Asni (AFP): MoIn the earthquake-hit mountains of Morocco, 13-year-old Abdessamad El Berd gets up before dawn to make the long trek to the tent city that is his new school, walking by torchlight and careful to avoid roaming dogs.
His father accompanies him on the 14-kilometer (nine-mile) walk from their remote village of Tinghar to the makeshift school set up in the small town of Asni, in the disaster-hit area south of Marrakech.
“I don’t want him to drop out of school, but it’s tough,” said the 45-year-old father, Brahim El Berd.
“I don’t know if he can keep up this pace,” the man said, voicing hope that school buses will soon be organized.
“Otherwise, we won’t make it.”
Morocco’s education ministry has set up 32 traditional tents at Asni that serve as a school for 2,800 middle and high school students.
Classes have not yet officially resumed since the 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck the region on September 8, killing nearly 3,000 people.
But many children are already flocking to the tent school, where teachers provide a distraction and badly-needed psychological support to the children, many of whom have lost family members.
“I don’t feel very well,” said one pupil, Khadija Ait Ali, 17.
“But the fact that I’m back at school, even if in a tent, surrounded by my friends, is a relief.
“I don’t like being alone anymore because all I think about is the earthquake.”
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has said the quake impacted around one million school children.
It damaged or destroyed 530 schools and 55 boarding facilities, and classes were suspended in about 40 municipalities in the Al-Haouz, Chichaoua and Taroudant provinces.
At the makeshift school, French language teacher Abdellah Zahid, 32, said that, until classes resume, the main goal is to support the children.
“We are focusing on listening to our students and providing them with psychological support,” Zahid told AFP.
Despite the shared trauma, he voiced hope of “making this challenging school year a success.”
Another pupil, 15-year-old Samira Ait Achichaou, had also set off at dawn with her father, hitchhiking more than 40 kilometers from her village of Ousserterk.
“It’s tough, but I’m glad to be back on track with school,” she said.
Others pupils said they are struggling with emotional scars that run deep.
Amina Ait Abdellah, 16, said she “doesn’t feel ready to resume classes” yet.
“I still haven’t come to terms with the tragedy we experienced,” said Amina, from the village of Ouirgane, 14 kilometers southwest of Asni.
“I can’t stop thinking about the house we lost. I can’t stand the tents either,” she said, surrounded by friends who agreed with her.
“They remind me of the earthquake and its miseries.”
One mother, Hasna Lahdadi, said her 11-year-old son Yahia was among the children still tormented by acute distress.
“I try to do my best to help him express his anxieties,” she said. “He’s very afraid of aftershocks. Our house suffered serious damage.”
She tried to persuade him to switch to a school in Marrakech, but he refused.
“I want to stay with my friends,” said Yahia. “I’m happy to see them again.”
Some of the children have lost almost everything, and school has become their refuge.
Jamal Ait Hmane, 43, was taking his 13-year-old daughter to school, all the way from the town of Tamgounsi, about 100 kilometers away.
“I want them to continue their education,” he said. “It will help them forget the tragedy of the earthquake.”