Itto’s school in Sisters-Magazine


Today I have to show you something special.
– Something very personal, something really long and something that touches me deeply.
Mashallah and subhanallah, I’m filled with deep gratitude, but also am a little nervous about presenting you this article that appears in the current August 2011 issue of SISTERS Magazine-The magazine for fabulous Muslim women.
It is about me, our live and the school.

And I am proud to present you today as well our newly created website:
(in English, French and very detailed in German)

Subhanallah, I am thankful for this project, for our partnership with our Swiss friends, for the local communities and the people we work with and for. I am thankful for all who support us and for the blessings that Allah put into all of it, alhamdulillah.

May Allah protect this school, may He guide us to the straight path, and may He shower us with His mercy and accept our efforts here and in the hereafter. Ameen.

and here’s the article:

An architect accidently builds a school

From deep within theAtlas Mountainscomes the story of love, growth, community and development. Brooke Benoit digs in and shares Itto’s story.

“Want for your sister what you want for yourself” is one of those Muslim maxims that readily roll off all of our tongues from time to time. In a small village in the remote High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, one sister wanted something exceptional for her children. And when she glimpsed the chance to get it, she worked hard for it – for herself and her neighbours.

Leaving behind a hectic urban lifestyle, Itto, a revert German Muslimah, and her husband – Abu Bassou, a Berber fromMorocco, resettled their young family in the country-side valley of the High Atlas Mountains. It was here that she had first come to love the Muslim-based culture and country.

Initially they lived in AbuBassou’s father’s home and at the time, their son’s education was a distant but bothersome concern. Itto was preoccupied with her discoveries of the local culture, language and the simple ways of living. Electricity had only recently come to their village and their house, like most, was without running water. While caring for their child and helping her husband with his own work, she designed their ideal future home using her architectural and interior design training:

“The house was made without machines, only by the blessed hands and sweat of local workers. Although with a traditional looking exterior, I designed the interior with some European comfort and created an eclectic dialogue between our two cultures. We didn’t have much savings but subhanAllah, God helped us with His mercy to realise our own house, bit by bit. The concept of the house was huge, as we wished to rent rooms to tourists in the future.”

They had their second child during the building phase and as their first son grew closer to school age, the more Itto pondered how she would educate him with so few options available to her, “He is a very curious, strong and vivid child, alhamdulillah. With him I learned so much about childhood and myself, about old patterns and preconceptions. I knew that I didn’t want to follow conservative ways of disciplining and educating.” And so she began her reading journey into child rearing, time management and attachment parenting.

The Swiss seed

In the spring of 2007, the couple organised a tour in the valley for a little private school fromSwitzerland, Scuola Vivante, to learn more about Moroccan culture and Islam. Scuola Vivante is founded by Veronika and Jurg Maeder who developed a pedagogy that emphasises “humanity, respect, tolerance, and follows the personal rhythm of the child.”  The cultural exchange truly went both ways:

“We immediately felt very touched by the politeness, natural curiosity and enthusiasm of the students and by the spirit of the whole group. It was a meeting of two different cultures and religions but also of like-minded souls. I soon wished our sons would have the chance for an education like theirs. When the group left, Veronika said to me: ‘If you ever wish to build a school here in the valley, we will help you.’ SubhanAllah, Allah is the Best of planers: the seed was sown and it slowly germinated subconsciously.” 

Itto’s parenting research took on a different tone. She began learning more about various educational methodologies and was enthralled when a friend off-handedly mentioned homeschooling: “I soon read book after book and discovered blogs and websites of other like-minded women. A whole new world opened up to me – subhanAllah – full of inspiration, support and new ideas.” She “felt a new enthusiasm and encouragement,” and began implementing the methods she was learning about. She gained confidence that she could provide her children with an education in their own home and began seeing herself as an “unschooling mama.”

As her son’s friends and neighbouring children came through their home she naturally shared their new system. “When I offered the other kids the possibility to express themselves creatively, I saw the hunger they had for this. I saw the need for positive adult attention, the need for a place to be accepted as a child, the need for inspiration, encouragement, good learning materials, books and a place where they can follow their own pace. I slowly began to think about the possibility of providing such a nourishing and respectful environment for other children.”

