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Perspectives:  Family Values

Tuesday:  May 31

Family values" is a phrase that often evokes political sensibilities.  The term lends itself to many different interpretations.  We saw some real family values displayed yesterday in two very different contexts.  They provided unusual contexts for me to reflect on my own interpretation of family and its importance to me.

Yesterday morning Denise and I hired a Grand Taxi to take us to the village of Ain Leuh.  It is a rural hamlet located in the heart of the Middle Atlas mountains, about 120 kilometers from Fes.  There is a home for unwanted and/or abandoned children there; at the present time, three couples serving as houseparents care for about 20 children. 

The home was established in the late 1930's by two American single women.  My best recollection is that they raised about 60 children over the course of their tenure, and lived in Morocco until the late 1980's.  They were both near 90 years of age before they had to return to the U.S., having reached that stage in life when they were unable to care for themselves.  We had the privilege of meeting them in 1985, but by that time they had not been allowed to take in children for a long time, and the house and grounds were beginning to fall into disrepair.

Around 1996 a group of South African churches learned of the existence of the facility, and of its uncertain future.  They initiated an effort to purchase the land and continue the work that had begun there prior to World War II.  They were able to run the bureaucratic gauntlet successfully, and eventually secured permission to take over the administration of the organization, along with the approval to expand the facilities and increase the number of residents.  The home was renamed the Village of Hope, with current plans for several additional homes to be built in order to accommodate 10 families and up to 100 children.

The family we met there is a Dutch couple, probably in their late forties, who have been in Morocco for six years.  Their own children are grown, but their new "family" includes eight children; their ages are 6,5,4,4,3,3, and two infants each about six months old.

When we dropped in yesterday for our visit, they were packing for a short respite at the beach.  Their van was completely full of supplies, and we found ourselves incapable of imagining how looking after 8 children under six years of age could qualify as rest.  Nonetheless, they seemed excited about the event, an indication of the demeanor and commitment which so impressed us. 

Houseparents who join the Village of Hope team are asked to make a commitment of 18 years, sufficient time to raise a family even if infants are placed in their care.  We were given the opportunity to volunteer in that capacity, but given our age and perceptive self-knowledge, we passed.  We returned to Fes grateful that selfless servants like this couple we met exist.  They are certainly worthy of our respect and admiration.

About eight o'clock yesterday evening, we went for dinner at the home of a Moroccan family we have known for almost 20 years.  In fact, the father of the family worked at the bookstore we operated in Fes from 1987-1989.  He has three children; two daughters who are 21 and 13 years of age, and a son who is 17.  I remember vividly the day we celebrated the older daughter's second birthday in December, 1986.  We had been in Fes less than six months, were deep into culture shock, and relished the opportunity to participate in any type of social event.

The children are incredibly handsome, but even more attractive is the spirit and personality they possess.  The kindness and patience they demonstrate within the framework of routine family activities is a joy to behold.  Denise remarked on the good time the mother and daughters were having in the kitchen as they completed the lengthy preparation of our traditional meal of cous-cous.  The son returned from studying at a friend's home and politely greeted each of us upon his arrival.  Conversation between family members often resulted in lots of laughter.  Although we could understand very little of their personal conversation since they speak Berber at home, I am confident the laughter was not at our expense.  Indeed, the children address us as Aunt and Uncle, a real honor in their culture.

By American standards of material prosperity, this family is quite poor.  They are luckier than most Moroccans in that they own their two bedroom apartment, and a small business.  Using the value of family measure, I would consider them quite wealthy.

The events of yesterday provide another example of how much we learn here.  Very different situations reminded us of how fortunate we are personally to have the family lives we experience, and made us grateful for the chance to see some real family values in action.


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