Reflections from the last international Programmes Manager at the Fiers & Forts skatepark in Morocco.

Reflections from the last international Programmes Manager at the Fiers & Forts skatepark in Morocco.

Reflections from the last international Programmes Manager in Morocco.

Interview of Cath Shanks
Photography by Kamal Chakour

It has been 2 years since the Fiers & Forts Skatepark was built at the children's home 'Centre Fiers & Forts' in Tamesloht, Morocco. In those 2 years, this beautiful skatepark project has blossomed: it has become an integral part of the operations of the Center, and the life of the village around it: more than 250 children have participated to the 650+ sessions that have taken place at the skatepark, ranging from skate sessions to educational workshops and contests.

Up until the start of 2024, there was always an international Programmes Manager present to support the local staff with managing the project. As of 2024, the operations of the Fiers & Forts Skatepark are fully in the hands of the local staff. We reflect with Cath Shanks, the last Programmes Manager of the project, on her perspective and experience of the Fiers & Forts Skatepark.

Describe the work of CJF Morocco to someone who has never visited the Fiers & Forts Skatepark

Before my work placement, I’d heard about the work that the Concrete Jungle Foundation does around the world and I already thought they were incredible. But when I arrived in Morocco and got to experience and see the impact first hand, I was blown away. The work that CJF Morocco does is amazing on so many levels, it has a profound impact on the lives of the young people in Tameslouht, of course with their skateboarding but more importantly it helps them develop key life skills and grow as people.

The project has created an incredible sense of community between the locals, the staff, and the children at the centre. I’ll never forget walking to the shop on an evening and being bombarded by the kids, all wanting to do our special handshakes together, fist bumping and dancing in the street. The fact that the kids turn up to the skatepark an hour before the classes start because they’re so excited speaks volumes.

The skatepark has a busy schedule, complete with multiple different sessions, 6 days of the week. Running Edu-Skate classes, open skates and other educational workshops as well as seasonal events which bring half of the village down! Every single session sees the young people learning new things, further developing their existing skills and building stronger relationships with each other, and the staff.

CJF Morocco at the Fiers & Forts skatepark

You spent 2.5 months based at the project: that's quite a commitment! What have been your biggest reflections at the end of your time?

When I think about the time I spent at the project, it was genuinely one of the best experiences of my life. I moved my life from London to Tameslouht for 2.5 months and I would have stayed longer if I could! It meant the world to me, I learned so much about myself and have made some incredible friendships; with the children and staff from the centre, the kids from the village, the shopkeepers, the local GP, everyone! To move to a different country with a completely different culture and be so far away from home, yet to feel so safe and at home, is a testament to the people at the centre and of the village.

I travelled to Morocco around 2 weeks after the earthquake, so when I arrived there were many people living in the fields by the skatepark, this was hard to see. When living in London it’s easy to turn a blind eye to what’s going on elsewhere around the world, but I think it’s healthy to be exposed to things like this, to make you appreciate what actually matters in life, and appreciate what you have. On my first day I went out on the truck with people from the centre to help deliver food to those who had lost their homes, it’s experiences like that which I will never forget.

One of my biggest reflections from my time at the project is the value of face-to-face interactions. I barely went on my phone. If I wanted to talk to someone, I would go to their office and talk to them, or the kids would walk to the park and ask questions, not send a DM. If you want food you go to the kitchen and speak to the cooks, or walk to the shops and speak to the shopkeeper, you don’t order it online for delivery. Living in London, it is so easy to get sucked into the digital world, but I think I was much happier having those human interactions, getting to know new people, shopping local around in the village, bumping into the kids on the streets etc. and everyone was just so happy and kind to one another.

CJF Morocco at the Fiers & Forts skatepark

How was it for you to work with the local team?

I absolutely LOVED working with the local team. Everyone was super passionate about the project and wanted what was best for the kids, so it made life a lot easier. Although there was a language barrier, it didn’t get in the way, because everyone wanted to help each other. Special shout out to Kamal, the skatepark manager, he is an absolute superstar and I was really shocked to hear that before this project he had never done any work like this, or skated. He is always keen to learn and develop new skills, so it was really great to work with him. I would help him when I could, and he would always help me when I needed it! Dream team.

CJF Morocco at the Fiers & Forts skatepark

You were the last international programmes manager at the project. Do you feel confident the local team (Kamal, Anas & Houda) is able to manage the operations of the project by themselves? Why?

I am so unbelievably honoured to have been the last international program manager at CJF Morocco, it was the job of a lifetime. That being said, I am confident that it is in good hands and feel like now is the right time for it to be managed by a local team moving forward.

‘That being said, I am confident that it is in good hands and feel like now is the right time for it to be managed by a local team moving forward. ‘

Kamal is a very passionate manager and I know the skatepark is in very good hands with him. I think with the new additions of Houda and Anas, who are both sensational people and skateboarders, the program is only going to grow and get even better. I think it’s always a great moment when a project is in a position to be run by locals, to offer them the job roles and inspire the kids even further.

What were the highlights of your experience at the project?

I think the main highlight of my experience working at the project was just meeting every single person that I met. Skateboarding transcends languages, and I am so thankful that skateboarding took me to this wonderful little Moroccan village, and gave me all of these wonderful new friendships. I will be visiting every year, that’s for sure, I don’t think I could go a year without visiting and seeing how all of the locals are doing, how the kids are growing up and just feeling like I’m back home! I feel forever indebted to CJF Morocco for this opportunity, I’ve made friendships and memories that will last a life time.

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Concrete Jungle Foundation is a non-profit organisation that builds skateparks and runs youth programmes for communities around the world.

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