat and relax. We made a promise to come back and improve this orphanage. The thought that over 200 children are quarantined in extremely poor conditions at the Fes orphanage is heartbreaking. They need our help now more than ever.
Social distancing only works when basic human rights are met – including access to nutrition, hygiene and an adequate living conditions. For so many children in orphanages, these basic human rights are not met, leaving them extremely vulnerable. BLOOM is committed now more than ever to improve quality of life in as many Moroccan orphanages as possible. As we look for the lessons in this crisis, I hope it forces us to look at the inequalities in our society, and stand shoulder to shoulder, six feet apart, to lessen that divide.