INSAF: The Moroccan NGO helping society's most vulnerable survive the coronavirus lockdown

INSAF: The Moroccan NGO helping society's most vulnerable survive the coronavirus lockdown
5 min read
15 May, 2020
The New Arab's series 'Together Against Coronavirus' looks at how NGOs in the Middle East and beyond are tackling Covid-19.
The coronavirus lockdown has hit Morocco's poor the hardest. [Getty]

In this special series, The New Arab profiles charities, organisations, and initiatives leading the response against the coronavirus pandemic and lending a helping hand to vulnerable individuals and communities. Click here to see other articles in the series.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, Morocco has enacted swift and strict measures to contain the spread of the virus under a public health emergency

A special fund amounting to approximately 35 billion dirhams ($3.5 billion) was created by King Mohammed VI to address urgent medical needs and mitigate the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. 

Despite financial assistance to cushion vulnerable social groups, the economic shock has severely hurt tens of millions of people who are left without work and money to provide for their families. Workers in the informal sector, who are living without a safety net, represent most of the country's working population. 

As the public health crisis hits, dozens of solidarity initiatives targeting vulnerable communities have emerged in Morocco amid the coronavirus outbreak. Among them, the National Institute for Solidarity with Women in Distress (INSAF) has stepped up its humanitarian operations to respond to the new reality. 

INSAF has stepped up its humanitarian operations as economic paralysis caused by the coronavirus crisis puts pressure on Morocco's poor

Set up in 1999 by founder Meriem Othmani, INSAF fights against the social exclusion of single mothers and protects abandoned children, striving for a society that guarantees rights for every woman and child in a dignified environment. Since extra-marital sex is illegal in Morocco, many babies get abandoned or left to die at birth. 

The Casablanca-based NGO supports the mothers with legal, medical and psychological assistance, as well as shelter, and helps find jobs for pregnant women. It also seeks to ensure girls attend school rather than work as child domestic workers. 

INSAF works to support single mothers and vulnerable
children [INSAF]

The organisation counts on a team of 35 members working tirelessly to improve the fate of unwed mothers, who face systemic discrimination in a society marked by religious conservatism. Every year, it helps over 500 young women who have fallen pregnant outside of marriage. 

But things have changed since the Moroccan government declared a health emergency in mid-March. With the Covid-19 pandemic touching everyone, INSAF's actions have expanded to provide aid to vulnerable individuals and families.  

The disruption of daily life has adversely impacted single mothers, low-income families, refugees and other vulnerable categories in society as they struggle to survive without daily earnings during the lockdown of the past few weeks. 

"When the epidemic struck, we practically switched jobs. We've devoted ourselves to fighting socio-economic deprivation among different groups of people while continuing to support unmarried women," Othmani told The New Arab. "We had to restructure our activities. We had to act urgently!"

Single mothers, typically rejected by their families, found themselves jobless and unable to look after their children. Daily wage workers fell into great distress as economic activity stopped under the lockdown. They usually got by doing odd jobs such as cleaning, domestic work, or working in the textile or hospitality industries. 

The situation became particularly difficult for families in rural villages whose livelihoods have been hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak, and where a drought in the agricultural sector is exerting further pressure.

As the first distress calls came in two weeks after the announcement of the health emergency, INSAF began to initiate solidarity campaigns and mobilise food donations for the most vulnerable parts of the population. 

To respond to the emergency, the staff raised new funding from regular donors and others. They used the parking lot of the association's headquarters as a logistical platform for stocking and loading packages containing basic food necessities such as semolina, lentils, pasta, rice, oil, sugar, tea, and soap.

When the epidemic struck, we practically switched jobs. We've devoted ourselves to fighting socio-economic deprivation among different groups of people while continuing to support unmarried women

With the collaboration of local authorities, volunteers have so far distributed 500 parcels of 25kg to needy families in Casablanca, and dispatched at least 4,000 to isolated villages in the provinces of Haouz and Chichaoua. 

Along with food emergency supplies, flyers with hygiene and social distancing guidelines to reduce the spread of Covid-19 have been handed out among the targeted communities. 

Volunteers have so far distributed 500 parcels of
25kg to needy families [INSAF]

State aid of up to 1,200 dirhams (around $120) per month is being allocated to destitute families to mitigate the effects of the crisis as part of an emergency package, which is hardly enough. 

Recently, the organisation widened its scope further to reach out to the sub-Saharan African population. At the start of this week, it began distributing 4,000 supply packages for migrants in Casablanca, which consist of 40,000 face masks, 4,000 litres of bleach to disinfect masks, 8,000 soaps, food items, as well as 4,000 health and safety awareness flyers, INSAF's said. Also this week, the NGO started preparing 4,500 packages to reach migrants in Rabat. 

The ambitious initiative will help to protect a total of 8,500 sub-Saharan migrants from the coronavirus. "It's the first mass-scale operation that has been conceived for migrants in Morocco," the INSAF head said proudly. "Even though it may seem like something impossible, we can make it!" 

The Come-Back local association, which assists migrants through socio-professional reintegration and raising awareness on illegal migration, is contributing by helping with the distribution of parcels and ensuring an ordered delivery across different urban areas. 

"We want to thank Mrs Meriem Othmani for the heartfelt gesture in support of the sub-Saharans of Casablanca. These donations will allow us to continue our actions within the framework of safety awareness against Covid-19," Come-Back posted on its Facebook page. 

Despite the lockdown restrictions, INSAF staff are working hard seven days a week during the pandemic, more committed than ever to helping the poorest. 

"We will pursue our mission," Othmani promised. "There are people who are hungry, we have to go and bring them relief". 

Nine million people out of Morocco's population (or 24 percent) of 35 million inhabitants are poor or at risk of poverty, according to a World Bank report. Three-quarters of workers have no social security cover, and the monthly minimum wage is around $260.

Alessandra Bajec is a freelance journalist currently based in Tunis. 

Follow her on Twitter: @AlessandraBajec