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Harvard Students Hold Vigil for Victims of Natural Disasters in Morocco, Libya

Harvard student groups hosted a vigil on the steps of Memorial Church Tuesday to mourn victims of natural disasters in Morocco and Libya.
Harvard student groups hosted a vigil on the steps of Memorial Church Tuesday to mourn victims of natural disasters in Morocco and Libya. By Joey Huang
By Alex Chou and Ayumi Nagatomi, Crimson Staff Writers

Around two dozen Harvard affiliates gathered on the steps of Memorial Church Tuesday evening for a candlelight vigil to mourn the victims of natural disasters in Morocco and Libya that occurred earlier this month.

The Harvard Islamic Society and Society of Arab Students hosted the vigil to honor the victims of the recent 6.8 magnitude earthquake, which has killed more than 2,900 people in Morocco and injured more than 5,500 others, and severe flooding in Libya, which has killed more than 4,000 people, with 9,000 people still missing.

Wasan M. Rafat ’27, whose extended family members have been affected by the disaster in Libya, said the catastrophe has left her feeling “heartbroken.”

“It’s hard to not let the guilt overwhelm me as I stand here today in Harvard Yard while my extended family is suffering,” Rafat said during the vigil.

Harvard Muslim Chaplain Khalil Abdur-Rashid, who read an excerpt from the Quran during the vigil, said in his speech that when experiencing tragedies, “we should not feel hopeless and helpless.”

Despite the substantial impact of the disasters, SAS President Jana Amin ’25 said during an interview after the vigil that she hasn’t “heard anything” from the Harvard administration.

“We haven’t seen a lot of recognition about what’s been going on in Libya and Morocco around the College,” HIS Co-President Maryam S.K. Tourk ’25 said during an interview.

SAS has organized a fundraiser to support two grassroots organizations — El Baraka Angels Association and the Association Amis du CHU Mohammed VI — and has raised nearly $6,000 to support disaster relief in Morocco as of Sept. 26.

“We’re currently in discussions with a number of Libyan alumni and Harvard affiliates to figure out what the best organization to donate to is,” Amin said in an interview after the vigil. “But the fundraiser has already begun, and it’s continuing to raise money.”

The Sept. 8 earthquake, which struck in the Atlas mountains, roughly 50 miles southwest of the major tourist destination Marrakesh, caused tremors throughout Morocco and as far as Spain and Portugal. Followed by a 4.9 magnitude aftershock, the earthquake left residents without electricity and cell phone service. According to the Associated Press, the earthquake has killed more than half of the population in some rural villages like Tafeghaghte.

On Sept. 11, rainfall from Storm Daniel caused the collapse of two already-fractured dams in the port city of Derna in Libya. The head of the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization Petteri Taalas cites that a majority of casualties from the flooding could have been prevented with a functioning meteorological service.

“People don’t have food. People don’t have shelter anymore. People aren’t even really able to access their families and really understand what has happened to their families,” Amin said.

Amin urged affiliates to “do as much as possible,” whether it be donating or raising awareness.

“Just checking in on the people around us that might be affected by these tragedies, I think is also really important,” Tourk said.

Correction: September 27, 2023

A previous version of this article misattributed a quote (“It’s hard to not let...”) to HIS Co-President Maryam S.K. Tourk ’25. In fact, Wasan M. Rafat ’27 made this statement.

—Staff writer Alex Chou can be reached at alex.chou@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Ayumi Nagatomi can be reached at ayumi.nagatomi@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @ayumi_nagatomi.

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