Meet Zoubair Abderazzak, whose citizen arts project empowers rural communities in Morocco
What led you to work with artisans in rural Morocco?
When Richard Branson’s parents persuaded him to buy Kasbah Tamadot – an incredible mansion 55 km [34 miles] south of Marrakech – and turn it into a hotel, he also wanted them to join him in supporting the local community. One of the first things they decided was that the hotel staff had to come from the immediate area. Since few people growing up in rural areas like this are fluent in European languages, I was hired to teach recruits English. Later, when Richard’s high-energy octogenarian mother decided to step up the hotel’s community involvement through her new project, the Eve Branson Foundation, I applied for the manager position.
What are the main objectives of the foundation?
We empower young Amazigh (Berber) women and men who live near Kasbah Tamadot through vocational training. Our goal is to help them help themselves, by strengthening their economic autonomy and their self-esteem. Using her own funds, Mrs. Branson has established three village craft centers. Once fully trained, artisans earn enough to set aside savings they simply couldn’t do before. We also support local health initiatives and fund scholarships for girls who attend secondary school as boarders. In rural Morocco, it is all too common for girls to drop out of school at age 12 because the nearest secondary school is too far away.
How can visitors get involved?
They can visit our craft centers, see how products are made, and chat with artisans as they work. The centers are highly sociable creative spaces where women learn sewing, embroidery and how to weave traditional Berber scarves, throws and rugs on handmade looms. There is also a carpentry center where young men learn carpentry using hand tools and a laser cutter. Their most popular products are carved walnut bowls with a resin rim, inlaid with azurite and malachite.
Visitors who buy handicrafts in Moroccan souks sometimes worry about the price they should pay and whether the artisans will receive a fair percentage of the price. How does the foundation do it?
We sell the items made in our craft centers directly to the public, both in the centers and in our own shop outside Kasbah Tamadot. Our prices are fixed and we are completely transparent about where the money goes. Half goes to the craftsmen and the other half is invested in the sustainable development of the project – purchase of materials, maintenance of the centers, etc. We also sell through an online retailer, receiving 70% of the purchase price and splitting that 50:50.
What are the most satisfying things about your job?
It’s wonderful to see the villagers flourish and it’s a privilege to be associated with the Bransons. Their name opens doors. Mrs. Branson was very involved, spending several days here each month. While we were extremely sad to lose her to Covid-19 in 2021, at the age of 96, we hope that her legacy here in Morocco will continue and that the craft centers she founded will inspire others. projects.
Interview: Emma Gregg
Published in the April 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveler (UK)
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