I met Houssaine in a online travel blogger group, and was drawn to his story when Houssaine shared that he is a disabled tourist guide in Morocco, the country next to where my dad is from in Algeria. I’m always inspired by fellow travelers, especially those who overcome odds to travel, so I reached out to Houssaine on if I could interview him about his story and his company, and he agreed.
Question: Tell me about yourself.
My name is El Houssaine Ichen but friends call me Houssaine. I’m 34 and live in Tounfite, which is a high but remote town in the beautiful Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco. I have four brothers and four sisters and live a simple life with my parents in our basic family home. My hobbies include playing football, trekking and swimming. I am also a keen chess player and like music. I am a natural and self-taught linguist and speak Tamazight (the Chleuh Berber language), Arabic, English, French and basic Dutch.
Question: What is your disability? How have you managed/overcome it?
My parents were too poor to have me vaccinated and I caught polio at the age of three and since then I have been paralyzed in my legs. I use leg braces and crutches for walking but as I have grown up with this handicap I do not let it slow me down.
Question: Do you work, and what do you do?
I am a professional sightseeing guide for my company, Disabled Tourist Guide, that specializes in tours for clients with a disability. I can also accommodate able bodied guests but my true goal as a guide is to develop and spread awareness about disabled-led tourism in Morocco. I enjoy showing tourists around and teach them about our culture, while keeping their vacation fun and safe.
I was born and raised in the Tounfite area and am very knowledgeable about the mountains and landscapes of Morocco. I do not let my disability slow me down and still participate in hiking and trekking tours. I am a multilingual guide who can provide tours for people from all over the world, and I am very flexible with with itinerary.
Question: How did you get into travel?
Traveling is something that I have always loved. I enjoy exploring new places, meeting new people, and learning about other cultures. Morocco is a very beautiful place with lots to see and discover. I have been to many parts of Morocco and I am very familiar with the various areas that are popular among tourists.
Question: What is a particularly memorable experience you’ve had that greatly impacted your life?
The experience that was life changing for me was that I was fortunate enough to have a chance to learn and be educated. I attended a school that was at that time run by the British welfare fund “Save the Children” and I was sponsored by foster parents in the UK. After I was finished, I was able to go on to college. I am very grateful for the opportunity I had, which made me who I am today.
Question: How does Morocco, in general, deal with citizens with special needs? Are you discriminated against?
The situation dealing with Moroccans who have special needs is unfortunately not taken seriously yet. Our government needs to realize that this is a huge problem that many of us are dealing with. We are very capable of being able to be successful employees, or even employers, and being able to provide for our families. My expectations would be to stop the discrimination against people with special needs and for businesses to hire based on qualifications. If you are qualified and can do the work, that should be all that is required.
Thank you for your time, Houssaine!