Experiencing Deafness in Morocco: Insights from Moroccan Sign Language Master Trainers

Ayoub Aboutajedyne, Fatima Zahra El Bouhali, Fatima Zahrae Eddouks, Ismael Sbihi, Khawla Achkif, Mariam El Amrani, Mehdi Erraihani, and Yassine Rhiat. These eight young people are training as Moroccan Sign Language (MSL) Master Trainers who will be on the frontlines of teaching a new introductory MSL course to educators and family members of the Moroccan Deaf community.  

The course, which is part of a broader nationwide initiative that aims to strengthen the capacity of non-governmental organizations working with Deaf children and youth, is currently being developed as part of the USAID Morocco Inclusive Education Teacher Training Activity (MITTA) with support from the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s (UTK) Center on Deafness. Since 2021, USAID has been working jointly with the Government of Morocco to improve the quality of and access to Deaf education across the country via the MITTA program. To achieve this objective, MITTA is working to improve the performance and capacity of Moroccan higher education institutions and regional teacher training centers to provide quality teacher preparation and professional development in bilingual Deaf education. Central to this work are these initial eight MSL Master Trainers.

To prepare for this important role, Ayoub, Fatima Zahra, Fatima Zahrae, Ismael, Khawla, Mariam, Mehdi, and Yassine have been participating in in-depth training sessions led by UTK, including a guided teaching practice component, over the course of about a year. Now, with ample instruction on key MSL teaching strategies, they are ready to start teaching MSL.     

This initial cohort of MSL Master Trainers brings with them a wealth of knowledge and personal experience. Several of them we’re already MSL educators prior to the MITTA training, others are MSL interpreters, and almost all of them are active members of non-governmental organizations that represent and advocate for the Deaf and hard of hearing community across the country and internationally. 

While it is true that their backgrounds are varied—geographically, the Master Trainers are located throughout the country, ranging from Casablanca and Rabat in the North to Agadir in the South—all of the MSL Master Trainers share one very important trait: the strong desire to improve education and increase employment opportunities for the Deaf and hard of hearing community.     

Their dedication is applaudable. Most of the Master Trainers are multi-tasking: working or studying while participating in the MSL training. One trainer, Mehdi Erraihani, was selected to serve as a board member of the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section at a recent conference in South Korea. Meanwhile, Fatima Zahrae Eddouks completed her university course work and received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry while also participating in the MSL training. These examples not only exemplify the passion with which the MSL trainers are working to improve the lives of the Deaf and hard of hearing community, they also demonstrate how much the Deaf are capable of.

The MSL Master Trainers with April Haggard, Sign Language Content Specialist and Senior Lecturer from the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Center on Deafness.

In honor of International Day of Sign Languages on September 23, we asked Mehdi, Fatima Zahra, and the other Master Trainers to tell us about their experiences as people who are Deaf or hard of hearing in Morocco.

What are some of the unique customs, traditions, and/or cultural elements of the Deaf community in Morocco?

Ayoub: Much like the spoken Moroccan Arabic dialect, every city and region across the country has its own unique dialect where different signs are used for different words.

Khawla: Deaf youth in Morocco spend a lot of time in cafés and on social media. Not all of our family members know how to sign, so it’s nice to spend time as a group with other people with whom we can easily communicate. 

Yassin: There are some cool technologies we use to facilitate communication. For example, instead of a doorbell, we use a door light. 

What is the number one thing you wish hearing people knew about your experience as a person who is Deaf or that would help break down the barriers that people who are Deaf face?

Fatima Zahra: I would love to see many of the stereotypes or prejudices associated with the Deaf and hard of hearing community disappear.

Ismael: I agree with Fatima; we are just as intelligent as hearing people, and we are capable of doing anything we put our minds to.

Mehdi: I would love to see organizations and hearing people take measures to make life easier for the Deaf and hard of hearing community—like for example, learning a few words in sign language or making interpreters available.

Mariam: Yes, or making accommodations available to make public services more accessible to people who are Deaf and hard of hearing

To learn more about the USAID MITTA program, visit USAID.gov.

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