Khamlia is a tiny village in the south east of Morocco, not far from Algeria, and on the edge of the Sahara. It’s known for its Gnaoua musicians and the beautiful Erg Chebbi sand dunes not far away.
Gnaoua is a traditional spiritual music originating in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s said to have influenced the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. There are a few Gnaoua groups living in Khamlia, and some tour the world. One of the traditional instruments is the hajhuj, a 3 stringed guitar made from wood, camel hide and animal gut strings. It’s quite a hypnotic sound.
For us, a big part of our visit to Khamlia was to visit one of the two primary school teachers, Samir Belkhir. He’s a pretty amazing guy. The fortunes of the little primary school of 48 pupils have been turned around in recent years as a result of his drive and dedication.
He welcomed Katie into his class, and showed me with pride the children reading Arabic and French. A lot of parents, especially the mothers, can’t read. The children don’t normally start formal English lessons until secondary school (they are already working with Arabic, Berber and French by that age, so English comes as a fourth language). But they were so keen and motivated in the class it was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to teach them a little.
Other volunteers from Germany and France were also in Khamlia to help at the Association next door to the school, which houses the village library, extra classrooms and a play area. This was a cool game devised by the German volunteers, where teams had to get from one side of a “spider’s web” by passing through the gaps in the string. When a gap had been used once it couldn’t be used again.
We played games, sang songs, and we also did some Scottish Country dancing. Katie’s hula hoop was also a hit so she left it behind at the school.
With Katie as artistic director, we painted a mural on one of the school walls. A constant stream of mint tea was provided; it was a fun few days.
The disposal of rubbish in Morocco, particularly plastic is a big issue (see previous blog post “Morocco: it’s rubbish?”). so it was also decide to have the children help make bins outside the Association. It was impressive watching the building of the bins using mud bricks, and a straw/mud mortar. The children decorated them with stones, to read “bin” in Arabic, French and English.
Samir is quite a driving force seeking to better the education of the young ones of Khamlia. He has helped organise the installation of toilets, a tap for drinking water in the playground, the classrooms have been renovated, and he aims to convert a rundown building into another classroom with a library and computer. The kids love him. The parents love him. We love him. Thank you Samir 🙂