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Meet Zoubair Abderrazzak, whose citizen arts project is empowering rural communities in Morocco

Zoubair is the project manager for the Eve Branson Foundation, which supports communities in the Atlas Mountains through education and entrepreneurship. He explains how travellers can help support local businesses.

Published 25 Mar 2022, 15:00 GMT, Updated 4 Apr 2022, 17:29 BST
Zoubair Abderazzak, project manager for the Eve Branson Foundation.

Zoubair Abderazzak, project manager for the Eve Branson Foundation. 

Photograph by Emma Gregg

What led you to work with artisans in rural Morocco?

When Richard Branson’s parents persuaded him to buy Kasbah Tamadot — an amazing mansion 55km [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 should come from the immediate area. Since few people who grow up in rural areas like this are fluent in European languages, I was hired to teach the recruits English. Later, when Richard’s very energetic octogenarian mother decided to ramp up the hotel’s community involvement via her new project, the Eve Branson Foundation, I applied for the job of manager.

What are the foundation’s main aims?

We empower young Amazigh (Berber) women and men who live near Kasbah Tamadot through vocational training. Our aim is help them to help themselves, boosting their economic self-sufficiency and self-esteem. Using her own funds, Mrs Branson set up three village craft centres. Once fully trained, the artisans earn enough to put some savings aside, which they simply couldn’t before. We also support local healthcare initiatives and fund scholarships for girls attending secondary school as boarders. In rural Morocco, it’s all too common for girls to drop out of education at the age of 12, because the nearest secondary school is too far away.

How can visitors get involved?

They can visit our craft centres, watch how products are made and chat to the artisans as they work. The centres are very sociable, creative spaces where women learn tailoring, embroidery and how to weave scarves, throws and traditional Berber rugs on hand-built looms. There’s also a woodwork centre 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 shopping for crafts in Moroccan souks sometimes worry about how much they should pay and whether the artisans will receive a fair percentage of the price. How does the foundation address this?

We sell the items made in our craft centres direct to the public, both at the centres and at our own boutique outside Kasbah Tamadot. Our prices are fixed and we’re totally transparent about where the money goes. Half goes to the artisans and the other half is invested in the sustainable development of the project — buying materials, maintaining the centres and so on. We also sell via an online retailer, receiving 70% of the purchase price and splitting this 50:50.

What are the most satisfying things about your work?

It’s wonderful to watch the villagers thrive, and it’s a privilege to be associated with the Bransons. Their name opens doors. Mrs Branson was very hands-on, spending several days here every month. While we were extremely sad to lose her to Covid-19 in 2021, at the age of 96, we hope her legacy here in Morocco will continue, and the craft centres she founded will inspire other projects.

Published in the April 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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