My Students’ Hard Work and Amazing Creativity!

Neethi Vasudevan is back from her experience teaching English at the Azrou Center for Community Development and sent us this post about the last week of her service in Morocco.

It has been about three weeks since my last day in Morocco and not a day goes by where I don’t think about what a wonderful time I had there. I’ve learnt so much about Morocco, its people and culture; and while I wish I could’ve spent more time there I am grateful for having had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer there.

During my previous blog, I spoke a lot about the End of Program Celebration at the Azrou Center and all the effort and hard work our students put into making the Celebration successful. Although Alessandra and myself were there to help, the students took it upon themselves to work together and come up with various ideas to best display all that they had learnt from us during our six weeks there. In addition to having to prepare a presentation for the Celebration, they also had to study for their final exam, which was on the Friday before the Celebration. Despite being crunched for time, all our students persevered and made sure that they not only did well on their final exams but also put on their presentations without a hitch.

So, in order to show how proud I am of them and to show off their amazing creativity and skills, I have decided to include below some videos of our students performances and presentations. Enjoy!

Our beginners singing Do Re Mi

Our intermediates singing “Forgotten Promises” by Sami Yusuf

Our Advanced students presenting a skit that they wrote themselves: “After that, the Factory went Bankrupt” (Part one)

Part two of the Advanced Skit

Join Our Team: Outreach and Communications Intern

Creative Learning – Fall Communication and Outreach Intern

Creative Learning, a Washington-DC based not-for-profit organization, seeks a full-time Communications and Outreach Intern for the America’s Unofficial Ambassadors (AUA) initiative. AUA is increasing the number of Americans who volunteer in the Muslim World. This position is mission-driven. The intern must be social media savvy, have a passion for volunteer service and show a demonstrated interest in some aspect of the Muslim World (Africa, Asia, or the Middle East). Superior communication and organizational skills are equally necessary. This position carries a stipend of $500 and a $500 credit towards participation in an AUA program for successful completion of the full-time internship during the fall semester, 35-40 hours a week. Part-time and remote interns will also be considered.

This position will entail:

  •  Conducting email outreach to colleges and universities to promote AUA programs
  •  Coordinating recruitment presentations on college and university campuses and grassroots presentations by returned AUA volunteers
  •  Drafting and distributing press releases to the media and bloggers highlighting AUA programs
  •  Managing the publication of blog post from volunteers, editing blog posts as needed and promoting key posts on social media
  •  Implementing an aggressive social media strategy under the direction of AUA staff, including managing and expanding the reach of AUA’s Facebook and Twitter pages,

The Intern will report to the AUA Program Coordinator.

This position required the following:

  •      Excellent organizational and communication skills
  •      Proven track record of dependability, a respect for details, the capacity to multi- task, and a can-do, team-oriented, entrepreneurial, and enthusiastic attitude;
  •  Previous experience and/or interest in the Muslim World
  •  Previous experience volunteering
  •  Strong knowledge of MS Office Suite, WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter

Creative Learning ( is located in Friendship Heights in Washington, DC. Please send a letter of interest, resume, an 800 word writing sample and three references to Stefan(at) with “Communications and Outreach Intern” in the subject line. Applicants must submit all materials to be considered. No phone calls please. 

My College Major In Action.

Georgetown University student Liselot Koenen is teaching Chemistry to a number of local students at the Forodhani Secondary school in Zanzibar, Tanzania. In this blog post Liselot recalls her three weeks in Zanzibar, the halfway mark of her committed six weeks of service, with a series of events relating to her college major.

This Sunday will mark my third week of being in Zanzibar. I can’t decide if time has gone too fast or too slow, either way I have done more on this trip than I could ever imagine. All I wish was that I was able to have the time to write all these moments down more often.

Today marked the day of Mari’s first day back at work. Well, actually, she just came for English club today, but it’s a good first step. After what’s happened to her the past week, I’m so happy that she’s finally back to doing the job she loves and what she’s come here to do.

A little short background story of what happened to Mari. Last week, we were grading papers in the staff room when Mari started to get sick. Well, really if was just how we always felt: extremely hot. However, this occasion was a bit different. Mari asked one of our favorite teachers, Amelia (math teacher), to show her where the bathroom is. As I continued grading, Mari followed her out of the staff room. Next thing I know, I hear a big thud and all the teachers immediately stared at me. Was that Mari? Less than 10 seconds later, I see Mari on the ground. She had fainted. She gained consciousness back right away, but she couldn’t get up from the ground. I have never seen someone more pale in my life. I hurried and grabbed my phone to call Kitty, our “house mom”, and Ulrica, our country coordinator, to come right away. We were finally able to bring Mari up and into a chair. It was not until then that I realized her front two teeth were chipped and she had a cut on her chin from falling.

