Polio Survivor from Morocco


Ichen El Houssaine

Disabled Tourist Guide

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 4 brothers and 4 sisters and live a simple life with my parents in our basic family home. My parents were too poor to have me vaccinated and I caught Polio at the age of three.  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.

I enjoy playing football, trekking & swimming. I am also a keen chess player and like music. I was educated in an institution for the physically challenged called "École Ibn al-Baytar" at Khemisset. The institution at that time was run by the British welfare fund "Save the Children” and I was sponsored by foster parents in the United Kingdom. I went to college in Khemisset and then to Itzer, a small town closer to my home. I have a BA in Modern Art, a diploma in Informatics Management, a specialized diploma in Informatics Development, and I am currently in the third year of a T-S Webmaster degree. I have had six months professional training with the Khachabi company of Informatics, three months with M2d&s s.a.r.l & two months with Axon Distribution.  I am a natural and self-taught linguist and speak Tamazight (the Chleuh Berber language), Arabic, English, French and basic Dutch.

Last year I started the Disabled Tourist Guide website offering assistance to tourists, both disabled and able bodied. The main site is : at I have established an ongoing presence on Facebook at ttps:// Currently, the page has over 5800 followers and I am using my networking skills to build up a community so I can enable disabled tourists to access and enjoy parts of Morocco they would not normally get to see.

As an active member of the Couchsurfing community I host overseas guests in my sisters’ houses in Khenifra and Meknes, as well as hosting Couchsurfers in my village in Tounfite and arranging tours for clients. Despite my academic qualifications, I am aware that many Moroccan companies discriminate against the disabled, an attitude I am campaigning to change at government level by raising awareness of the difficulties faced by disabled Moroccans in the workforce. It is my ambition to develop my own viable tourism business by providing information on accessible tourism for disabled people and persons with reduced mobility. The Disabled Tourists mission is to develop and champion disabled led tourism in Morocco I am now ready to accept fee paying customers and recommendations from agents who can direct them to me. As a one man operation I am filling a tourism niche which has potential to help everyone. Let me help you see beautiful Morocco! I am a professional sightseeing guide who 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 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. I am very flexible with my tours, so if there is something you’d like to see or do while in Morocco, don’t hesitate to let me know. If you want one of the most hard working guides in Morocco, please choose me! We can make many great memories along the way.

How did I become involved with traveling and trekking?

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 areas that are popular among tourists.  I can show them around and teach them about our culture, while keeping their vacation fun and safe.

Why is it necessary to write/use English in a French/Arabic/Tamazight-speaking country? Why do i use the Atlas Mountains/remote areas as my base?

I feel it is necessary for me to learn to speak and write in English because the more languages I know,  the more people I can communicate with, which may open more opportunities in the future. This enables me to provide a better experience for people visiting Morocco. In addition, I also speak French, Arabic, Tamazight and basic Dutch. 

One of the best experiences in Morocco is walking in the Atlas Mountain areas. It is the best ways to get to know Morocco and the people that live here. I am very close with my family, and I live in a village called Tounfite, which is located in the middle Atlas Mountains.  It is very beautiful there, and I am able to bring tourists to my village to have a true Moroccan experience.

How does being a person with special needs hinder my career growth or limit opportunities for me?

How do I manage to overcome those obstacles and fight people's stereotypes?  Being a person with special needs definitely has its challenges when it comes to career opportunities. There is a stereotype around me, or us in general (people with special needs) that we are unproductive in the workforce, and it is very hard to get the opportunity to prove to the employer otherwise. I have overcome these obstacles by proving that I can do anything I put my mind to and I will never give up.

A specific example or story that always comes to my mind (about my childhood)?

The story that comes to mind about my childhood is when I had to leave my family at such a young age so I could get an education. Although I am very grateful that I had the chance to become educated, leaving my parents and brothers and sisters so young was very hard and it is a memory that will stay with me for a long time.

What expectations do i have regarding the situation of Moroccans with special needs?

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.

Do i think that i was lucky to have had a good education, or i work hard to self-educate myself?

I believe that both of these apply. Although as I mentioned earlier that I believe I was very lucky in regards to getting an education. I feel I need to continue to self-educate as much as possible in order to be prepared for any opportunities that may come up in the future. I love learning new things and I am always ready for an adventure.


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