French-Moroccan couple and proud Palo Alto residents Lamya Alaoui and Stéphane Paquet are on a mission to help their beloved Morocco, which is still reeling from the aftermath of a massive earthquake that hit the country on Sept. 8. The duo is running a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe, a community-powered fundraising platform, to support people and nonprofit organizations that are trying to raise money for families affected by the calamity.
Taking a few minutes out of their busy schedule — Alaoui heads human resources for a defense tech company and Paquet runs a tech startup — the couple spoke to this publication over a Zoom call last week.
So far, they have managed to raise $5,990. The money is being put into a special account that was opened under the supervision of Morocco’s king who will allocate it towards the nation’s rebuilding efforts.
“It was definitely heartwarming to see the community coming together, even if it’s for something that’s thousands of miles away,” Alaoui said, grateful for the generosity.
They have fond memories of growing up, getting married and raising their family in Morocco before moving to the US a decade ago. Of their three children, the youngest was born in the US, but the elder two were born in Morocco.
They love the strong sense of community that is the hallmark of Palo Alto. They moved here during the pandemic, prior to which they lived in Santa Clara and Cupertino.
Their lack of prior experience with fundraising did not deter them from taking up the challenge of helping people back home. “Being a bystander is not how I was raised and neither was Stéphane,” Alaoui said. Instead of feeling helpless “we just created the campaign. I wrote down things and he took it from there.” He became the campaign manager while she handled other duties. They both agree they make a pretty good team.
The couple lamented that many schools and homes were destroyed in the aftermath of the earthquake; families lost their sole providers. “Anything we could do to help with that was just a natural thing to do,” Alaoui said. “For me, I need to be there. Raising the money was helpful. It will have an impact. But I think on the personal level it’s also important to be in my homeland and see what I can still do.”
Alaoui is making a trip to Morocco early next month. The campaign will accept donations until her departure.
Alaoui’s memories of Morocco are fresh; she went there this summer and spent the month of June there. “Probably the longest since we moved here. I usually go there only for a week.”
Reminiscing about the country, she said, “It’s such a magical place. A lot of history is hidden in places like the old kasbahs,” referring to centuries-old forts found across the country, to say nothing of the beautiful Atlas Mountains and gorgeous waterfalls. “It is definitely a good place to visit. It’s beautiful. People are very warm and welcoming. Moroccan hospitality is legendary, to say the least.”
Speaking about the urgent issues Moroccans are encountering at the moment, Paquet said, “A lot of families are going to be relocated. And that’s going to be a major change in their lifestyle, because they are from very rural, self-sustaining areas.”
The people there rely on farming and make little money from tourism. “That was actually a very balanced lifestyle for them,” he said. Now with all the crops gone, the situation is going to become dire because suddenly everything they were relying on was destroyed.
Paquet said, “Even people who were living in Marrakesh did not understand the extent of the damage at first. It took them probably three days to fully understand.” The mountainous regions are the worst hit. He warned that the oncoming seasonal temperature drop will be very challenging for everyone.
“When people think about Morocco they think – ‘Oh, it’s the desert, it’s warm, it’s sunny.’ Not in the mountains! We have one of the highest peaks in Africa. We have eternal snow. Even during the summers when it’s 110 degrees in the valley, you can still see the snow up there. It gets cold fast,” Alaoui said. Conditions there were quite rough even before the earthquake.
They inhabit very “traditional buildings” and “road access is not necessarily the easiest even in normal times,” Alaoui said.
But despite the challenges, for the people who live there, walking away is not an option, she said. They would rather stay and rebuild even if their own homes are gone.
She commended organizations like The Rotary Club and Food Bank for doing a “stellar job.”
The couple is confident that Morocco will bounce back with the help of people here and around the world.
“Moroccan people are very, very resilient. I think that has been forged by centuries of challenges. It was just wonderful to witness the solidarity. Even people who don’t have much are giving their time or the little that they have,” Alaoui said.
The couple’s young children are also helping in their own little way by spreading the word about the fundraising campaign on social media and enquiring about the wellbeing of families back home. “Everyone needs a little bit of comfort and the toys (that are being sent over) will provide that,” said their youngest.
Moroccan food is the family’s favorite cuisine. It’s also their way of staying true to their roots and culture. “At our home, a lot of the furniture is Moroccan. Actually, it came with us from Morocco. There is that casual reminder of home,” Alaoui added.
While Alaoui and Paquet are doing their bit here, in Morocco help is pouring in from cities close and far in the form of blankets, food, water, wheelchairs and walkers. People have opened up their homes to shelter displaced people. There are free hotlines to talk to therapists and psychologists for emotional support.
The couple has renewed faith in the strength of the community that is demonstrating pure compassion at present. The ongoing display of kindness and empathy in the face of adversity is the silver lining to the whole tragedy, according to them.
“Everyone is doing what they can to contribute. It’s a beautiful thing to witness,” they said.