Walking through the narrow streets and alleyways of Al-Dusheira's Juhadiyya neighbourhood, beautiful, colourful graffiti urging readers to protect the environment draws my attention. In Al-Dusheira, in southern Morocco, you could wake up one day to find the facade of your house covered with phrases and images drawing attention to an issue, or expressing ideas and the pulse of young people.
Graffiti enjoys a special place in the hearts of young Moroccans. It may contain words and expressions written in shorthand, or coded in such a way that only youth can decipher. It’s the language of the street, with a certain element of rebellion, but rarely intended to slander or insult.
But graffiti is more than expression; this year has shown that it is also a way for Moroccan youth, civil society and government to come together.
In June the Municipal Council of Al-Dusheira and civil society organisations like Al-Dusheirah Associations Forum (Majd) joined together to celebrate International Environment Day. They organised initiatives for residents to decorate city walls with murals highlighting the region’s culture, art and history. Youth from the city participated by painting murals that encouraged education for citizenship and a sense of belonging and civic responsibility to their society, the environment and local culture.
More support for youth graffiti art, and encouragement for them to utilise their talent for voluntary civil work, will provide them with experience, abilities and other skills, while helping the Municipal Council of Al-Dusheira achieve greater environmental protection and raise awareness about other issues affecting the city.
This initiative created space for youth to use their energy in a constructive manner. Slogans like “A clean neighbourhood is worthy of its citizens”, “God is beautiful and loves beauty” and “You can be anybody’s son, but good manners are better than good lineage” showed up overnight on walls. Paintings of the Moroccan flag, and the Kingdom’s slogan “God, the Homeland, and the King” aimed at expressing national belonging, cultural, linguistic and artistic pluralism. This was done in Arabic and Tamazight (the language of the indigenous Amazigh population of North Africa), calling for coexistence among people of Amazigh or Arab origins. Such messages reinforce the 2011 Constitution reform, which states that the Amazigh language is an official language in Morocco.
Young people participating in the initiative volunteered to transform the city’s main street into a unique mural that exhibits all that comes to their minds.
The Municipal Council awarded youth graffiti artists in a number of categories, including the cleanest neighbourhood, the most beautiful mural and the best slogan encouraging greater youth and civil society organisation participation.
Enthusiasm on behalf of these young people, and their awareness of the problems from which their society suffers is sufficient for them to take initiative to promote awareness of environmental and other issues.
Youth are already at the forefront of environmental activities in Al-Dusheira like generating less trash at home, contributing to recycling efforts, organising campaigns to paint walls, clean alleys and preserve green areas.
Such activities provide youth with financial support, provide activities to fill leisure time, and encourages them to undertake voluntary work. Such initiatives provide alternatives to poor, marginalized youth at risk for drug and alcohol abuse and delinquency.
Graffiti has always been a vehicle by which youth express their feelings. Through such projects it also becomes a conduit for young people to participate in their communities and present constructive solutions to the challenges facing all Moroccans.