By: Victoria Ahlén
Photo: Joakim Ahlén
Article published in En Sueco in February 2016., p. 26-27

“The best thing about this trip to the Sahara and Morocco was to give away shoes. It felt amazing”, says Maj Ahlén, 8 years. Together with her brother Lucas, 11 they run @Vilostradakids on Instagram and Snapchat. They engaged their school in Frigiliana, Enrique Gines, and the principal Telesforo Romero in a shoebox fundraiser just before Christmas. Together, 125 shoeboxes were raised by the families with children at the school, and around the Costa del Sol. The contents of the boxes were a mix of new and used shoes, toys, books, socks, crochet hooks and yarn. In addition, 80 additional pairs of shoes were donated that came to dress children in Tanmirt and Sahara region around Zagora.

vilostrada foundation en sueco february 2017 shoebox school frigiliana

We, the family Ahlén, traveled with a caravan with camels and nomads during our Christmas holidays to give back to the heart of humanity. We want to teach our children that Christmas is about giving and being together. To live a simple life, walk on land with traces from the history of mankind, and sleep under the stars where everything is quiet is a priceless gift to give to our children and each other.

family ahlen vilostrada morocco foundation

“It was wonderful to come back to the desert and play football with my friends,” said Lucas Ahlén, 11 years. “Several of my friends got new shoes to play with our team Real Nomad”, he explains. Lucas traveled with me to the desert the first time in March 2016 where he helped found the work of the Vilostrada Foundation project “Tanmirt” along with the nomads in the Sahara.

December 26, we filled our red van with all the donated shoe boxes, and lots of presents to give away to the nomad children. A pair of shoes, recycled or new, spreads a joy that is contagious and creates pure happiness. A pair of shoes contributes to more fun and games in a tough terrain. From our walk in the desert, I bear special memories of me meeting with Fatima, Mohamed’s mother, who says: “We are so happy that there are kind people who think of us here in the Sahara. We thank you so much”. Imagine that a couple of used shoes at home in your closet that is not used more to revive and spread such joy? We also got to experience the joy of building something together with the nomads on our trip with the family.

Tanmirt Solar panel nomad sahara Vilostrada Foundation Victoria Ahlén

In autumn 2016, we did a global fundraiser to fund a solar panel at an important well to support life in a place we call Tanmirt. Tanmirt means “thank you” and “our land” in Berber. The solar panel was installed and ready in mid-December 2016 and is already widely used by nomads in the area. The rumour has spread, the “Arab telephone” has been ringing off the hook with the message that there now is plenty of water to all – both people and animals.

shoe box nomad sahara school

This is where Mohamed and his big sister comes walking, and in minutes they fill the water in the donkey’s orange water jugs to be carried to their nomad home about 500 m away. Our children Maj and Lucas can easily press the power button that controls the solar-powered pump that fills two large cemented, newly built water troughs with about 3000 liters of fresh water. This is enough for the nomads’ camels, goats and donkeys, as well as households in the village. Imagine the time savings which now allows time for other things?

Together with the nomads with our voluntary work in Vilostrada Foundation, we aim to tackle major challenges like the depopulation of the desert and illiteracy, in 2017. The work that Lucas and I started in March 2016 with Brahim Elaadouli, our partner in the desert with Caravane Desert et Montagne, is now starting to show result with a handicraft school for women and a pre-school for children 3-6 years, with the base camp for the teacher close to our solar panel fueled well.

“Mom, we are building the world’s best school”, says Lucas Ahlén and smiles. What, then, is the best school? I asked my daughter. She gets an idea and wrinkle her forehead. Perhaps you, our fans and readers have an idea?

During parts of the first few months of 2017, I will remain in Tanmirt and work side by side with the nomads in the most important project for me and our family. The Tanmirt school will create something unique, enabling a teacher to travel with the nomads, actively involving them in all the steps taken. We hope you want to join our journey on and the Vilostrada Foundation facebook page, and all your ideas will be received with a big heart.