In 2015, Swissman Hansjörg Huber
started the village community of the Atlas Children in Morocco, close to Marrakech. Together with his partner in life he made his vision real and created a village for abandoned children from scratch. Huber, who used to be in the insurance business before, invested a large part of his own wealth to enable a better future for those children. Today, 100 children live in our village, and about 10 will be moving in soon. We are also planning to build more villages.
Where are the Atlas Children from?
In many societies, we find that unmarried mothers are stigmatized and excluded from social life. Those extreme circumstances make them place their newborns in front of a church, a mosque or a police station. The official figures for Morocco state that around 9,000 babies are “put away” every year. Thus, they have the worst possible start in life. Mostly, they end up in overcrowded reception centers: Many of our Atlas Children come from such places. Others are awarded to us by family courts. We want to give them a loving home. At the same time, they should get the chance to become full and valued members of the Moroccan society.
Art and Culture
Founder Hansjörg Huber
does not only provide a home to his fosterlings, but also access to art and culture. The art collector donated an own gallery to his village where valuable works of several epochs are on display. Those exhibits are also for sale, and the proceedings are fully put into this non-for-profit project: our children’s village is the sole beneficiary. The village has its own amphitheatre where plays, concerts and readings are regularly performed. We also invite people from the neighbouring villages to such events. At the same time, the theatre becomes a stage for the children – when performing in front of the village community, they can build confidence and gain experience of life.
Pride and Self-Esteem
Many religions still stigmatise non-marital children.
Their whole life, they have to run the gauntlet, confronting the same prejudice again and again. We want our Atlas Children to become strong citizens – gaining their own identity, pride and self-esteem that will last on their journey through life. Thus, what we most focus on is education. Next to their native language Moroccan Arabic our boys and girls learn French from an early age on. Latest when starting school, they also start learning English. The children are individually developed in every respect, be that dancing lessons, learning to play an instrument or gaining experience in growing fruit and vegetables. Later, we will help them getting a place in a vocational training or at university or college.
With the help of our partners and sponsors
we intend to set up our own farm, growing our own fruit and vegetables. Then, every child can take on responsibility for a lot of farming land or an animal. In our village shop, we will soon start selling our own farm products as well as products of traditional crafts. The proceedings will be reinvested into the community.
House of Integration
Some of our young community members
had a worst possible start in life. They suffer from a high degree of disability and need special care. To support them and other children with disabilities, we are going to open a house of integration in our village in 2019. The children involved will receive effective support for which we need to hire specially trained foster mothers, therapists and nurses: all of them will dedicate a lot of love, patience and skill to look after our fosterlings. And we need your support to make this happen!
Partners and Sponsors
Thanks to our partners and sponsors
we were able to start our children’s village.
We would like to thank the following companies and institutions for their support:
The five pillars of the Atlas Children
The welfare of the children is always our focus.
Pillar 1Each child needs a reliable and trustworthy caregiver – a mother.
Pillar 2Each child should grow up naturally with brothers and sisters.
Pillar 3Each child should live in a house and feel at home there.
Pillar 4Each child should live in a village community and grow up to become a respected member of society.
Pillar 5Each child should grow up being surrounded by education, art and culture.
Interview with Hansjörg Huber
„We are giving our children something to look forward to.“
What was your motivation to start a children’s village?
For more than 50 years I’ve been aware of the needs of the deprived. Why does he have nothing while I have everything? This question kept nagging me not least since my visit to a children’s village in Switzerland when I was 22 years old. Then, I knew immediately: that is something you will do, too. After I finished my career as an entrepreneur in the insurance business, I came across the destiny of those ‘put-away’ children. In 2008, I moved from Zurich to Marrakech and decided to use half of my liquid wealth to start building that village. Construction began in 2013, and the first children moved in in 2015.
Where are the Atlas Children from?
In many societies, unmarried mothers are stigmatised and excluded from social life. Those extreme circumstances make them place their newborns in front of a church and such.
So how do the children come to your children’s village?
People who find the babies usually take them to one of the reception centres which exist across the country. But those are totally packed, and there is no time to develop children individually and to offer playing or sports opportunities. Most of our children come to our village community straight from such centres; others come from very broken homes and are assigned to us by the family courts.
What condition are the children in when they come to your village?
A lot of our babies have already been traumatised before they were even born: nobody wanted them to be born. Many of their natural mothers have tried to terminate the pregnancy by all means. Other children come from broken homes, have experienced terrible things and are very rigid and frightened when they come to us. It is great to see how they are thawing and prospering over the course of time. We have to take all efforts to ensure that each child can overcome its trauma and feels loved, protected and appreciated.