From seed to plant

In this High Atlas valley children only finish the mandatory first six years of school and then must leave their immediate families to continue studying in larger towns and cities. With such limited options and possibly only “harsh and poor conditions” available to the local children, it was obvious to Itto and AbuBassou that they needed to share what they were creating for their own children. They decided to develop “a little school.”

AbuBassou began the tedious, disappointing work of researching logistics. The paperwork was extensive and the preparations needed a lot of money, which they didn’t have, but with the support of Scuola Vivante they continued following the path as it unfolded. A partnership organically formed between the two families, communities and cultures. Itto visited the school inSwitzerlandand small groups of students visited the valley. During one visit with the young students, Itto was inspired by seeing her house as “a vibrant place of learning and opportunity.” She suddenly realised that with a few minor conversions they already had their schoolhouse. She drew the necessary alterations and the couple applied for an official school license. Then she prayed istikhara:

“Things seemed to become so serious now, time flew and I felt that I had to put all my trust in Allah. And subhanAllah, Allahu akbar, after the prayer of guidance was done, everything just came into place: friends fromFranceoffered their help to collect materials, we found Rachida – the most convenient lovely teacher and we got the permission from the government. Alhamdulillah!”

École vivante, “the lively school,” initially opened a youth centre last summer with a humble offering of “some little stools and tables, crayons, watercolour, paper, some toys and a ball.” The response was overwhelming, but encouraging. “The hunger for meaningful occupation, for creativity and play, for sports, for love and care was so pressing and immense. For a dirham per person, we opened the workshops for three hours every weekday and also provided a snack for everybody.” This was the sign Itto needed to push forward the plans to open the school.

From plant to tree

Abu Bassou founded a non-profit association to manage the burgeoning social aid and service aspects of the project and they began accepting applications. Having only 15 slots available for the first year, the school unexpectedly needed an admission process when 40 potential students applied. Itto arranged a meeting with the parents to thoroughly explain the school’s philosophy, “Our aim is to give access to motivated children and to those whose parents truly are interested in a new way of being with children.” Rather than offering the expected style of “classical and frontal” teaching, Itto wanted it to be “clear that children in our school have the right to be children, to play, to be active, to follow their own pace and interests; that we put very little focus on results and measurable success but much more on the entire personal development of every individual; the national curriculum is a guideline but we spend more time doing practical and creative work than using books – even in math, language and science.”

École vivante is not just a school in the High Atlas, it is an exceptional learning environment, “It is eclectically based on ideas of free-spirit, independent learning and respect towards the needs of every individual child, rooted in the Muslim faith, and on the holistic pedagogical concept of Scuola Vivante. It is adapted to the needs of the local Berber people, in harmony with their religion, culture and traditions in confrontation with a modern and quickly changing world.”

The school fixed their tuition price at 200 Moroccan dirhams per month, which is an immense price for families in the area but still well under private tuition and completely insufficient to cover the school’s costs. 20% of the students don’t pay any tuition; instead they are supported by external sponsorship and sometimes offer their own support to the programme by way of donating natural goods, such as eggs, milk or wool. And just as some families must rely on the help of extended family to cover tuition fees, the school itself has only come to fruition through an extended arm of aid from varying places: the Swiss partnership, the couple’s network of friends and family both inMoroccoandEurope.

For the children who were unable to make it into the classroom when the school opened full time in the fall of 2010, there is plentiful opportunity for them through the various social programs école vivante has and is creating for the general public. On Saturdays the school has continued the summer programme with sports and games, as well offering a free clothing bin and some basic medical first aid and supplies. Itto is delighted that, “children come in large numbers and seem to really enjoy the atmosphere and the possibilities, alhamdulillah.” For mixed-age groups and adults, the association has held numerous skill-exchanging and sustainability-related workshops.

Itto, who originally came to the valley as a university student to learn their traditional mud house building techniques, is optimistic about the opportunities for cultural exchange and thoughtful adaptation in order to support and sustain the valley, rather than continue to have a one way export of people and loss of culture. There are plans underway for a library, meeting spaces and a large hall. Her optimism and enthusiasm are met by her neighbours; several have already changed their plans to send their children out of the valley and instead are helping to further extend the school and along with it, their community.

