A devastating earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck Morocco a week ago, leaving a trail of destruction and sorrow in its wake.
For one Moroccan schoolteacher, Nesreen Abu ElFadel, the earthquake instantly brought her thoughts to her pupils, who were in the mountain village of Adaseel, closer to the epicenter.
Nesreen Abu ElFadel, an Arabic- and French-language teacher, was in Marrakesh at the time of the earthquake.
However, her school and beloved students were in Adaseel. Without hesitation, she returned to the village in search of the children she cared for so deeply.
Her heart sank when she discovered that all 32 of her students, aged six to twelve, had perished in the quake. She recounted the agonizing moments when she asked about each child by name, only to receive the devastating response hours later that they had all passed away.
“I imagined holding my class’s attendance sheet and putting a line through one student’s name after another, until I had scratched off 32 names; they are all now dead,” she shared with the BBC.
These young lives were tragically claimed by the strongest earthquake ever recorded in Morocco, which struck on the evening of September 8th.
The earthquake’s epicenter was in areas south of Marrakesh, where numerous mountain villages, including Adaseel, were utterly devastated.
Ms. ElFadel remembered the heartbreaking story of six-year-old Khadija. Rescuers found her lifeless body next to her brother Mohamed and her two sisters, Mena and Hanan.
They had all been in their beds, likely asleep, during the earthquake. They were all students at Ms. ElFadel’s school.
“Khadija was my favorite. She was very nice, smart, active, and loved to sing. She used to come to my house, and I loved studying and talking to her,” Ms. ElFadel shared, her voice filled with grief.
The teacher lovingly described her students as “angels,” respectful children eager to learn. Despite grappling with poverty and a challenging cost-of-living crisis, attending school was considered “the most important thing in the world” for these children and their families.
“Our last class was on Friday night, exactly five hours before the quake hit,” Ms. ElFadel said. “We were learning Morocco’s national anthem and planned to sing it in front of the whole school on Monday morning.”
Though her voice remains calm, Ms. ElFadel is grappling with profound trauma. She still cannot fully process the loss of her students and her school. “I don’t sleep; I’m still in shock,” she said. “People consider me one of the lucky ones, but I don’t know how I can continue living my life.”
Ms. ElFadel cherished teaching Arabic and French to children in a village predominantly populated by the Amazigh, who primarily speak Tamazight, their own language.
Despite the challenges of learning two languages, the students were remarkably bright and nearly fluent in both.
She is determined to continue her teaching career and hopes that authorities will rebuild the school in Adaseel, which collapsed during the earthquake.
Official statements indicate that a total of 530 educational institutions have suffered damage to varying degrees, including some that have completely collapsed or sustained severe structural damage.
In response to the disaster, the Moroccan government has temporarily suspended classes in the hardest-hit areas. “Maybe one day when they rebuild the school and classes are back in session, we can commemorate those 32 kids and tell their story,” Ms. ElFadel concluded, her heart heavy with grief but her spirit undaunted.