Nightly News   |  September 25, 2009

Teaching self-respect in Casablanca's slums

Sept. 25: Making a Difference: When community workers from Chicago are connected with kids in Morocco, they learn some lessons of their own. NBC's Martin Fletcher reports.

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ANN CURRY, anchor: Time now for our Friday MAKING A DIFFERENCE report, and tonight a story of young ambassadors from Chicago on a mission to make a difference for their peers in a city thousands of miles away , a place considered to be a sister city for more than 25 years. NBC 's Martin Fletcher reports on a trip of a lifetime, and the man who's helping these young Americans help others.

MARTIN FLETCHER reporting: It's a long way from Chicago to Casablanca , but the sister cities pose the same challenge to some of their young people , who want to help the poor.

Ms. MARI FAINES: We want to instill hope.

FLETCHER: In Chicago Mari Faines was getting ready to travel to Casablanca to work with young Moroccan community workers.

Ms. FAINES: I can gain things, as well as teaching them things.

FLETCHER: Mari arrived this week, among 10 Chicago high schoolers who came to learn from a local legend. Boubker Mazoz is a hero here, helping and bringing hope to the slum dwellers of Casablanca . Five thousand people live here in Al Hofra , " The Hole ." There are dozens like it, half a million slum dwellers nationwide desperate for help.

Mr. BOUBKER MAZOZ: They all need, you know, doctors. They don't have no insurance. They don't work.

FLETCHER: Is anybody else helping them?

Mr. MAZOZ: As far as I know, I don't think so.

FLETCHER: Seven years ago, after his day job in the US Embassy , Boubker Mazoz began to donate all his free time, raising money, creating community centers , helping the poor. He gave this woman her wheelchair. `Thank you,' she said. `You changed my life.' Mazoz trained 150 kids, many from the slums, to help younger poor kids, teaching English, math, but especially self-respect. The Chicago kids didn't enter the Al Hofra slum, too unsafe, so the kids came to them. Like Leila Gouaich , the slum is her home.

Ms. LEILA GOUAICH: ...

FLETCHER: `I live here,' Leila says. `It's disgusting, seven feet by four feet. Ten people sleep in here in shifts. No running water.' Yet somehow Leila is a third year physics student at university. She studies in the street when the others are asleep. And then she teaches the kids. After seeing this all this, what lessons will Mari take back to Chicago ?

Ms. FAINES: It's all about rising people up, not putting them down.

FLETCHER: And the gift of giving. When I asked Leila how she'd made it to university, words failed her. `Mr. Mazoz ,' she cried, `you gave me money. You gave me a chance, you brought me back to life.' Martin Fletcher , NBC News , Casablanca , Morocco .