In September of 2010 école vivante—“the lively school”—began their first school year and youth center program offering a truly unique, customized pedagogy for the children and families in their rural High Atlas Valley of Morocco. The goal of the community-based project is to foster each child’s individual personality and needs, while sustaining the valley’s rich culture in an environment of positive cultural exchange. The anticipated student body has nearly doubled for the 2011 school year and the community is motivated to see their programs flourish, insha Allah. To contact the school about participating in their ongoing development or to offer support, please visit their website: école vivante 

A dear sister of mine, Brooke Benoit, wrote this article. She is an American artist, a homeschooling mama, living and praying in Casablanca, Morocco. Amongst her many interests and concerns are radical education reform, sustainable living practices, self-expression and discovery through art, and sisterly love. She blogs here.


29 thoughts on “Itto’s school in Sisters-Magazine

  1. Congratulations! a wonderful school and a wonderful article, I hope I get to meet you one day Itto, you are such an inspiration to me, mashaAllah. Ramadan mubarak

  2. assalam alaikum Itto…you know I came here earlier this morning and read your post , I tried to leave a comment but I was lost for words, I still am. You’ve been on my mind all day and Ive been thinking about what an a amazing thing you have done for everyone…mashallah may Allah protect you always and give you baraka and reward you for all your efforts…I pray for this school to be a long lasting source of rewards for you and everyone involved in this wonderful project.

  3. Assalaamu alaikum sister,

    I agree with the sisters above in being lost for words. I also looked at your blog earlier this morning, but left reading it until now as I wanted to be able to concentrate on every word. My reaction is: CAN I COME AND LIVE WITH YOU IN THE VALLEY? Even my heart started beating faster when reading your post. Sister, I can’t say what an inspiration you are, but most importantly of all I want to say ”May Allah reward you for your efforts as to Him we belong and to Him we will return”. I shall keep a close eye on your blog and forward website details to mu hubby for donation Inshallah. Your blog is an important part of my personal journey and I feel I have a lot to learn from it that will Inshallah benefit me on my own parenting and homeschooling path. Now, could I please steal a little bit of your time and ask you a little favour? As you know we have recently moved to France (thank you for your lovely comment :-), unfortunately, I have so far not managed to meet many sisters around (also because my French is still very limited) and am desperately hoping to find some muslim homeschooling community. If you by any chance know anybody in Paris area, could you please let me know or give them my contact? I am just asking you because you mentioned friends in France and you seem to know people all over the place Mashallah 🙂 And yet again, may Allah help you and your daughter on your silent journey. The day after I read that post I shortly watched a Qur’an recitation on a telly and Subhanallah for the first time in my life I saw it being accompanied by a sign language translation. My heart was filled with happiness and I felt that you would be all right Inshallah. May Allah bless your daughter.

  4. Assalaamu Alaikum! Mabrook sis. Masha Allaah you all have done so much. I really do not mind visiting your school one day with my family Insha Allaah! May Allaah reward you and your family abundantly in this world and the hereafter and make this deed heavy upon your scale of good. Aameen. And may this school be upon the Qur’aan and the Sunnah throughout to please Allaah alone. Aameen!

  5. salamualaiku liebe Itto,
    es ist einfach unglaublich schön zu sehen wie deine Schule “wächst”, man kann auch die Welt im Kleinen verändern! Ich denke du gibst uns allen Mut etwas zu verändern, möge Allah dich dafür reichlich belohnen! ich wünsche dir alles alles erdenklich Gute für deine Schule..und wenn ich könnte würde ich meine beiden Kleinen bei dir einschulen..vielleicht ist es die einzige Schule in Marokko, in die ich sie wirklich guten Gewissens bringen könnte..da habe ich keinen Zweifel! möge Allah subhanahu wa ta3la euch immer zur Seite stehen!
    Alles Liebe

  6. SubhanAllah reading this article left me speechless and in awe of your accomplishments. Very inspiring! I wish you Congratulations and InshaAllah many blessings for your school.

  7. I wish I had found a way to say it in the article, but alas–this kind of program Itto and her hub have created directly helps/reduces the problem of street children/child labor and abuse here in Morocco, God willing. Many of the children sent out of villages, by well-intentioned parents, face very hard/abusive lives in the big/bigger city. May God bless and perserve all of the hard working folks around and in this project, ameen.

