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ORT Institute for Deaf People in Casablanca, Morocco

NOTE: Some of the archive documents used to illustrate this story use outdated, and sometimes offensive language to refer to people with hearing loss or impairment. This should be viewed within the context of the documents and the time of their creation and does not reflect ORT’s current attitude to the Deaf community.

In March 1957 ORT began a significant programme in collaboration with Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) and AJDC – a school for deaf children in Casablanca. Previously there were no educational facilities for deaf children or those with a hearing impairment in the country. The Moroccan Jewish community lived in a poor quarter known as the Mellah. Deaf children didn’t learn to speak and were not sent to school. The new specialist ORT school was a godsend; its stated mission: ‘to train these children in a trade, to make them equal with others, to make them independent’.

Initially, ORT Morocco was asked to introduce manual work in a school for deaf children, created in very precarious conditions a few years earlier. It soon became apparent that this school needed much more than manual work. An agreement was concluded in 1957 between ORT Morocco, AJDC and AIU. Alliance was responsible for teaching general subjects at the school, with ORT managing the school and its vocational programme. Forty-two students were enrolled in the first year, split into four classes. This was the only school of its kind in Morocco, and as such, offered boarding to students from distant areas. By October 1958, 22 students were housed in the school’s boarding facility. ORT’s partners eventually withdrew and ORT took full responsibility for the school. The school received funding through ongoing donations by Swiss, British and American Women’s ORT organisations as well as individual donations by ORT supporters and grants from international aid organisations.

By 1962 there were 75 students enrolled. Dr Maria Egg of Zurich, an outstanding specialist in teaching of youngsters with hearing impairment, was sent to Morocco by ORT Union to introduce new methods for the ORT school. She also worked with the Moroccan Ministry of Education to help improve standards throughout the country. Following her visit another Swiss expert joined the school and the school’s director received specialist training in Switzerland. The school was considered one of the most advanced of its kind. Teachers spent hours with each student, using innovative techniques and the latest equipment to teach them to speak and improve the hearing of those students with some hearing left. The students were keen learners and advanced quickly.

"A DEAF CHILD OF THE MELLAH signals she understands. She is learning to speak and to hear at the first school in Morocco for deaf children opened recently by ORT."

As well as teaching students to speak, read and write, manual work and vocational skills were taught, in an effort to facilitate the students’ integration into society once they graduate. By 1960 some of the children in the school were able to attend the ORT Ain-Sebaa school in order to continue their studies there. By 1964 several students from the school continued their education normally at the ORT Ain-Sebaa or Val d'Anfa schools. For example, students Nezra and Flory studied sewing at Val d'Anfa while young Alain completed his apprenticeship in mechanics in 1964. Another student, Anita, was a 1964 graduate of the decoration section, finishing first in her class. They all remained in contact with the Institute during their vocational training in order to continue to improve their speech.

Nevertheless, it was a challenge to find the most suitable occupations for graduates, as Moroccan society was unused to deaf people at work and people with a hearing impairment were generally left out of the workplace. Young students were introduced to drawing, cutting, collage and weaving. Older boys, aged 14-16 were taught electricity, drawing, welding and mechanics. For the girls, a sewing workshop was set up. However, even when fully able to work in these professions, society wasn’t ready to accept deaf graduates. One talented student was denied receiving a dictation element in his state examination in mechanics so was unable to complete it. The school reported that in attempting to find work placements for graduates ‘few industrialists were willing to trust a deaf apprentice’. After much reflection and an in-depth study of the possibilities that could be offered to members of the Deaf community on the local labour market, the school’s management concluded that the profession of engraver would be well suited to the students. With the help of ORT Union the necessary equipment was acquired and an engraving workshop was opened in 1971.

In the 1970s ORT’s programme in Morocco diminished, following years of emigration to France and Israel. Throughout its existence the Institute was instrumental in training local teachers from other cities in modern teaching methods. In 1976 ORT Morocco’s responsibility for the school was finally terminated following negotiations with the authorities. The school was taken over by AMES, a local association for deaf children and was headed and run by ORT-trained staff. The equipment was left to the school by ORT as a donation.