Harvard students and affiliates raised more than $19,000 in donations through fundraisers for disaster relief following a deadly earthquake that hit Morocco last Friday.
The earthquake, which struck near Marrakesh, Morocco, is one of the deadliest to hit the country in decades, with a death toll approaching 3,000 victims, mostly in rural areas.
Amina Benzakour Knidel, a graduate student at Harvard Kennedy School who serves as co-chair of the Moroccan Caucus, said she was on the phone with a friend in Morocco when the earthquake struck “very quickly.”
“Saturday morning, very early, I started thinking ‘How can we help?’ and I thought that fundraising would be the best we can do, not knowing exactly what the needs are on the field,” she said.
Othmane Ouhaddach — a fellow HKS student and co-chair of the Moroccan Caucus who helped organize the fundraiser — said the group acted immediately because they “didn’t have the luxury of time”
“We only have a small window of opportunity before we become again, second page [news],” he said. “You can already see it actually, by now, it’s happened like less than a week ago — we’re kind of almost old news.”
Benzakour Knidel and Ouhaddach, along with other students and alumni of the Kennedy School, reached out to Moroccan students at MIT to launch a GoFundMe Saturday morning. By Tuesday, the fundraiser expanded to include Moroccan students at schools in the Greater Boston area, and by Wednesday, students across the U.S. and Canada.
The group raised around $17,000 as of Thursday, with a goal of reaching $100,000.
The Morocco earthquake comes months after deadly earthquakes hit Turkey and Syria last February when the Harvard Society of Arab Students helped raise over $30,000 for disaster relief. SAS President Jana Amin ’25 said this past fundraising experience allowed SAS to “mobilize a little faster than we did last time.”
“The first thing that I do — as the president of the Society of Arab Students — is reach out to all our Moroccan students, both international and Moroccan American, to check in on their families and make sure that no one’s family needs immediate emergency assistance — whether that be monetary or otherwise,” Amin said.
SAS has raised more than $2,000 as of Monday in their fundraising efforts, which Amin said focused on reaching out to trusted organizations on the “local, grassroots level.”
Amin encouraged students who have not heard much about the earthquake to educate themselves about the earthquake.
“Consider our privilege to be at Harvard in a well-resourced community with relatively more resources in our toolkit to respond to crises,” Amin said. “And think about how you can redistribute some of your own resources to help people who are really vulnerable right now.”
Ummunaz “Naz” Yanik ’25 — co-president of the Harvard College Turkish Student Association, which worked with SAS to fundraise for the February Turkey-Syria earthquakes — said she was “really sad” to hear about the earthquakes and felt empathy for the victims.
“I think your sensitivity really depends on how you relate to the subject,” she said.
Yanik recalled feeling “alienated” after the Turkey-Syria earthquakes when things were “too much to process.” Ultimately, reaching out to administrators and professors for help became sources of support, Yanik said.
According to Harvard spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo, the College has reached out to students affected by the earthquake to “offer support and additional resources.”
Benzakour Knidel said Harvard affiliates – including faculty and other Kennedy School caucasus, such as the African Caucus – have been “incredibly thoughtful and incredibly helpful.”
She said hearing about the earthquakes was “terrible,” but the fundraiser allowed her and other Moroccan students to help instead of “just thinking about what was happening.”
“Honestly, it’s been terrible. I would never have imagined something like this to happen in my country,” Benzakour Knidel said. “It’s been so hard being far away, but I think that’s exactly why I launched this initiative — because I couldn’t just see this and not do anything.”
—Staff writer Madeleine A. Hung can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at email@example.com.