Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Student Profile: Soumya Boutin

Boutin is involved in earthquake relief efforts in Morocco
Student Profile: Soumya Boutin

Soumya Boutin had just begun her freshman year as a political science and journalism major at the University of Massachusetts, buying textbooks and experiencing the first semester struggle of setting up an iClicker, when she heard news that a devastating earthquake had struck Morocco, bringing ruin to her hometown of Aroumd deep within the Atlas Mountains. The earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.8, struck on the evening of Sept. 8.

Immediately, she organized an action plan to help the citizens of the village and traveled back to Morocco to begin setting up an earthquake relief clinic, providing residents with food, blankets and tents to live temporarily in.

“The idea came from my adoptive mother,” Boutin said, in reference to Dr. Pier Boutin, an orthopedic surgeon who served as a first responder during the 2010 Haiti earthquake, as well as the woman responsible for helping fix the club feet of Soumya’s brother when they were children.

Soumya moved from Morocco to the United States when she was 12 years old. “It was really difficult for me when I first got here,” Boutin said. “Now I’m trying to work everything through, because it was a big shift and I didn’t quite absorb everything that was going on,” she explained.

After a few years in public school, Boutin attended the prestigious Emma Willard School in Troy, New York and completed her junior and senior years of high school. She notes that her education played a central role in the development of her confidence towards learning English.

“If I have something to say in the classroom, I could say it freely without teachers not taking my point because a guy was about to say it,” she said.

Boutin chose UMass for the strength of its political science program, believing it would pair perfectly with her interest in making a change on the political landscape of the world. She cited her dreams to work in either Congress or the United Nations, and noted journalism was a recent passion of hers.

Her start at college has been anything but easy. Her return to Morocco coincided with the most critical part of the semester, the beginning. “I missed two weeks [because] of the earthquake,” Boutin said, “I left the first week, and then I came back and the professors said, ‘We’re going to have midterms now’. What are you talking about?”

Boutin noted that her professors are allowing her to take time off and scheduling meetings to help her catch up on coursework.

Outside of the classroom, she spoke briefly about her struggles to acclimate to the transient nature of college but has since taken an interest in clubs such as Model UN. In her spare time, she is a runner, plays the piano and spends as much time outdoors as possible.

The earthquake relief effort isn’t her only venture in the Atlas Mountains. In addition to being a full-time student, Soumya is also the founder of Soumya’s Journey, an organization which aims to “empower the women and girls of the Atlas Mountains.” She credits her time at Emma Willard with helping her start the nonprofit.

All students had to complete a ‘signature’ project. “There was a certain time of day that I had to sit down and make it a reality,” Boutin said. Through the school, she was able to get in touch with alumni and students, along with their parents, and make connections through her adoptive mother and her friends. Before long, she had a board and funding and eventually the organization gained steady leadership.

The idea, however, stemmed from her desire to help people, something she has felt since middle school and the very thing that keeps her going now. She credits her adoptive mother’s efforts to treat her brother as being a morally formative moment for her. “I have always wanted to help people,” she said.

Boutin added, “I know it’s cliche but it’s something I’ve always believed. When you have a higher purpose in life that is not about you, it keeps you going. It gives you a reason to get up every day and keep doing what you do. My whole life, I want to dedicate it to helping people.”

Setting up an earthquake relief center is just one in a series of efforts targeted at improving the quality of life for women in Aroumd. A primary goal of the organization is to help women in the village obtain work opportunities, such as creating cherry jam, apple cider vinegar or carpets, all coming together as a women’s cooperative. The aim of this is to help the women of the mountains contribute to the economy, as well as learn a series of skills that could become a profession.

Soumya’s Journey is also in partnership with The Mooncatcher Project, which distributes reusable menstrual kits to encourage conversation about a topic considered taboo in their village.

Presently, Boutin plans to return to Morocco to continue her tireless efforts, planning to not only bring clothes, but continue with her work on the women’s cooperative she planned.

According to Soumya, most of the residents, including her family, have already begun to fix up their village and now aim to procure a building to set up the cooperative. She says that a few women have even taken the lead on completing the necessary paperwork but face stiff resistance from the government. “I’m going to push hard,” she said.

The end goal, Boutin added, is to lead the construction of a school, helping women there gain an education. She explained that even the women who complete their education are often married off shortly after, with little incentive to pursue an independent career.

This initiative is designed as a stepping-stone for women to go to college and eventually begin their own careers, as opposed to being married off at a young age, Boutin explained.

“When I started Soumya’s Journey, I wanted it to be about building the school,” she said. “I still want that to happen in the far future.”

Beyond her wishes for the project, Boutin voiced hope that the local government would provide more attention to the healthcare and education that people living in the mountains receive. She also hopes that the people of the village retain their Berber roots, citing their image of the glamorized lives and culture of the West. “I really do hope for the Amazigh culture not to disappear,” she said.

The organization takes donations at

Siddharth Sharma can be reached at [email protected].

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