Where are the children’s foster mothers from?
In the most cases, our ‘mothers’ are from the surrounding villages. We select them very, very carefully. They are not only the caregivers, but also important links to the traditional community. All foster mothers are trained and receive instructions in health care and hygiene.
How long are the children staying in the village?
We are responsible for their education and have to guarantee that they can complete a training or such later. I am just about to start an apprenticeship system based on the Swiss model so that they can later train to become a joiner or a fitter. Our fosterlings are staying in the village until they have completed their training and are able to support themselves.
Where does the name Atlas Children come from?
Our first children’s village lies at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Atlas, however, also refers to the globe and represents internationality. I want to create a beacon, a pilot that will be copied by many others. I want to provide a vision and education to the children of this world who never had a chance. We could build such villages worldwide: there are thousands of Hubers who have a good heart and enough money to build similar villages. Anyway, the rest of my life belongs to the children.
In September 2018, you opened your own primary school.
Huber: Yes. We used to send our children to a state-run school, but there, they were stigmatised as ‘children of shame’ to such an extent that they came home in a very disturbed and traumatised condition. We had to act quickly and opened our own school. The organisation La Fabrique des Écoles funded the completion of the building structure, something for which we are very grateful.
At the moment, there are four teachers who provide lessons to our school children from grade 1-6 in Arabic and French. English is taught, too! In addition, we organise a lot of activities such as school trips or sport events.
We want our children to become proud citizens, and excellent education is essential in achieving that.
What other support do the children receive?
First of all, all children should grow up in beautiful surroundings, amongst art and culture. Here, on every wall you will find paintings, drawings and photographs. Soon, I want to open a studio and invite artists from the neighbourhoods who can teach the children how to create their own works. Likewise, each child should learn how to play an instrument. We follow the motto: mens sana in corpore sano. A healthy mind needs a healthy body, too. So each Wednesday we take the children to Marrakech for physical exercise. In addition, I have hired a PE teacher, a young student who exercises with the kids every Sunday at our premises.
Your children’s village even has its own gallery hosting around 300 paintings and photographs that you are selling for the benefit of the Atlas Children. What was the idea behind that?
My whole life I have collected artworks all over the world. Each picture has its own history. Now I am selling the pieces and the proceedings are given to our organisation. Someone buys a picture, helps the children by doing so and thus creates a new story for the painting that he has just acquired.
How important is the mosque in the village?
I guess I am the only Protestant Christian who has ever built a mosque in Africa. I have even hired an imam who is in charge of the religious community. Religion pays an important part in the Moroccan society, so, briefly spoken: the mosque is very important to help children integrate better in life later.
There is also a small farm in the village...
Yes, our children should grow up being surrounded by animals, trees and plants and also learn something about farming. In the future, the villagers are supposed to harvest fruit and vegetables from their own farm.
In a nutshell: what is the philosophy of the children’s village?
We have one painting in the village which has the title “Fierte”, which means pride. That’s what this is all about: we want our children to become proud and strong people who will not be crushed just because they have grown up without their natural parents. They have to be particularly strong – otherwise, they will go under. Our education must be able to replace the missing family pride. When they are grown up, I want our children to say: “I can speak three languages, I can play a musical instrument, and I can dance. And what can you do?”
You even have your own amphitheatre in the village...
Exactly. We deliberately decided against TV sets and mobile phones in the homes. That is what the amphitheatre with its 300 seats is for: it is a stage for our children, but also for storytellers, actors and musicians who are visiting our village. A three-year child is listening to a violin concert: that is the moment when dreams are created. We give our children a vision!
You say that “hearting” the children is important – what do you mean by that?
You cannot find hearting as a verb in your dictionary, but I think we all know what it means. Everything we do, giving our heart, friendship and love to the more disadvantaged, will show its impact. Love can help close wounds. If we let our hearts talk, we can help children to get their right – a right to a life full of visions, dreams and opportunities. With our hearts and our love, we will empower them to get that.
You want to get to know us? In person?
You will find our village around 30 kilometres south of Marrakech near the small town Tahannout. The Atlas Mountains provide a picturesque backdrop to our place. We would love to show you round: just make an appointment with a member of our board and visit the gallery, farm, prep school and mosque in our village community. If requested, our driver can pick you up from your hotel. We look forward to welcoming you!