The following is a guest post from AUA Mosaic Scholarship recipient Shibrika Pansy who recently returned from volunteering with Cross-Cultural Solutions in Morocco. To find an amazing opportunity like this one, search the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations© today!
As I boarded an airplane heading over the Atlantic Ocean to Rabat, Morocco for three weeks, I became overwhelmed with emotions. I felt sad enough to cry, and happy enough to dance as I embarked on my first international adventure. I set high expectations for myself because I was given the opportunity to make a huge impact on Moroccans and many Americans. Arthur Ash once said that in order for change to occur a person has to be willing to “start where they are, do what they can, and use what they have”. That is exactly what I set out to do while volunteering in North Africa. Language barriers nor limited resources could keep me from being successful as America’s Unofficial Ambassador.
The Abundance of Cultural and Natural Diversity in North Africa
There are so many things to do, and so little time. I have been going non-stop since my arrival in Rabat, Morocco. There are many places, things, and people I must see before I depart from this wonderful country. Initially, I thought the people living in a Muslim country would not be receptive to American citizens and their lifestyles. The generalizations made by the media in America about Muslims seem very different from the behavior of Muslims I observed while visiting Morocco. People in America often depict Muslims as being mean-spirited, aggressive, and short-tempered. However, while interacting with various individuals at my volunteer placement throughout the week or when I traveled to different cities in Morocco on the weekend my experiences were pleasant. For example, I discovered that Moroccans were very helpful about pointing me in the right direction when I was lost in Fes and sharing food with everyone around. In Morocco, no one is a stranger and people judge each other by the good deeds they complete in their communities. Nursing homes found so abundantly in America, are non-existent in Morocco because children are expected to care for their aging parents. And when Moroccans encounter elderly individuals that have been abandoned by their families, it is common to give these battered souls money. The level of generosity, patience, and resilience displayed by these people should be valued by everyone worldwide.
From time to time, I pinch myself just to be certain that I am not asleep. Things seem to be in sync, and the people, animals, and plants know their purpose here in Morocco. The vast livings standards of Americans in comparison to Moroccans is obvious. The local people make use of all of their natural resources, from the oranges found on the orange trees to the wheat that grows in the wheat fields. And although my life in America is different from the agrarian society in Morocco that relies on a bartering system to remain active, I have found that the people are all similar. We laugh, we cry, we eat, we drink, and we sleep. I know for certain that some things are universal among all human beings whether I am in Morocco or America. It is the connection that ties all people together that I am on a quest to capture during my stay here in Morocco.
Volunteer Placements: The Ibny School and the East/West Foundation
The duties I have been given at the Ibny School and the East/West Foundation through Cross-Cultural Solutions are rewarding. The placements are quite different from each other, but my mission to learn from and assist the less fortunate people of Rabat is the same at each location.
The Ibny School was designed to provide street children living in the local neighborhood with a structured, positive environment that promotes education. My role while volunteering at the Ibny School was to organize activities such as games, songs, and arts and crafts for the 3-5 year old kids. Also, I served as a role model and I provided the children with individual attention through encouraging and praising the children, while enforcing rules of good behavior. The children were active and excited to see my face each day I entered the classroom. The teachers were just as thrilled to have my help as the children were at the Ibny School. I was able to practice speaking Arabic with both the teachers and the children, while they increased their English speaking abilities by conversing with me daily.
The East/West Foundation was developed by several individuals from France. The goal of the organization is to provide refugees from sub-Saharan Africa with the knowledge and the skills they need to gain employment in North Africa or Europe. Teaching English to adults at the East/West Foundation is challenging because the communication barrier is enormous. But, through all of the struggles I am forming a bond with the students that is important to me. I stay up late at night preparing English lessons for my students just to see the smile on their faces when they get something correct on their English vocabulary worksheets.
My first impression of the history and the culture of Moroccans while volunteering in Morocco was different from the information I received through television shows, newspaper articles, and websites as an American citizen living in Dallas, Texas. It is definitely true that a book should never be judged by its cover. Morocco has exceeded my expectations tremendously, and I am more gracious as a result of the things I was fortunate enough to witness while on travel in this North African country. In Morocco, things tend to have a quiet, stillness about them and it is this sense of peacefulness I hope to carry with me and share with Americans.