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Professor leads charge on Moroccan earthquake relief

By Ashlyn Fransen '24
Published October 19, 2023
Categories: Academics, Community Engagement, Global Education, International Business, Students

Camels line up in the Sahara Desert in Merzouga, Morocco, during an Eckerd study abroad trip this past January. Photo by Bailey Usdan ’26

The two guides for Eckerd College’s Winter Term trip to Morocco last January made Magdalena “Maggie” Peffer Castellanos feel like she’d truly gotten to know the culture and country from the experts.

“We really bonded with Jaouad and Ali because they were with us for the whole trip,” recalls the senior anthropology student from Columbus, Ohio. “Every trip on the bus was a party because they allowed us to blast music and dance with them.”

When a magnitude 6.8 earthquake devastated the High Atlas Mountain region in Morocco on Sept. 8, Maggie and her classmates thought of their tour guides and all the people they’d encountered there. The impacts of the earthquake inspired faculty and students to get involved.

Virginie Pioche Kharé, associate professor of international business at Eckerd, says the fundraiser came together organically. She set up a webpage and reached out to a local contact in Marrakech.

Back in 2020, during a Winter Term service trip to Morocco, Kharé met Jaouad Bouhrazen, the managing director of JD Morocco Tours. Both Winter Term trips used his transportation services to travel around the country. In light of the recent earthquake, Bouhrazen offered to use his vehicle fleet to transport supplies purchased with the money raised by the Eckerd community. He also made a large contribution to the fundraiser.

“He grew up in a village close to the affected area, so this really hit close to home,” Kharé says.

The goal was to raise $2,000. Some students on the trip made flyers to advertise the mission. Parents, faculty, staff and students made donations ranging from $7 to $250. By Sept. 30, there was $2,118 in the fund.

The money students raised will go toward purchasing food items, blankets, tents and building materials to support relief efforts in the rural villages. Bouhrazen will personally transport and distribute these supplies.

Eckerd students visited Morocco in January 2023, traveling from Casablanca to Marrakesh. Video by Maggie Peffer Castellanos ’24

“At first, food was the main concern, but with winter approaching in the mountains, it’s going to start getting cold,” Kharé says. “As an educator, it’s been wonderful to see the impact we can have outside of the classroom. Our students are passionate about helping out because they saw the affected areas with their own eyes.”

Maggie says she chose the Winter Term trip to Morocco because she has some heritage there that she had not previously been able to explore. The many sights and a magical camel ride across the Sahara will always stick with her. “One of the guides had his home damaged in the earthquake,” she says. “Some of my classmates came to everyone, and we decided we wanted to donate our own funds.”

Junior marine science student from Forest Lake, Minnesota, Tally Nesvold had a fabulous time learning about culture and religion in Morocco in January.

“I donated what I could because I made some really meaningful relationships over there,” she says. “The country is so beautiful that I wanted to make sure it was restored for others to experience as well.”

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