From the Olympics, to the street, to the screen
Filming on the streets
Marrakech, Morocco Nov 4 2014 – For five days now, we’ve been in Marrakech making a movie to raise awareness about children who don’t go to school. We have a small team of UNICEF and NGO staff and are working with an independent film company and with children who spend their days, not in class, but on the streets.
The children range widely in age and come from all over the surrounding area. But there’s one thing they have in common – all of them would rather be in school but something has forced them out.
Take Rabab, a 16-year-old girl who lives near the tourist hub of Marrakech’s old market area. Not only did she never want to quit, she was a model student: a hard worker who also represented her school in sporting events across the country, including the local Olympics.
An unfair decision
So what went wrong? “One day, I got injured at school,” she explains. “Not outside school – inside. But the school said, ‘It’s not our problem. We’re not responsible for you. Get your own treatment.’
“They didn’t give me any support, so I said, ‘That’s it. I’m not going to do any more sport with you.’”
In response, the school kicked her out. At the start of the next term, Rabab tried to buy her books as usual and the teachers wouldn’t let her. She had become persona non grata.
“I know that this is illegal,” says Rabab, with street-kid savvy. “But there was no one to help me or go with me to the school. I was on my own. My mum’s really ill and she has three other children to worry about. And my dad’s not around anymore, so I have no one to stand up for me.”
Now Rabab mostly wastes her days, and she knows it. “Since I’ve been out of school, I’ve been so bored,” she says. “I’ve done nothing and learned nothing. But a human being always wants to progress and not go backwards.”
Rabab doesn't want this life. She doesn’t want to hang around on the streets with people she knows are detrimental to her future. But she also doesn’t see any alternative.
“This year, I told the school I really want to go back,” she says. “If I could, I’d forget all the problems that I had before. I'd pretend they never happened and just carry on with my education.”
But Rabab’s teachers insist she has been expelled permanently, and with no way back into formal schooling, her options are limited to informal classes provided by local NGOs – and to making what she can of projects like this movie.
Telling her own story
“The filming has been cool,” she says. “It’s given us a chance to express ourselves and to talk about all the problems we have here in Morocco. We got to talk about kids who don’t go to school.
“I’m really happy that people came to find out about our situation, because so many kids don't go to school here. In my neighbourhood, no one goes to school.”
UNICEF is working with the government, schools and NGOs to make sure that these kinds of arbitrary expulsions don’t happen, and that schools become more welcoming and supportive places – not just for model students like Rabab, but also for more marginalized children, including those from ethnic minorities, and those with disabilities and learning difficulties.
Children of course, have a right to expect no less, but these policies make sense for all of society. No country can afford to cast aside young people like Rabab, who is still determined to do something with her life, despite the unfair treatment she has received.
This determination is something that our cameraman, Youssef Alaoui, noticed early on during the shoot.
“When we were doing the green screen filming,” he recalls, “Rabab was really keen to come along, even though her own part in the movie was finished. She wanted to carry on being part of the team because she really enjoyed having something to wake up for in the morning – to have something to do.
“A lot of out-of-school kids here wake up and there really isn’t much.”
So Rabab joined us for the last day and took on the job of looking after the smaller kids in the area while their older siblings did the acting.
“There were about 20 kids between two and five years old,” explains Youssef, “And Rabab looked after them all on her own. She kept them busy and tried to read to them.
“Basically, she did a great job. Which just goes to prove that if these kids are given something to do, and a little respect, then they actually make something of their lives, rather than sitting around and getting involved in things that kids shouldn't get involved in. And that’s why we’re making this film.”