As the child of a single mother in Morocco, Abderrahmane Mouzoun was denied many opportunities. But Cisco Networking Academy helped him further his dream: to develop the technology skills that would empower him to create a new life.

“I have always been passionate about computers,” said Mouzoun, who is now 22. “And I was very fortunate to discover the Cisco Networking Academy program. They gave me the best in everything, not just in technology but in life.”

Mouzoun’s opportunity stemmed from a partnership between Cisco and SOS Children’s Villages, which has a long history of supporting orphans and other challenged young people in Morocco and many other places around the world.

In the Casablanca area, the nonprofit operates five orphanages, known as villages, all of which make great efforts to create a family environment. That includes emotional, educational, and career support for children without parents, as well as those from other challenged backgrounds — including teen-aged mothers and kids from single-parent or poor families.

“Many of these children have suffered severe trauma due to mistreatment and abandonment,” said Samya Elmousti, national director of SOS Children’s Villages in Morocco. “They still bear the scars from their past, and we help restore a sense of wellbeing and self-esteem in order for them to have faith in life and face it with more serenity and confidence.”

Developing the professional skills that will enable them to lead independent lives is a big part of building that confidence. That’s where Cisco entered the picture.

In 2019, Margarete Mourao, a Lisbon-based planning and strategy manager for Cisco’s customer experience group, traveled to Morocco to see how Cisco could contribute.

“In Morocco, literacy levels are quite low, especially for girls and young women,” Mourao said. “We were looking for a way to help. And we were impressed with the way that SOS Children supported kids and families.”

Mourao led efforts that resulted in Cisco donating $181,000 in technology upgrades for the villages. Webex, in particular, kept learning and emotional connections alive through the pandemic.

As important as those donations were, Mourao knew that Cisco Networking Academy could go further, to truly transform lives. So, Mourao connected some local Cisco employees in Casablanca with the SOS Villages. And despite delays caused by the pandemic, virtual Networking Academy sessions began last year, with hopes for more in 2022.

Cisco Networking Academy offers curriculum in IT, cybersecurity, and other in-demand technology skills. The Networking Academy program is available through 12,000 learning institutions across 180 countries, and has reached 15.1 million learners since 1997.

“The goal of SOS Children is to help people become independent and start working,” Mourao explained. “And Networking Academy has experts with the digital skills, who can mentor them to join this digital world.”

Omar Rhoulami is one such Cisco expert. A business development manager with a passion for helping those in need, he was inspired by Mourao to lend his time and expertise to the cause, while encouraging his colleagues to do the same.

“The Cisco systems engineers and other technical guys volunteered on weekends,” Rhoulami said, “just to share their experience. Because digital literacy is important to them. These kids are the future and developing their IT skills could play a major role in transforming their lives. Digital transformation impacts everything and everyone.”

Skills for technology, skills for life

Not all of the kids expect to have a career in IT, like Abderrahmane Mouzoun. But regardless of where life leads them, the skills they learned will be invaluable.

“The Cisco volunteers provided IT and cybersecurity sessions with proper certification to be used for future job references,” Elmousti said. “But they also delivered virtual sessions and best practices on how to build an engaging CV, nail a job interview, communicate effectively, and use social media for job hunting.”

Last year’s sessions were deemed a great success, with a high engagement level among the 26 students, who ranged in age from 16 to 22. And more sessions are anticipated for 2022.

“The community that we work with, they could be orphans, they could be children from families with no fathers, they could be teenage mothers,” Mourao said. “But when you are with them, you really feel the energy. They are committed to improving their lives.”

Between the Cisco mentors and another partner, Toastmasters International, which provided additional help with public speaking, Mouzoun said he developed conversational and interview skills that he never imagined having.

“In the beginning, I was very shy to give my opinion,” said Mouzoun. “But with the practice, I feel I can talk with anyone. All the Cisco members I worked were so nice and encouraged me.”

Building such one-on-one relationships was crucial to gaining trust and giving students a sense of their own potential.

“The Cisco volunteers didn’t just deliver a technical session,” Rhoulami stressed. “They were really close and open with the students, which is key.”

Mouzoun said his new life skills will support him in his dream of becoming a software engineer and traveling abroad.

“When I started to learn about software engineering in the Networking Academy,” he said, “I felt a solid love for it. Now, I want to travel to the U.S.A. or Canada. And live there, and help my family get better.”

Rhoulami was so encouraged by the response to the first round of Networking Academy sessions that he looks forward to expanding the offerings in the future.

“We have some good candidates for more advanced topics,” he said, “like cybersecurity.”

Elmousti, too, is excited about the future. She looks forward to building on her team’s relationship with Cisco and offering even better services in the future.

“I am very grateful to be able to rely on the support of companies like Cisco who are willing to provide their knowledge and expertise to help our organization be more innovative in the programs we offer,” she said. “And I believe Cisco will continue to play a central role in the digitalization of our villages.”

Mouzoun meanwhile, is currently between jobs. But with newfound confidence he’s excited about his next steps.

“All the members of Cisco and the SOS Villages care about us,” he said. “And they just want us to be the best versions of ourselves.”