Splotches of white paint stand out brightly against the rich blue of the men's jumpsuits when we meet them at the church in Casablanca. With paint-rollers still in hand, they greet us and introduce themselves. Modestly, at first, then with increasing confidence, the five men display the products of their work--the church parsonage, beautifully repaired and repainted.
In each room, the man responsible for the work draws attention to a detail, from the stucco around the fireplace in the living room, to the creatively repurposed newsprint wallpaper in the guest room, to the doorframes and molding in the entryway. As they guide us through the house, Freddie, their teacher, explains to us through a translator that the men are about to complete a professional formation course in house-painting. The month-long course is part of the Hand-Up For Migrants aid program operated by the Evangelical Church of Morocco, a Week of Compassion partner through Global Ministries.
Thousands of migrants and refugees come to Morocco, some from the Middle East and most from Sub-Saharan Africa. They come hoping to escape poverty and violence, and possibly to continue their journey into Europe. Just 9 miles of ocean separate the Northern tip of Morocco from the southern tip of Spain. The crossing is an expensive and risky endeavor, in rickety boats helmed by smugglers. All four of the men we met had tried to cross more than once--one man had attempted the journey no less than ten times before deciding to stay in Morocco.
Though many migrants come with the hope of a better life in Morocco or of passage to Europe, they often find themselves trapped in a life of poverty and persecution. Unable to continue to Europe, unable to return home, and faced with barriers to employment and few job prospects, many resort to begging on the streets to meet their basic needs.
The Hand-Up For Migrants aid program promotes self-sufficiency and dignity for refugees and migrants in Morocco through emergency material aid, micro-project loans, and vocational training. Freddie, himself an immigrant to Morocco, leads the house-painting course, emphasizing mastery of a variety of skills and techniques. He travels miles from his home, suspending his own business for several weeks in order to teach others the trade of house-painting. The men he trains receive certificates to affirm their proficiency, increasing their prospects on the job-market.
Thanks to the Hand-Up for Migrants program, these men have hope of providing for themselves by their skills, instead of relying on handouts on street corners. For some, this may provide a means to return home. For others, it is a means of survival in Morocco. For them all, it is a chance for independence in a life of few choices. It is a chance to work with pride, the paint splotches on their coveralls marks of the future that is possible.