by Guest Blogger, Brett Nirider
In October 2022, Brett and Juanita Nirider led a team to serve in Morocco. This is the first of two posts from their experience.
We have now completed four very busy days of teaching in Sidi Ifni, Morocco. We have one more day here, then will spend the next two days visiting centers in more remote areas, one of which was just beginning when were last here in 2019, the other brand new, full of promise and hope for the children who will be served there.
Our arrival here was complicated by long flight delays in Seattle, finally making it to Paris too late to board our scheduled departure to Casablanca. Thanks to the help of a very kind and persistent Air France representative named Lauren LeMeur and a two-hour long wait in line, we made it out of Paris. I looked up “le meur” for its English translation; it means “the great.” She saved the day for us by booking all seven of us on a later flight. We arrived in Casablanca later and more tired than expected, but thanks to Lauren the Great we made it.
After 28 hours of very limited sleep, we enjoyed a restorative sleep in Casablanca, then departed early Sunday morning for a long drive south, through agricultural areas, mountains, dry terrain that seemed to grow nothing but rocks, and finally the Atlantic coast.
Sidi Ifni is a city of about 23,000 inhabitants that sits upon a promontory looking over the ocean. It seems to be a popular destination for European surfers, and the juxtaposition of the free-spirited surfers, men and women, their hair tousled about all willy nilly by the wind and the waves, with the more traditional garb of Moroccan men and women is fascinating.
We have been teaching in one of the centers started as an association of families with children who have disabilities of various types. These families form bonds of encouragement and affirmation as they strive to provide desperately needed services for their children in areas where there have been none. They usually start by renting a small house. Many of the parents become the staff. Most of the workers have about 3 years of high school education, but more importantly they have passion and steadfast commitment to their children. Once they have begun providing services, the Moroccan government will often step in to help provide funding for a larger center and may even help with the costs of hiring staff.
We are here to help these very neophyte servants grow in their ability to meet the needs of children who would otherwise have nothing. Three years ago, when we traveled to a remote mountain village to visit their emerging center, the banner on the wall proclaimed in Arabic, “Do Something!” And so, they did. And we try to help them become better at that “something.”
They are enthusiastic learners. The rooms are hot, and the colorful cloth wraps that enshroud the women, the mehlfas, provide challenge upon challenge for trying to move and to learn movement in ways that create new problem-solving opportunities for us in our teaching. They remain exuberant, clapping with successful demonstrations of a transitional movement up from the floor as if we had just performed a major symphonic masterpiece. They’re wonderful, and we love working with them.
Molly and Joyce spend their days upstairs helping the students to better understand the complexities of children with autism and sensory processing challenges. There are many such children here and from the other adjacent communities from which the children are being transported each day. Our students are eager to learn more about their children. Their neuronal synapses are bulging at the seams with the new information they are absorbing. It’s fun to sneak upstairs when we can to watch our colleagues perform their magic of relationship with the children and with the students.
Juanita and I are working with those who strive to help children with movement challenges. Hence, we are moving up, moving down, moving all around, trying to stay cool in our very light clothing while our Moroccan friends don’t seem to be affected at all by the heat, even in their multiple layers of garments. Our Scandinavian attributes are not favorable to us in this climate, even in October when it is supposedly 30 degrees cooler than the summer.
Because the children are being bussed in from some of the other communities in the region, we don’t really know who will be showing up and who might help us in our teaching, being willing to work with us in front of the students. We pray for good learning opportunities but also that the children may be blessed by these encounters. We’ve been blessed.
Imane is 22 years old. She arrived at the center on Tuesday to see one of our medical staff, Ellen MD, or Lori ARNP, and then bravely volunteered to help us teach the class. Because Imane is a young woman, and being sensitive to the cultural expectations here, Juanita stepped forward to work with her while I assisted. She shared with us a little of her life, her sisters, her cat, what she liked to do, and her pain. Twenty-two years of tightness in muscles that shouldn’t be so tight to make up for weakness in muscles that shouldn’t be so weak had resulted in malalignment and pain in her shoulder, ribs, and in her neck every night and nearly every day. Yet her spirit was strong, her countenance gentle and open to hope.
Matching her gentleness, Juanita provided soft encouraging movements that soon led Imane to sitting with more symmetry, to being able to reach farther on her right side than she had before, and to decreasing tightness and relieving some of her pain. She left as quietly and gently as she had arrived, but we hoped for the prospects of a better sleep uninterrupted by pain ahead for her.