With the help of Ali, our go-to taxi driver, we were able to get to the medical clinic pretty quickly. To make a long story a bit shorter, it turned out to be a bit more than just heat exhaustion. Mari stayed in the hospital for two nights and three days with our group of girls taking shifts to stay with her (I slept in the clinic with her the first night). Being an international health major and constantly learning about the health care system in these developing countries, it was quite exciting to finally see “it” in action. Mari continued to suffer from headaches, body aches, constant fever, etc. You name it, she had it. Even in the US, we sometimes have a hard time diagnosing illnesses. Well, here was no different. Even to this day, we are not 100 percent sure what Mari had, but the end conclusion was that she may have been suffering from a middle ear infection. Either way, she is now able to come back to school and teach. I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful companion at school with me, even though we have only known each other for a couple of weeks now. Having that person there to experience every step of this journey with, whether it is to share the joy or just vent about a situation. And boy, did I miss having my new American friend at school for the last week and a half.

Gathered around are my students and I outside of the school.

Gathered around are my students and me outside of the school.


Confidence at the Azrou Center.

Volunteering at the Azrou Center in Morocco and teaching English to the students at the Al-Akhawayn University is how Neethi Vasudevan is choosing to spend her summer. Below is Neethi’s two-week reflection during her time in Ifrane.

The Marché in Ifrane.

The Marché in Ifrane.

It has been about two and a half weeks since I first landed in Morocco and my experience thus far has been nothing short of amazing! Leaving the airport in Casablanca on our four-hour drive to Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane (our home for the six weeks here), I was taken aback by all the greenery and hill like terrains. Having read so much about the high temperatures during the summer months, and being completely prepared to deal with a dry and extremely hot climate, I was stunned by how much cooler and greener it was than I expected. It was an unexpected but pleasant surprise.

Fast forward to five days later. It was mine and Alessandra’s first day at the Azrou Center. During our previous meeting with the center’s supervisor Mr. Mehdi, we had been told that our only job for the first day was to administer the placement test. We were expected to grade all the tests and then place the students into their corresponding levels: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. We had gone through the test the previous night, marking each question, coming up with a rough idea of what could be expected of the students for each level. By doing so, we were able to create a scoring rubric which allowed us to place each student in their corresponding levels based on whatever score they had gotten.

On our way! First Day!

On our way! First Day!

Entering the classroom that first day was a surreal experience. The very second we entered the room along with Mr. Mehdi the classroom became very quiet. He quickly introduced us to the class, explained the rules for the test, wished us good luck and left us to begin our job. By the end of that day, we had corrected thirty tests. We had sixteen beginners, ten intermediates and four students in advanced. Meeting with Mr. Mehdi, we arranged for each class to be 90 minutes long, with the first class beginning at 10:30 in the morning and the last at 4:30 pm. The number of students per class seemed pretty manageable and I was very happy with how our first day had gone. Having come up with at least two to three days worth of lesson plans and ideas for each level, I was confident that we would be completely fine for our first day of teaching.

Filled with nervousness and excitement, we left for the Azrou Center the next morning. It was our first day of teaching and I was anxious for it to go well. Entering the classroom, we faced the first group of students we would teach and began going through materials we thought would be just a simple review for each of them. By the end of the day, I had realized we had overestimated the prior knowledge of English of many of our students, especially those in the beginner level. Although I had expected there to be some sort of a language barrier, I had not expected it to be so difficult to get through to them. As we were teaching we were constantly met with a silent classroom and many blank stares. Classroom activities that were meant to be interactive and fun ended up with one of us talking to fill the awkward silence and the other encouraging the other students (besides the one or two that were already talking) to jump in with their thoughts.

Leaving the center that evening we decided to regroup and re-plan most of the lessons for the week. I realized that many of students did not participate mainly because of two reasons: 1) they weren’t used to interactive classes and 2) they were afraid their answer might be wrong. Keeping that in mind we attempted to come up with some games and reading activities to encourage the students to participate in class and make the class more interactive.

Now, almost halfway through our second week of teaching English at the Azrou Center, it seems like many of the students have begun breaking out of their shell. I am no longer getting a standard answer of “Yes teacher” or “Yes miss” if I ask them if they understand something. More and more students have begun asking questions both during and after class. Some have even asked me to plan some lessons around writing or speaking. They seem to get excited at the thought of getting into groups to discuss something, or standing in front of the class to present something or write answers on the board.

While there are still a few students who have yet to get accustomed to being in an interactive classroom, I am very happy and excited at the progress I have seen in the students in just a week and a half.  With only three and a half more weeks left, I can only hope I am able to make as much as a difference in their lives as they are making in mine. 

