When hope means finding a way out

EDUCATION / A portrait of optimism in the harshest of environments with Morocco's nomadic Oulad Boukais Tribe.
Country: Finland, France, Morocco

Fifteen years of drought in Morocco forced most nomads to abandon their ancient lifestyle. The Oulad Boukais tribe is still practicing old ways of living, but the clock is ticking. Some of their children don’t want to be shepherds, and the uncertainty in this lifestyle forces parents to consider what else could they be doing with their lives. It’s a tough decision. The children’s help with the herd is needed. And the decision to send them to school is complicated as it requires effort and resources. It taps into a sense of a chance these parents never hard. Educating the children means giving them the wings for a different life, unavoidably linked with a sense of loss of tradition. It also means preparing them to navigate a future that parents are not equipped to foresee or navigate.

School of Hope, a film by  Mohamed El Aboudi
School of Hope, a film by Mohamed El Aboudi

Safety belt

Over the years there have been plenty of documentary films on the value of education and the changes this brings to one’s life and community. But School of Hope is not only about that. It is a film about a community that is at a crossroads, a tender portrait of adults and children that are bound by it, as well as family and love. Together they face the end of a kind of life their ancestors lived for generations.

It is for sure that previous generations had gone through hardship and dry periods. And they pushed through, perhaps because no alternative was available. But with the climate changing, urbanisation and the sense that learning a trade could offer a better future, educating the children seems vital, perhaps the only safety belt they can have in front of whatever might lay ahead.

The school is a remote building in the middle of nowhere. A young teacher arrives determined to make it work and the community gives a hand brushing the dust out of, what is at first, an abandoned set of walls. There is no toilet, no running water, and literally no comfort. Yet once the school starts running, the scenes of a day in class will make you feel there is nothing a teacher’s love, patience and devotion, and a bunch of enthusiastic kids of all ages cannot make up for.

Just like everything seems improvised – the school and the teacher live off the support of the community. Winter is coming and they have to find ways to keep warm; The students attendance also fluctuates depending to the difficulties the families encounter or the help needed with the herd – the outcome of this means that high effort education is uncertain. While the teacher believes in his students and tells them they can become whatever they want, the fragility of this promise is very tangible. It is unclear how these kids could ever compete in the world outside.

the scenes of a day in class will make you feel there is nothing a teacher’s love, patience and devotion, and a bunch of enthusiastic kids of all ages cannot make up for.

The desire to learn

What is also tangible it this children’s desire to learn. It is touching to see how much they truly want to go to school. In a community scattered across a vast empty dry landscape, the school engages them, brings them together, gives them a sense of purpose. For some it is too late though. Miloud, who tries to pressure his dad into letting him attend school full time – and fails – has the depth of insight of an adult, seeing the suffering and the struggle of his family and understanding that education is an opportunity, one that he might be too late for. He would like to learn a trade and move out of this lifestyle for good but eventually he becomes a day worker. Fatima, a girl her family loves dearly, divided between having her stay home and giving her the chance for a future, wants to learn a trade too. And there is also Mohamed, who has to travel 12 km to reach the school – and 12 back, more than a half marathon each day – and eventually ends up living with his uncle and aunt, going to what looks like a much more promising school.

The nuanced illustration of the real considerations and conditions these children and community face, make for a complex straight forward story. School of Hope is not about inspiring, but about seeing clear. This education is not (yet) powerfully life changing, like a big effort that eventually paves the way to a different life. But instead it is about a fragile sense of hope, like an attempt made out of dreams and determination, and not much more.

School of Hope, a film by  Mohamed El Aboudi
School of Hope, a film by Mohamed El Aboudi

A way out

The teacher hopes the children will go far in life, and will come back to change the community. But when asked, all of them dream of living in the city or even further – moving to France. How realistic these dreams are – one might not want to question. These children’s words and the light in their eyes makes it crystal clear that the future is somewhere else and there is nothing that will change that. Access to education is not a route towards something more of life as it is now: raw, difficult, and in tune with nature. It is instead a way out, and a way out is all there is actually left to dream of in this nomad community that is on the brink of extinction, no longer fit in a changing climate, and for a world that moves forward fast, with no time to look back.

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Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca-Olivia Nita
Bianca is a freelance journalist and documentary critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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