Student Establishes Children’s Library in Morocco

Arabic, English, and Secondary Education student Stephanie Saba is completing a one-year language intensive program in Meknes, Morocco, where she is making a difference in the lives of children who visit the Library of the Grand Mosque.

Saba is one of 23 students chosen to participate in 2016-2017 Arabic Flagship Program offered through the American Council for International Education.

As part of this highly competitive program, students are expected to immerse themselves in the culture of Morocco by living with host families and choosing an internship that aligns with their course studies. Saba, a lover of languages, is interning at the Library of the Grand Mosque.

portrait of a woman with brown hair in front of pink wall

Upon arriving for her internship, Saba found that the library did not have a children’s section so she sought to do something about that. Alongside her fellow interns, Saba created a GoFundMe page to raise money to turn a storage room into a children’s reading room.

The project relied heavily on donations, including free furniture from the Moroccan Ministry of Culture, and the money raised was used to buy materials for the children’s reading room. To decorate the room, Saba projected images on the wall and hand-painted them.

“We had to use what little resources we had and what we could afford,” she said. “There were three of us working and none of us really had much background, so it was definitely an experience.”

When I think about what’s going on in the world today, one of the best ways to battle terrorism and war and hatred is through education.

Children can now check out books from the library or just sit in the room and read.

“Every time I see the children’s library, I want to cry,” Saba said. “Before, they never had anywhere to go, and now I read to 40 students at a time and then watch them all line up to check out a book, and it really warms my heart. It feels like I made a difference somewhere.”

Saba was a guest speaker at the International Book and Publishing Conference in Morocco where she read to Moroccan children and did an activity with them to promote literacy.

In addition to her internship, Saba is taking language classes at the Arab American Language Institute, learning three different dialects of Arabic. Her dream is to use her language skills to open a school in a developing country.

Children's section bookshelf in library in Morocco.
Bookshelf in the children’s reading room at the Library of the Grand Mosque in Morocco, funded by efforts from Arabic, English, and Secondary Education student Stephanie Saba.

“I firmly believe that a foundation of education is extremely important in developing countries like Morocco where literacy is necessary if you want any opportunity to get a job,” Saba said. “When I think about what’s going on in the world today, one of the best ways to battle terrorism and war and hatred is through education.”

Saba has channeled these beliefs into all of her activities at Michigan State University. She was a TA for Arabic 101 and 102 and a TA for GED courses for Latin American immigrants. She served on the Eboard for both the Arab Cultural Society and French Club, volunteered in the Arabic Help Room, and is an international student mentor through the English Language Center.

It feels like I made a difference somewhere.

“I believe communication is the heart of meaningful interaction,” Saba said. “I want to learn as many languages as possible because if I build a school somewhere, I want to be able to communicate with and hire people from the local community wherever I choose to go.

“All I really want in life is to pick up other languages, move to other countries, and just help people where I can.”

Saba, who graduates this spring, also has studied French and will return from Morocco on May 20. Though her long-term goal is the open a school, she is hoping that her post-graduation plans will include moving to Spain to teach English to Spanish speakers. She also hopes to learn Spanish in the process.

Written by Alexandria Drzazgowski, Professional Writing Major