Classroom Activities and Looking Forward.

In the village of Tarmilaat, unofficial ambassador Phoebe Shelor is teaching beginning French to the local children during the summer. During their daily schedule the children and Phoebe, alongside our other volunteers in Morocco, gather outside to play games in French, English and Darija, a local dialect in Morocco.

Phoebe has shared a photo gallery with captions and her thoughts on teaching and spending a summer volunteering abroad.

We created a set of memory cards to help the students learn their vocabulary. It has since become one of their favorite games. We’ve had to come up with our own set of rules to maintain order when we play. For example, if a student touches the cards or tries to peek at them, he or she loses a turn. They only have a certain amount of time to choose the second card once they’ve selected the first, because some of them will try to read where the marker has bled through the paper.

Another game the students love is one where we take them outside and throw a ball around in a circle. Andradene and I will give the students a category, and every time they catch the ball, they have to say a vocabulary word from that category.

Of course, sometimes we just have to go outside and play some games to blow off some steam. Andradene taught them how to play a game from Jamaica called Chinese Skip. Two people hold a string of rubber bands around their ankles, knees, hips, or arms while the others have to jump over and duck under the bands. Since Joe and Caitie are here this week to help us with lessons and after-school activities, we’ve introduced some new games with the equipment they brought. We also introduced a little bit of baseball to them. We started off with a wiffle bat and a shrunken soccer ball for batting practice.

The students have really grown to love us and we have grown to love them, despite their rowdiness and occasional difficulty. I’m really going to miss them when we leave. They have progressed so much in the short time we’ve been here. I hope that they will continue on with their studies and their enthusiasm. There are some students that Andradene and I are very proud of and we hope that they will go far in life. I can’t help but wonder where they will be maybe ten years from now, and I really hope it’s a good place for them and I wish them every success in life.

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Appreciation Cetificate and Thank You Letters from Tajikistan.

New AUA logoAUA would like to extend our warmest thank you to one of our unique partners in Tajikistan: IRODA (Parents of Children with Autism Initiative) for sending  us these beautiful handmade “thank-you” cards.  They were all made by the children of IRODA with the help of the staff.  Our AUA volunteers then used the handcrafted stationary to write to their summer program donors.

Director and Founder of IRODA, Lola Nasriddinova, sends additional photographs of unofficial ambassadors Britta Nippert and Okxana Cordova-Hoyos during their time with the IRODA staff, creating intuitive games, and exercising with the children. AUA appreciates the support and partnerships of these impactful organizations and we look to maintain our relationship with them in the future. Thank you once again to the IRODA staff, children, and to our 2014 unofficial ambassadors for your service!

Thank you letters and official certificate from IRODA to AUA.

A composition of the IRODA crafted thank-you letters and additional thank you letters by our unofficial ambassadors in Tajikistan.

Focused on autistic children and their parents, IRODA raises awareness of autism spectrum disorder in Tajikistan, as well as provides training to government, educational, and medical professionals on the condition.  In the relatively short time since the commencement of its pioneering work IRODA has seen dramatic changes in the lives of children with Autism in Tajikistan.

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Life’s most precious gift: Time.

Unofficial ambassador Mari Shilling is teaching English at the Forodhani Secondary school in Zanzibar, Tanzania. The remaining time she has left will be spent with her students practicing English and getting to know one another through cross-cultural activities and games. Mari has also included a photo gallery with her students.

“No matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away.”

-Haruki Murakami

So it hit me today… I do not have enough time. Before I came, 6 weeks sounded like a lifetime, but I feel like I have blinked my eyes and it has all passed me by… and I am afraid that if I blink again it will all be over.

It feels like just yesterday when I began my first day of teaching with a nervous sweat and a voice whispering in my ear that I was not qualified enough to teach, that I was in over my head, and that I would hurt the students’ education more than help it. Five weeks later I am proud to say that the voice was wrong. I have had a greater impact on my students than I believed possible, and they have changed me even more.

During my time in Zanzibar I am working as an English teacher at Forodhani secondary school, a school with 700 students and one teacher per subject. It is literally impossible for the teachers to teach every class. As a result, many students are left without teachers and are expected to teach themselves.

Luckily, thanks to AUA, Lis and I were able to come to Forodhani and give those students a teacher. Maybe we weren’t the best teachers at first, but at least we were something. After a few awkward lesson plans, we got into the swing of things; writing good lesson plans, thinking of fun activities for our students, and grading, grading, grading.

Summer picture with Mari and students.

Summer picture with Mari and students.

