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Soumya Boutin, an Emma Willard grad and UMass Amherst student, to return to earthquake-stricken native Morocco

A first-year student at UMass Amherst with strong ties to our region is leaving for Morocco Wednesday to reconnect with family and help set up a medical clinic.

On September 8th, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck Morocco, leveling Souymya Boutin's village in the Atlas Mountains.

Boutin arrived in the United States in 2017 to continue her education. Schooled in Great Barrington, Boutin graduated from Emma Willard in Troy and has just started college at UMass Amherst. She remained in frequent contact with family members and was online when she heard the earthquake had struck.

"First thing I did was I went on Google looked at the map and looked where my community was," Boutin said. "And at that moment, I knew that it wasn't good. So the first night I did spend crying and trying to find some information, as they had no electricity, no cell service. So I got no communication from my parents or anyone from the village. So it was very frightening."

She was able to confirm the tremor took out the region's electric, cellular and WiFi services. Boutin, who became a U.S. citizen during the pandemic, had been back to Morocco in June, so all of her travel documents are up to date. She already set up a non-profit to build a girls’ school in her village, so she decided to return there. Monday Boutin received some videos and photos of the damage in her village.

Boutin is leaving for Morocco Wednesday with her adoptive mother to find her family and establish a medical clinic.

"Friday night, I heard about the earthquake. Saturday, ‘Mom’ started calling me and I came home with the intention of going there for like setting up a little clinic, she's an orthopedic surgeon, and she was actually in the Haiti earthquake in 2010, she was one of the first responders," said Boutin. "And then we waited out a little bit of time to get more information and learned that the roads are closed. And then after a while, we started getting information about the village. Turns out, we were very, very lucky, because we were really close to the epicenter. And it turns out that none of the people died. There were a couple injuries, but none super serious. But all the houses were destroyed. So since I have Soumya’s Journey already, like a foundation, we started campaigning online and posting about my story. And people started donating. It's amazing. In our trip right now, we're going to be leaving on Wednesday, and get there to get people food, since because the roads are closed, there's no way for them to get food, and clothing. Most of the houses are completely destroyed. So they don't have clothing, and then start assessing how much money you would need to rebuild."

"Mom" is Dr. Pier Boutin, an orthopedic surgeon in Great Barrington who treated Soumya's little brother, who had been born with club feet. As the doctor's relationship with the family grew, she offered to bring Souyma to America after hearing that village girls rarely finished school and were married as young as 13.

Boutin took to social media Monday to share some good news:

"A tour guide from my village climbed his way up to the top of the mountain in the hopes to access a neighboring cell tower. And he did," Boutin said. "He saw a video I posted asking for information about my family. I contacted him immediately. He told me that my father was alive. But I also just learned that every house and building were so damaged that they became uninhabitable. Luckily, few people were hurt. And I'm still waiting for more information."

Boutin says the villagers are living in tents with limited access to food and clothing. Her plan is to stay in Morocco for a week.

"We're going to land in Casablanca," said Boutin. "We have someone who volunteered to take us to the village. But we're planning that my brother, my father also comes down and meets us in Casablanca, and rent a car, which we would fill up with food and clothing and all of the basic needs that they need to live in tents. And then we're gonna go back up and see what's going on, if there are any injuries or people who need medical care, my mother, she's an orthopedic surgeon, she will be taking care of that. And then we're going to start assessing the cost of how much it's going to take to rebuild. And we're going to help out, clean some of the houses that have come down."

"Soumya’s Journey" is the name of the nonprofit whose goal is to secure easy access to education for the girls of the Atlas Mountains.

"I think the main reason is just my story, having not been able to access education after sixth grade, and I got lucky and was able to go to this country, the United States and continue my education. And while I was here, I realized that education is a right and everybody should have the right to it. And there's also this component of doing research on my community and the Amazigh people, the indigenous people of North Africa, and finding nothing. And that prompted me to wanting to help my community but also advocating for them," Boutin said.

Boutin says if possible she’ll try to provide updates via social media during her stay in Morocco.

To learn more about Soumya go toMy Journey.

To learn more about her initiatives go to Projects.

Souyma Boutin

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.