  8. I’ve been reading your blog for some time, but have never left a comment before. I read this article yesterday, and wanted to comment. But I didn’t know what to say, I still don’t, but I feel I have to say something. I am truly in awe. What a beautiful, meaningful project (and journey!). The school sounds perfect really; allowing children to be children, and themselves, and respecting them for who they are, but providing them with a sense of both local and international context to be themselves in (and to “shape” themselves in), it’s just so very very perfect. Such a great place for them to develop a love of learning, a strong sense of self, and respect for others and the world around them.
    I read your recent post about your daughter, and wanted to comment, then, too. But just like now, didn’t know what to say. It must have been very hard for you and your husband to hear the news. But I think this child, who is just right the way she is, couldn’t have been born to better parents, or have had a better school to go to (when she’s older). No better place to be herself, and grow up to be a strong woman.

    P.S. You might be meeting my friend Tesnim and her children in the near future. They left for your country only a few days ago, but I already miss them. If/when you meet them, please send them my love!

  9. Itto, I think we all agree, you are a TRUE INSPIRATION for us all. Reading you is always full of beauty, surprises and love.
    Your Faith and Love for Allah are shining through your words. Your example may change many women lives – from you we know we can do everything if it is what we really want, we can make a difference.
    I was so happy to read the article. Already checked the school website – Amazing!

    May God bless you and your family, the many children who will benefit from this school and the community your are living with.
    Stay well always. Marie

  10. Liebe Itto,
    ich kann mich nur meinen Vorrednerinnen anschließen: Ich freue mich unglaublich, dass Deine Schule solch ein Erfolg ist. Auch die Homepage ist wirklich gelungen. Sehr professionell und informativ.
    Es ist doch wahrlich ein Geschenk, wenn man eine Aufgabe gefunden hat, in der man mit seinem gesamten Wesen, Wissen und Talenten aufgehen kann. Du scheinst diese Aufgabe gefunden zu haben. Du Glückliche! Und ich meine das ohne Neid. Ich freue mich so für Dich!
    Ich würde Junis auch ohne zu zögern bei Dir einschulen, wenn es soweit ist.
    In zwei Wochen beginnt für uns alle ein neuer Lebensabschnitt: Der Kindergarten geht los. Ich bin schon sehr gespannt auf seine Erfahrungen dort.
    Liebste Itto, ich wünsche Dich noch einen inspirierenden Ramadan und sende herzliche Grüße
    Deine Steffi

  11. Amazing ma sha Allah tabaarak Allah! You know I’ve been following your blog for a while and I knew about the school from your posts but I’ve never known the complete story until today! May Allah reward you and give you success with this project. Thank you for sharing the article. It is truly inspirational!

  12. SalamuAlaikum,

    ein sehr schöner Artikel, und eine so schöne Schule tabarakallah. Ich wünschte mir auch, dass es so eine Schule in unserer Nähe geben würde, aber wer weiß, vielleicht ist das ja auch nur der Anfang einer “neuen” Schulform in Marokko. ( Man darf ja träumen hh)

    Einen gesegneten Ramadan

  13. Ma chère Itto, tu es un modèle pour toutes les femmes, quelque soit leur religion. Tu portes ce projet avec toute la beauté de ton coeur, de ton esprit et de ta spiritualité. Je te félicite et j’espère que cet article te donnera encore plus de confiance dans ton projet et de l’énergie pour la suite. Longue vie à l’école vivante de la vallée du Ait Bougumez si belle et si inspirante. Mon coeur et mon esprit vous accompagnent. Amicalement et affectueusement.

  14. AA itto,

    I have been trying to stay off the computer during Ramadan so just saw this post now ……Wow!! Al-Humdulillah..beautiful article..wonderful school…May Allah(swt) give you continued success!!!……I’m going to the school website right, now to take a look..just love everything about it!!!

  15. Itto – I loved reading this article. Perhaps I am feeling a bit sensitive at the moment, with all of the adjustments to being back in the US, but this little write-up brought happy tears to my eyes. After having seen so much imported “development work” over the last 2 years it is so refreshing to see yourself and your community working together to create this little “lively school”. Perhaps our little gang of homeschoolers in the Strother household may someday be able to visit!

  16. Pingback: moments of a day # III « JenMun(a)

  17. Masha’Allahu la quwwata illa billah, my dear sister, you are a source of inspiration to others may Allah s.w.t bless the effort and crown it with success,amen.

  18. Pingback: The School – an Annual Report « Itto's Living Faith

  19. Pingback: The School – an Annual Report | école vivante - Blog - Ait Bouguemez Maroc

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