ISU employee honored for service to Morocco: El-Houcin Chaqra receives Knight of the Order of the Throne

July 31, 2009

A Moroccan native and Indiana State University employee has been awarded one of the North African nation's highest honors.

When El-Houcin Chaqra, associate director of Indiana State's Office of International Programs and Services, traveled with his wife, Maria, to Washington D.C. on June 26, he didn't know what award he was to receive.

"When I met with the ambassador at the Moroccan embassy, he said, ‘I'll show it to you, but I'll not give it to you now. You'll have to wait for the ceremony,'" Chaqra said.

That's when he learned he would receive the Knight of the Order of the Throne. Later that day, Ambassador Aziz Mekouar pinned the medal symbolizing the knighthood to Chaqra's lapel on behalf of Moroccan King Mohammed VI.

King Hassan II of Morocco created the award in 1966 for Moroccans who have provided at least five years of service to his country. Since 2001, Chaqra has worked to create relationships between Indiana State and the country of and universities in Morocco.

Chaqra's meeting of the former Moroccan Ambassador Abdallah El-Maaroufi at a dinner led to an invitation for the ambassador to speak at Indiana State. That led to the ambassador encouraging Moroccan universities to develop relationships with ISU. Since 2002, more than 360 ISU students and faculty have traveled to Moroccan universities, including Hassan II University - Mohammedia, with which ISU has a close partnership.

For Chaqra, the award symbolizes not his work but that of Indiana State officials, faculty, staff and students.

"I facilitate some of that, but what makes the difference, makes the impact is the programs ISU faculty and students were involved in with Morocco," he said. "The award really is a testimony to how the Moroccans feel about the partnership between Indiana State and Morocco. They feel that it has made a difference in a lot of areas, especially in higher education."

ISU's recreation and sport management organized a training program to build capacity in sport management at the Moroccan Royal Soccer Federation and the universities in Morocco. Hassan II University-Mohammedia in collaboration with ISU's Networks Financial Institute held two international conferences on the financial banking system and economic development in Morocco.

Indiana State's work with Morocco has reached beyond relationships with universities to impact the country. That came about after Moroccan King Mohammed VI ordered sweeping reforms in the country, including in education, in 2000.

"Indiana State University was one of the first universities to be there and we supported them with the training of higher education leadership," Chaqra said.

That expanded with ISU Social Work Chairperson Robyn Lugar's work to help develop the social work profession in Morocco.

"It started with one university and now all universities have a social work program and the country is looking to train 10,000 social workers," he said. "A few years ago they didn't even have a job of social work."

Social workers are fanning out across the country to work in schools, rural areas and nongovernmental organizations as advocates for women, children and education.

"It's making an impact on the whole country," he said.

Development of a higher education accreditation system also is impacting the nation, and Indiana State leaders are working to help it come to fruition. As Moroccan universities move toward autonomy, Moroccans are developing a higher education accreditation system to oversee the quality of education. ISU officials are expected to assist in training in Morocco and the campus in Terre Haute also will play host to Moroccans for additional training.

As another example of ISU's nation-wide impact, Chaqra cited President Emeritus Lloyd W. Benjamin III's encouragement of Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to intervene on behalf of the 404 Moroccan prisoners held by the Algerian-backed Polisario movement, some of whom had been detained for nearly 20 years. Lugar traveled to Algeria at the request of President George W. Bush and oversaw the release of the prisoners in August 2005.

For Chaqra, the work between the two countries completes a life circle.

He was born in Khouribga, Morocco,. His family moved to France while he was a child. He came to Indiana State in 1988 to study English, where he met the woman who would become his wife, who came to Indiana State to study English from Spain. Chaqra worked as an adjunct professor of political science at ISU before beginning work in ISU's Office of Sponsored Programs from 1996-2003. In 2003, Chaqra moved to the Office of International Programs and Services.

"Going to school in Morocco, we were taught about the historical partnership between Morocco and the United States. Kids in school are always taught that the U.S. and Morocco are best friends as nations," he said. "It is a good achievement: the partnership with the country where I was born and the institute where I studied and work. Working together is the best thing."

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Contact: El-Houcin Chaqra, Indiana State University, associate director of Office of International Programs and Services, at 812-237-3085 or echaqra@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relatins, at 812-237-7972 or Jennifer.Sicking@indstate.edu

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/606150334_qHaWm-L.jpg

Cutline: Moroccan Ambassador Aziz Mekouar awards El-Houcin Chaqra, associate director of Indiana State's Office of International Programs and Services, with the Knight of the Order of the Throne on behalf of Moroccan King Mohammed VI. Courtesy photo

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/606150245_VVwZy-L.jpg

Cutline: Maria Chaqra watches as her husband El-Houcin Chaqra shows the certificate for the awarding of the Knight of the Order of the Throne. Courtesy photo