Three days after a devastating earthquake hit Morocco, leaving death and destruction in its wake, Nora Toutain says staying on the sidelines has been pure agony.
“There’s nothing I want more right now than to be there… and do everything I can,” said the Montreal-based French-Moroccan singer-songwriter, whose parents and friends are dealing with the havoc in the North African country.
In response to growing feelings of helplessness among members of Montreal’s large Moroccan community, a local university has stepped forward to give people like Toutain the opportunity to help from here in the city.
Staff and students at LaSalle College in Montreal set up a collection site at the school on Monday to send donations to those dealing with the aftermath of the disaster.
The 6.8 magnitude earthquake, the largest to hit Morocco in more than a century, sent people fleeing their homes in terror and disbelief on Friday night. Many survivors spent their third night outdoors on Sunday, their homes destroyed or unsafe. The death toll had risen to nearly 2,700 as of Monday.
SEE | Rescue teams rush to find survivors of Moroccan earthquake:
Adib Lahlou, whose family lives in Rabat, about 300 kilometers from the epicenter of the earthquake, says he co-organized the collection drive in solidarity with his fellow Moroccans.
“We have to help people who [have] Now we have no house or clothes,” he said. “We are all Moroccans and we are very, very, very proud to do this campaign to help.”
About 81,000 Canadians from the Moroccan community live in Quebec and almost half of that population is in Montreal.
On opening day, large bags of clothing and non-perishable food were collected. It will last for two weeks and will accept everything from clothing, mattresses and flashlights to baby items, hygiene products and money to be sent to the Red Cross.
Anyone wishing to donate can stop by the university over the next two weeks from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Student Fennich Batoul, who learned about the initiative through the university’s Instagram page, says donating to people in her homeland was an obvious course of action.
“This is a difficult time for all of us, so if I can help by giving some clothes and stuff, I will,” he said.
Although Batoul says his family members are safe in Casablanca, “we love all our people, so we are going to help them all.”
“They are still together”
In other parts of the province, including Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Drummondville, more Moroccans are coming together to provide help to their community.
Although she still mourns the loss of her cousin, who died in the earthquake, Nouzha Enkila is collecting money and camping equipment for those who survived but are still suffering the consequences, including her husband.
Enkila, founder of the Quebec Moroccan Festival in Quebec City, which held its second edition last month, was able to stay in close contact with her husband, who told her that the Moroccan people remain united despite the disaster.
“The people, the community, are still united,” he said. “They prepare the food and try to help in any way they can.”
The donations Enkila collects will be sent directly to those in need in Morocco, he says.
SEE | What made this earthquake so deadly?
Moroccan geologist Merouan Rachidi also wanted to get his hands dirty. In partnership with several community groups, including the Association des Marocaines et Marocains de l’Université Laval, he has collected money and warm clothing to send to those in need.
“Autumn is on the way and it is a mountainous area with more difficult conditions,” Rachidi said of the villages most affected by the earthquake.
He says a donation drive is also planned for Friday at the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City and urges the public to donate to international aid organizations, such as the Red Cross.
For Mohammed Soulami, from the organization Intercultural actionsSeeing the harrowing images from his home country prompted him to organize a fundraising campaign in Sherbrooke.
“We are more and more affected because we see the magnitude of the disaster. That’s why we feel a little helpless. We tell ourselves that we really have to find all the possibilities to help,” he said.
A charity will sponsor orphaned children
Mohamed Moutahir, president of Orphan Sun, a Montreal-based Canadian charity that helps orphans in Morocco and other North African countries, says his organization will sponsor all children orphaned by the disaster.
The charity is also raising funds to provide immediate assistance to earthquake victims.
“In the short term, we have to immediately help people affected by the earthquake, providing them with food, blankets and tents,” he said.
In the long term, Moutahir says help must be provided to rebuild schools and homes before winter arrives.
Canada is one of several countries that have offered support to Morocco in the wake of the devastation, but the country has not issued a formal request for help.
So far, however, Morocco has accepted offers of help from Spain, Qatar, Britain and the United Arab Emirates.