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Students regenerate Morocco’s forgotten city

Coventry University students will help preserve a thousand years of history and support traditional artisan trades as part of a project to protect one of Morocco’s oldest towns.

Projects including turning trash into art, supporting struggling artisans, and creating the community’s first history museum will all take place in the forgotten town of Sefrou when the Changing Lives Programme returns to Morocco this week.

The ancient city was once a bustling trade hub and home to ruler, Moulay Idris II, but has since been left to fall to poverty and ruin as young people leave for nearby cities.

A group of 11 students have been chosen to continue a partnership between the town and Coventry University which aims to help some of the poorest families adapt to a changing world and protect their ancient heritage.

During 10 days of regeneration work, the group will meet traditional craftsmen and artisans to help explore how they can benefit from tourism and a global online market.

They will learn about the mixed and unique religious heritage of the town where Berber, Arab and Jewish families have lived side by side for more than 1,000 years.

Students will also promote sustainability where litter and waste is a major problem, and help teach young people the importance of preserving their culture and traditions.

Working with Moroccan non-profit arts organisation, Culture Vultures they will use recycled waste cleared from the streets to make artwork for the town’s hospital and create Sefrou’s first museum to document its important history.

The group will also revisit Sunshine Square, a community space created last year to transform the ruins of a house and which has since inspired other locally-led schemes.

Brendan St John, manager of the Changing Lives Programme, said:

“We have worked in Sefrou for the past 12 months and the impact our students have made is visible in so many ways. Everyone in the town gets involved in our community activities and it generates discussion that continues long after we have left.

“Sefrou is a unique place. It pre-dates the imperial Moroccan cities that we know today, yet so many of its historical monuments have already disappeared due to neglect and its rich heritage is crumbling into dust.

“One of the greatest challenges we face is how to preserve the town while adapting to new realities. Young people don’t want to live in the old city, they want to live in modern apartments with running water and space to park their cars.

“Many of those left are there because they have no choice, they are the poorest and most marginalized in the community. How can we ask them to care for and preserve ancient monuments, the very houses they live in, when they are just trying to survive?

“This programme is about sharing cultures and ideas to bring people together to try and change that, and what that then ends up giving back to our students is incredible.” 

  • Date published: 28th October 2016

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