Our interpreters have been really and truly wonderful. Each of them have met the children and staff with as much enthusiasm and loving kindness as we, and they have made us better at what we are doing here. Our assigned interpreter has been Souliman, or Soul, who is 33 years old and has traveled much of the world. He has been in business with real estate but decided that wasn’t a good match for him. He now owns some property outside his hometown of Guelmin where he plans to start an organic farm. Juanita and I think that’s all fine and good and wish him well in his endeavors to do so. However, he really should be a pediatric therapist. He engages with the children so naturally playfully, as if he were an extension of us. He practices the movements with the other participants and helps with the teaching and is really good at it. He shared with us that he, indeed, is reconsidering his career options based upon his time with us.
We learned that up until Friday the week before we were to start teaching on Monday, while we were in the air and traveling to Morocco, we had no interpreters. After much prayer, and unbeknownst to us that there had ever been this potential setback, there they were, our interpreters from Heaven, each of them an answer to prayer.
The next day we had Yessin come visit us. He’s a twelve-year-old boy, but much smaller than for his age. His smile is brilliant. He wants to be able to walk better and loves to play football (soccer). We discover all kinds of great things about his body that he didn’t know he could do, and his smile becomes even brighter. He loves the work, and Soul becomes part of the dance, encouraging, playfully inviting harder work, leading chants of his name with the course participants joining in. Other children who are there to see our medical staff peer in through the open window or bravely sneak into the room and join in the chants. It is spiritual. Yessin kicks the soccer ball harder than he ever has before and takes longer steps than he thought he could. He shares with Soul afterwards that his body feels “Perfect!” Soul explains to us that the word that he used in Arabic is one that is often used by older people, and truly means, “Complete.” I love this work. One of our trainees, a young mom of three, relates, through her own tears, how Yessin’s mother was moved to tears seeing her son walk so tall and confidently, and so different from how he had arrived.
Our medical super-docs Ellen, MD and Lori, ARNP continue to see and care for countless children and adults who are brought in by bus. For many it is the first time they’ve ever seen a doctor. They meet each seemingly insurmountable situation with the most important prescription: loving touch, listening hearts, and smiles. Because of limited resources here, their toolboxes aren’t quite as big as they would be back home. Thanks for a generous donation of a local benefactor, they are able to prescribe some medications and other services. Even though medical resources are few, tenderness is unlimited. Each encounter is closed with abundant gratitude.
There was a television crew that came through one day, along with leaders, politicians, and who knows who else. We continued with our work as best we could. Some of our students who tended to sit back and watch were especially attentive though. We all want to be seen in the best possible light. We’ve heard that we were on Moroccan national TV that night. We couldn’t get our hotel TV to work.
On the last day Imane showed up again. She told Juanita that she hadn’t had any pain since her last session. After 22 years, maybe she had found something that helps. We tried to help her some more. It was easier for her to move her body in ways that she had not been able to for 22 years, and she needed less help to do so. She provided another lesson to our eager class, and to us.
When I think about how quickly the past 22 years in my life have passed, and how full those years have been, I am grateful for all they have included. I am thankful that those years have been relatively free of physical pain. I have enjoyed the freedom of movement and using my abilities to enhance those of others. Imane’s situation has been very different. Born with challenges, enduring each day, anticipating that each day will bring pain, not freedom, she has continued on.
These centers, these warm and loving people, we pray will help lovely people such as Imane and Yessin live their best lives, that their movements will be easier, that strength will grow and pain will lessen. Twenty-two years is far too long to wait.
We will come back. There are plans for more multiple trainings per year over the next several years. We are honored and blessed to be included in this work.
For now we prepare for two final days in more remote villages where there are even fewer resources. There are, however, eager learners, caring hearts, and nascent centers just waiting to do good work. In 22 years, I will be 87. I don’t know if we will still be able to do this work then, but I hope that by doing so now, we could come back in 22 years and see something amazing.
Meet Pastor Tim
Tim Bayer has served as Our Savior's Lead Pastor since September 2019. He also serves as an Adjunct Instructor at Concordia University - Irvine, a National Leadership Facilitator and Resource, and a Community Mental Health First Aid Instructor. Tim studied sociology, psychology, and theology prior to earning his M.Div at Concordia Seminary - St. Louis. He has also is a candidate for an Ed.D (ABD) in Transformational Leadership. He is married to Beth and they have three young children. Together, they enjoy exploring the outdoors, experiencing culture, and pizza and movie nights.