The Donor: Hamid Aatany
The Gift: Creating Ko-Itto
The Reason: To finance educational programs in Morocco
When Hamid Aatany is serving diners at the Yew restaurant in Vancouver's Four Seasons Hotel, he sometimes tells them about the village where he grew up in Morocco. Many customers come away enthralled, eager to learn more about Flilou, which is home to less than 1,000 people.
For the past few years, Mr. Aatany has done more than just talk about Morocco. He formed an organization called Ko-Itto, a variation on his mother's name, which raises money for educational programs in Flilou. He has also been working with high schools across Canada to organize trips to the area.
"My mom never made it to school," he explained. "I started the project after she passed away in her memory to help kids in the village, especially girls, come and stay in school."
Mr. Aatany has been in Canada since the late 1970s, spending nearly all that time as a waiter at the Four Seasons. He made regular visits home and used to take small gifts for friends and family. During one trip he noticed that the makeshift school in the village had no washrooms. "I said to myself, 'I'm going to build those washrooms,'" he recalled.
He raised money for the washrooms and kept going. The next project was a community centre, which is under way, then health programs and other services. At one point Mr. Aatany called a teacher at Richmond Secondary School in Richmond, B.C., which organizes an annual trip for Grade 12 students to a developing country. He suggested a trip to Morocco and soon two dozen students were helping put an addition on the school in Flilou. Other school groups made the trip later, including one from Montreal and some teachers from France, as well as groups of nurses and dentists.
Mr. Aatany hopes to expand the project to other villages near Flilou and he is working on an annual "medical caravan" with a doctor in Morocco. "Our main objective is to invite more schools from all over Canada to come and interact with the local community in the village," he said. "We are trying to put Morocco on the map."