The following is a guest post by Mohammad Zia who traveled to Morocco in January 2012 and volunteered with disabled youth. If you would like to share your story about volunteering in a Muslim-majority country or region on the AUA Volunteer Voices blog, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Morocco ~ Beauty & Culture
Morocco is a land of endless seashores and diverse landscapes that has captivated the hearts of travelers from all across the world. Uniquely situated on the Northwestern tip of Africa, Morocco has often provided Western travelers an accessible opportunity to encounter the developing world; consequently, Morocco quickly became a hub for cross-cultural exchange. Furthermore, Morocco has a rich tradition that has been sculpted by the hands of many different civilizations that built their homes on its soil. From the time of the Berber kingdom to the split rule of the Spanish and French, Morocco has always mesmerized the world with its intriguing, dynamic beauty.
Morocco’s beauty caught my attention as I was formulating my travel plans for winter break. After considering several destinations, I decided to travel to Morocco to experience its distinct characteristics. I ventured to North Africa during the first two weeks of 2012 for an unforgettable volunteer vacation. My college roommate and I lived with a Moroccan host family and we witnessed, firsthand, legendary Moroccan hospitality. My experience validated the global praise of Moroccan openness and congeniality. I ate traditional, savory Moroccan meals and I sipped uplifting tea over laughter and shared stories of life’s peaks and valleys. We quickly formed bonds and felt comfortable enough to share our thoughts and feelings without timidity. My Moroccan hosts welcomed me with open arms and truly made me feel as if I were their son.
Morocco ~ Social Experience
After immersing myself in Moroccan culture, I wanted to engage in a social experience that would further help me learn about Morocco and its people. Like many Moroccan travelers before me, my appetite for an awe inspiring cultural travel experience was fulfilled; however, I encountered a social issue in Morocco that many tourists before me had overlooked.
I decided to spend time volunteering with one of the most marginalized populations in Morocco so I could understand social issues through an intimate perspective. I had no idea I was going to come across a group of people who would make me simultaneously laugh and cry. I volunteered with a group of inspiring and resilient disabled Moroccan children who never failed to approach every day with a smile. The new friends I made had ailments ranging from the inability to speak properly to the loss of all physical ability. I spent time playing games and dancing and I could feel the affection and genuine happiness resonating around me. I was brought to tears by the strength of the children to persevere through their disabilities. On the other hand, I was also constantly bursting in laughter due to the children’s sense of humor. Behind all the laughter and love was a Moroccan woman who was a savior for the disabled children.
The woman who opened the center for the disabled had worked tirelessly during her lifetime to better service the needs of the disabled in Morocco. She literally picked the disabled from the streets of Morocco and helped them build better lives on their own. Her organization took disabled child beggars and placed them in school while providing free assistance to help them overcome their disabilities. The organization also empowered the disabled to build upon their personal strengths and create enterprises for individual sustenance. I learned about a disabled Moroccan man who did not have hands but did have a talent that the organization recognized and cultivated. The man was an artist and he used his toes to draw portraits and landscapes. The man was given a micro loan that enabled him to go from relying on hand-outs to becoming a successful entrepreneur with a flourishing art business.
As an American traveler with a sense of cultural curiosity, I was able to appreciate the work the organization had done while building a bridge of understanding that will provide the medium for future idea sharing and cooperative social benefit. I gave a small donation to the organization and the woman I worked with thanked me with tears in her eyes and open arms for any future visits or ventures to assit her with helping disabled Moroccans live better lives. The stories of resilience and happiness among one of the most marginalized groups in Morocco left a momentous impact on me. I left Morocco with a deep sense of appreciation and love for the Moroccan people. Morocco was a land of beauty in all senses. I learned that the beauty of its disabled citizens, however, was the most overlooked yet ,the most awe inspiring.