Also, after school Lis and I started an English club. During club we bring together 40 of the students to practice English, play games, listen to English music, and make learning fun. During the first week of club we passed out notebooks to every one of the students and asked them to use them to practice their English. Since then, students have written poems, stories, jokes, raps, tongue twisters and more. Each time a student shows me their notebook, asks me an English question, or tells me how much they like English club an unstoppable smile takes over my face and warms my heart.

The thing that made teaching my classes and planning for English club the easiest is the student’s hunger for knowledge. More than anything they want to learn; they know the true value of education. I walk into the class and a silence immediately sweeps over the room. They fervently listen to my lesson, write down notes, and make sure to do their homework. They hang on to every word like piece of gold trying to soak up as much as possible in our short 6 weeks.

The problem is that I am afraid I am letting them down. I feel like I am coming in, opening their minds, increasing their hunger for knowledge…and then leaving. While these five weeks have been amazing and my students have learned a lot I just don’t think a week more is enough. I wish I could stay longer.

While it breaks my heart that I am leaving and I wish that I had more time, I can’t ignore all of the positive that has come from my time at Forodhani. I will never forget my student’s faces, the warm notes they write me, the gifts they give me, the beauty in their hunger for knowledge or their high aspirations. I will never forget the other teachers and how welcoming and helpful they were to me. I will never forget how happy teaching makes me or how happy my students are to learn.

I don’t think Forodhani will ever forget me, and I know I will never forget them! While I will always wish I had more time, I value these six weeks more than a thousand pieces of gold and would not give them up for the world. There will always be that moment when you blink and life passes you by, but the truth is during that one blink my life and the lives of my students have forever changed.

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Intercultural Environmental Talks in Yogyakarta.

While preforming her duties as a research assistant at the PKBI DIY Center in Indonesia, Sarah Wall leads an open discussion on the effects of global warming within Southeast Asia in her Bahasa language class.

During our 5th Bahasa Indonesia lesson, when we were learning how to create the future tense with the 10 verbs we had memorized so far, our teacher threw what seemed like a giant curve ball at us. We were going to answer some questions she posed in the future tense. The first question she asked, “What do you think about global warming?”

Our reactions were pretty priceless, I was frantically trying to think of words I knew that applied to this. “Ummm, it’s bad… how do I say that again?” “Tidak bagus?” To us this seemed like a totally random and difficult topic. Global warming is not something that pops up in early conversations with new friends in America. People living in New Orleans or along the New Jersey boardwalk would probably contradict my next statement, but in my opinion Americans in general worry about global warming because it is something that the news tells us we are supposed to worry about. We are distantly aware that large storms at the coast have been more frequent and that Alaska’s famous ice caps are shrinking, but neither of these things generally pops into my head as a good conversation starter.

However, it did not take long to realize that this distant, vague concern about the concept of global warming is not at all the case in Indonesia, and for good reason. Indonesia is made up of 17,500 islands with 80,000 kilometers of coastline. 42 million of the 247 million Indonesian people live in areas that are below just 10 meters above sea level, and the vast majority of Indonesia’s industry and business centers are located in coastal regions. The rising sea level has already completely submerged 24 of Indonesia’s smaller islands, and ACCCRN estimates that 2,000 could be submerged by 2030. These circumstances make Indonesia one of the most vulnerable countries when it comes to global climate change.

The next week, our Bahasa teacher presented pictures to accompany the topics we would discuss. The first was Jakarta, completely covered in flood waters. I immediately assumed that the picture was taken in 2011, when American news stations covered the heavy monsoon season in Southeast Asia, that wreaked havoc in Bangkok, killing hundreds and displacing nearly 13 million people. But Dahra corrected me. The picture was taken last year, and while the 2013 floods were particularly bad, parts of Jakarta flood every year. Not surprising, given that a large portion of downtown Jakarta is below sea level.

I was amazed. Jakarta is the hub of Indonesia’s economy, and over 9 million people live there. Given that this is roughly the population of New York City’s five boroughs, I got to thinking what it would be like if parts of our nation’s largest city, and my current residence, flooded on a yearly basis. It would certainly mean that the affects of global warming would hit a lot closer to home. With this perspective, it was not hard to see why climate change is much more likely to come up in day to day conversation in Indonesia. Global warming presents a very real threat to the world’s 4th most populated nation, and it is not something they can address alone. Each one of us as a global society must consider how we can reduce our contribution to global warming. Otherwise, the devastation of flooding and unpredictable storms in Southeast Asia and elsewhere will threaten the livelihood of millions.

I am wearing the black and white shirt. My fellow AUA volunteers are to the right of me, Sarah in the pink and Winona in the green.

I am wearing the black and white shirt. My fellow AUA volunteers are to the right of me, Suraiya in the pink and Winona in the green.