Canadians of immigrant origin are among the hundreds of aid workers who have spent time on the ground in Morocco, assisting people whose lives have been turned upside down by the earthquake that devastated parts of the country last September.
A 6.9-magnitude earthquake shook the Atlas Mountains on Sept. 8, causing the deaths of at least 2,960 people and injuring another 5,674. More than 40,000 homes and 2,900 villages were damaged and 19,095 houses collapsed.
Among those assisting with the rebuilding is GlobalMedic, a Toronto-based organization that has taken over a local café in Morocco. Volunteers have produced more than 16,000 meals for people in need and distributed more than 800 meal kits to those affected by the quake. They have also installed six water filtration devices in villages where drinking water is unsafe, which provide clean water for up to 2,000 people a day.
Marty Bromley, Darius Sunga, and Edward Gan are among those overseeing GlobalMedic’s efforts.
“Marrakech itself seemed to have recovered, although you could still see damage to many houses and structures caused by the earthquake,” said Sunga, who came to Canada from the Philippines in 1983.
“For the people that lived in the mountains, their situation is more dire. A lot have lost loved ones, properties and lives they once knew.”
Sunga, who also serves as a volunteer ski patrolman, was inspired to join GlobalMedic when the call went out for volunteers in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in his homeland in 2013.
Morocco marks his fourth deployment, having previously been to Dominica (2017), and Romania (2022), as part of efforts to assist Ukraine.
Bromley, who was formerly with Vaughan, Ont.’s fire and rescue, migrated to Canada in 1958 from the island of Guernsey, just 22 kilometres off the coast of France. He landed in Morocco Sept. 19 and spent three weeks there.
“The damage was far worse up in the Atlas Mountains where clay brick and mortar homes didn’t withstand the tremors,” Bromley said. “Tragically, many people lost their lives and others lost their homes and livestock.
“In some parts, entire towns were turned into rubble.”
So far, about 14 GlobalMedic personnel have spent time in Morocco, working in teams of two.
Gan arrived in Morocco on Oct. 3 and left on Nov. 6. The son of Polish immigrants to Britain, Gan moved to Canada in 1988 and worked in accounting and management until he recently retired.
“These people live in a harsh environment to begin with, so the earthquake has made it that much more challenging,” he said.
“People need clean drinking water, sanitation, food, clothing and appropriate shelter for the coming rainy season and winter.”
GlobalMedic donated an Alaska tent, which is a military-grade mobile structure that has been turned into a school in a mountain village south of Marrakech. The organization has also provided solar lights to ensure reliable lighting during times of crisis, and devices that can filter water from any fresh water source and last for up to a year.
Islamic Relief Canada is another organization helping to distribute supplies to isolated villages cut off due to blocked roads. Hassaan Sheikh, who served as manager of the organization’s B.C. office, is coordinating the efforts.
“The feeling of desperation and panic is almost palpable,” said Sheikh, who is originally from Pakistan.
“Families are scattering through the rubble with their bare hands, trying to find their loved ones. Those who have survived have lost family, friends and everything they own; they’re left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
“The situation is of absolute urgency — people need all the help they can get, and they need it immediately.”
Another Canadian organization assisting in Morocco is Human Concern International (HCI), which has so far provided food assistance to 1,200 people, and distributed food baskets with staples such as tea, coffee, sugar, pasta, tomato sauce, lentils, butter, honey, dates, powdered milk, and chocolate spread. Families have also received formula and diapers and personal care items.
About 3,000 displaced individuals also received warm bedding and 12 displaced families were given extra-large tents. The organization has provided clothing and toys to 200 children and is also providing medical assistance to 200 families in Marrakech and Agadir.
Hassan Wadi, whose parents immigrated to Canada from Saudi Arabia, was overseeing the organization’s operations with local partners.
He was named one of Canada’s top 25 immigrants in 2021 by Canadian Immigrant magazine and was given an Award of Recognition by Mississauga, Ont. Mayor Bonnie Crombie in 2021 for assisting people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“HCI is now shifting our focus to our Phase 2, dedicated to building permanent homes for these families,” Wadi said. “Transitioning to the next phase of building permanent homes adds another layer of complexity.
“This involves not just construction but also planning, securing funding, and navigating local regulations and environmental concerns. It’s a time-consuming and resource-intensive process, made more difficult by the need to ensure that the new homes are safe, sustainable, and well-suited to the needs of families.”
The Molana Tariq Jamil Foundation raised funds to provide more than 700 blankets, as well as mattresses, hygiene kits, food packs, washing powder, soap, shampoo, combs, towels, and more.
Foundation president Imam Muhammad Nabil is coordinating efforts on the ground.
“As you observe the current circumstances, numerous individuals have tragically lost their dear ones,” said Nabil, who is originally from Pakistan. “It is truly heart-wrenching, and no words can fully convey my emotions.”
“I implore you to contribute generously to aid our fellow brothers and sisters in Morocco. Please lend a hand in aiding our Moroccan brethren who have suffered from the earthquake.”
The Canadian Red Cross was in Morocco before the earthquake, providing health promotion activities and risk reduction for disaster preparedness. After the quake, the agency allied with close to 800 staff members and volunteers alongside partner agencies to organize relief and prepare for winter while providing health assistance, shelter, clean drinking water and sanitation, food parcels, kitchen sets, and hygiene kits.
“It’s actually a US$100million operation in Morocco, because of the size of the operation and magnitude of the earthquake,” said Chiran Livera, senior manager of international operations for Canadian Red Cross. “When the earthquake happened, those teams were already on the ground, and we were quickly able to activate them.
“One of the first things we did was provide financial assistance, because that is the best way we can support an emergency of this magnitude, so that we can distribute things very quickly,” said Livera, who came to Canada from Sri Lanka as a child.
“It is already starting to snow in some of the affected areas. It is a mountainous country where the earthquake struck, so some are already experiencing very cold temperatures.”
Gautam is a journalist, editor and content writer skilled in both digital and print media, who brings with him more than a decade of editorial experience across five countries, including Canada and the US. A member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, Gautam worked as Deputy Editor of the Times of Oman before moving to Canada, where he continues to write on healthcare, education, human interest stories, sport, lifestyle, and science and tech. Gautam has a Masters' Degree in journalism from the UK, and is fluent in both English and French. He lives in Toronto.