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The Olive Writers: An initiative towards youth empowerment and a contribution to Moroccan inter-cultural exchange

Created by a twenty three year old young Moroccan named Mohamed El Wahabi, The Olive Writers summer program aims to cultivate youth interest in Culture, Literature, and Creative Writing within Morocco.

The Olive Writers is a non-profit program that supports Moroccan creative writers through a variety of workshops and events that aim to develop both literary and soft skills. Ever since 2016, The Olive Writers has aimed to organize, in partnership with the American Language Center Casablanca, an intensive summer camp each year in which they invite participants from all over Morocco to be taught creative writing in both Arabic and English by established figures in the field.

This year’s camp took place at the American Language Center Casablanca between the 29th of July and the 3rd of August. Bringing together 23 young writers coming from Rissani, Errachidia, Oulad Teima, Imintanout, Rabat, Casablanca and a range of different villages spread out from the north to the south of Morocco, the camp gathered people from different sub-cultures and backgrounds and one common interest, that is writing.

During the camp, the participants attended bilingual creative writing workshops led by Moroccan writer Soukaina HabbibAllah and American Writer Ben Bush, in addition to being introduced to literary translation by translator Hodna Nuernberg as well as notions of soft skill development and Critical Thinking by Achraf Kabbouri. Furthermore, they had the opportunity to meet with various key figures in the literary field who not only provided personal advice to the growing writers in terms of their writings, the publishing world and more but also answered the many questions the participants had The 2019 camp list of speakers included: Director Hicham Lasri, Literary Advocate Rachida Roky, Biography writer Anthony David, Morocco Book Award Winner Abdelmajid Sebbata among others.

The meeting with Hoda Barakat, a Lebanese novelist and a 2019 Arab Booker Laureate was one of the camp’s biggest highlights. Hoda has had a myriad of achievements throughout her life and her prolific works include The Stone of Laughter (1990), Disciples of Passion (1993) and The Tillers of Waters (2000) that won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in that year. Hoda’s welcoming soul, humble attitude, and gentle demeanor encouraged the students to open up, engage, and more importantly demonstrate a level of intellectuality hardly seen among youth of their age; As they discussed with Hoda literature, languages, belonging, and immigration the conversation instilled in the young writers hope in pursuing a successful writing career while keeping ones values intact.

The Olive Writers Summer Camp aims to create for its participants a serene and safe environment in which their only focus is to learn as well as to produce creative literature that can give them a voice. One they could harness in order to speak not only about their personal experiences or worlds of phantasy via poetry or prose, but also contemporary problems within society that they go through on the daily.

20 year old Sara Aboulhaoua originating from Ouled Teima said in an interview following the conclusion of the camp:

“We were taken to a world of absolute comfort in which our creativity was welcomed warmly, a world which was fittest for us all. We were given loads of information, love and inspiration.
The Olive Writers is a blessing, an extraordinary space full of fervor and more than just writing.”

Rihane from Rabat Said:

“The TOW experience exceeded my expectations. Not only have I learned more about creative writing, but I’ve also had the opportunity of meeting many beautiful people. It felt like a safe environment for all of us, where we could be ourselves and be accepted. Being around people like ourselves recharged our energy and spirit and made us feel like we belong and that there’s hope in humanity and the world because we all walked towards the same goal of wanting to make this a better place and that was heartwarming in a literal and figurative way”

She further adds:

“I think it’s important for all Moroccan youth if not everyone everywhere to go through such an experience, because it restores, if not creates, something positive and hopeful inside of us all, that we’re not alone in what we like -writing and creating here- and in who we are, and I know that it’s absolutely necessary to try to unravel the strands of society especially in the world we live in today”

Also reminiscing on his experience, Zakaria Zair from Casablanca said:

“We could never talk about a camp without mentioning food and nutrition. During the period of camp, which most of us wished if it could be incessant, we were always severed mouth-watering meals. Meals and snacks that most of us eat only when we have guests or in occasions. Needless to mention the luxurious restaurants we were taken to have supper.”

The culinary choices made by The Olive Writers staff in terms of meals were all diverse and representative of different cultures and backgrounds. The Pizza, the Tangia, the Syrian Food, the Sushi, the Burgers and all of the other meals were extremely enriching both in taste and experience.

Asked about the story behind the Olive Writers, Mohamed El Wahabi said:

“Back in 2015, I took part in a creative writing camp in the United States called ‘Between The lines’ at the University of Iowa. I can’t imagine I would have become the person I am today without that experience, as it enabled me to grow, expand my horizons, and unleash my full potential. I came back to Morocco with a dream to recreate a similar nurturing opportunity for the youth of my country. I am very grateful particularly to three people who supported the project since the very beginnings, Loubna Arrach from the US Embassy Rabat, Rachel Holskin, the Executive Secretary of the American Cultural Association, and Richard Martin, the Director of American Language Center Casablanca. Richard has been very enthusiastic about the idea, providing expertise, the venue, networks, and funds to support the program, and we have been working together ever since.”

Being a fully funded program that provides not only accommodation in a luxurious hotel but also food and materials for its participants, The Olive Writers program necessitates important funding to support the comfortable environment it aims to envelop its participants in.

In answer to that, El Wahabi clarifies: “This year’s camp was totally funded by the American Language Center Casablanca, a leading Cultural Institution serving the community of Casablanca through a variety of free-of-charge outreach programming. We were also supported by the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, and the US Department of State, who sent us Ben Bush to lead the creative writing workshop. Previous funding came from the US Embassy and the Olive Seed Foundation”.

Selected among 1300 projects from 150 countries, The Olive Writers Program was awarded the prestigious Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) 2019 from the US Department of State. The grant will allow the program to expand its activities, to include, in addition to the Summer Camp at the upcoming American Arts and Cultural Center Casablanca (affiliated to the ALC), a literary magazine where young writers share their work, a Young Writers Award, writing workshops in various cities across Morocco, and a Creative Writing club.

Haytham Chhilif

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