My travel to Europe was eye-opening in many ways. I learned about new cultures, peoples, history, language and I uncovered a lot about my own character. However, the most striking aspect of my travel pertained to human rights and how much improvement our global society must still undergo. In the third month of my semester abroad, I had the opportunity to travel to Morocco, which is just south of the Spanish border, for a weekend. I was most excited about this trip long before I was even fully prepared to go to Europe. I have seen the glamour on social media; beautiful apparel, golden, sandy beaches which are tread by remarkably tall camels. My first day there, I got that typical experience where I rode camels and took pictures and I was pretty satisfied.
Morocco’s economy is mainly based on tourism. However, like many other developing nations, the economic wealth does not trickle down to the depths of the social stratum. I drove by the King’s expansive residence in Rabat, one which he only visits about once or twice a year (with an entourage of about one thousand), for kilometers upon kilometers. The pristine, sandy beach served as a transition to the world that the common man knew-one of old, character-filled buildings, simpler meals and a few Dirhams in hand.
For the most part, the community members seemed to make do with their standard of living. As we walked through the pebbled alleys of the town Chefchaouen, between a corridor of blue walls and ornate doors, we were surveyed by curious eyes and then greeted with offers to buy whatever they had-teas, fresh olives, tapestry, antiques, etc.
However, it was our day of departure that resonated with me the most. As our bus slowly drove into the parking lot of the border checkpoint between Spanish and Moroccan territory, I noticed a group of about four or five young, teenage boys scamper to their feet when we pulled up. In the moments that followed, I witnessed something most heartbreaking. Timing a shift in the border police’s stare, two of the boys lunged under our vehicle. Well equipped for that moment, our bus driver struck a buzzer which scared them right back out. This happened about three times during our ten-minute wait. “They try to get under the bus and hold on so they can cross the border,” our program coordinator shared, “I hope you guys see how fortunate you are.” The boys stood outside, their faces marked with dirt and desperation.
It was unbelievable, not because I did not know about poverty or other situations that cause people to seek asylum, but because it was right in front of my eyes. I sat by the window, blinking incredulously. My friend wiped a few tears as we pulled off. Silence fell on the entire bus for the rest of the ride. When my housemate and I got to our home, we told our house mother of that sad moment we witnessed at the border. “Pero es la vida. Muchos entran asi,” my house mother replied, saying that it’s life and many enter Spain that way. For a moment I thought that she lacked empathy but I reflected some more on what she might have meant. She was right. It is a part of life and poverty and discomfort exist everywhere but is that something we should accept as the norm? Why would one leave one’s country if they are comfortable with potable water, shelter, food and clothing and why should one stay if one is not? I do not believe that a group of dirty, young boys, who look no more than 16, wanted to escape to another land to live a life of luxury. It MUST be that they lacked one, some or all of the aforementioned.
Part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to ensure a better quality of life for all by 2030. That date is not that far away, and with the ills that our global society currently faces, it seems like a steep deadline. We, the laymen, have to contribute to meeting this goal. Whether through altruism or activism, those SDGs are OUR goals, not the Human Rights Council’s or any other arm of the UN. We must hold law and policy-makers accountable, stay informed and stay true to our civic duties as citizens of the world. After all, what great value is a neighborhood, if some houses are made of stone while others are made of sand?