We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
It is April 23rd, 2013 and I am one day into my second and final week as a CCS volunteer here in Rabat, Morocco. I don’t really want to repeat things that have been said about travel and volunteering such as “it has been the best experience” or “the most beautiful place in the world,” etc. Although my trip has been these things, it has also been so much more as well.
As I sit in the common room here at home base I find myself, as I have done every night since I’ve arrived, thinking about my past and future. I think of them in the sense of recalling major events that have shaped me to become who I am today and how I can continue to be someone who witnesses bad things and tries to do something about it.
When I was a child I would watch the Marine Corps advertisements about a Marine running through the obstacles to pull out the sword out of the stone and defeat the lava monster (yes that is exactly how it goes). I would think to myself “I’ll never do that.” About 10 years later I was a new recruit walking the famous yellow footprints on Parris Island, SC. In high school I did some volunteer work feeding the homeless in Washington, DC, but never thought I would be doing some volunteer work on a global scale like I’m doing now.
If you ask me why I joined the military I can answer you with this simple response: college finances. I didn’t want to be a burden on my family. I was also entering a time in my life when independence set it and it was during this time that I was on my own I saw the world as not always pretty and often times was inexplicably sad. I recall an encounter with a man who had walked up to me and a few other Marines after arriving in the Philippines before our training began. He said something along the lines of wanting us to take his life because someone dear to him had just died in a car wreck and he could no longer live.
Mind you I was only 19 at the time and was in complete shock. I never knew what happened to him after that encounter, but that was a memory that led me on this path that I am currently on. While deployed to Iraq I didn’t see the gruesome sights as others do when they are there, but I lived through my fair share of near death experiences that, like the encounter with the Filipino man, helped me become who I am today.
One of the more chilling memories of a close call was Mother’s Day 2004. While asleep I was awakened by the loud sounds of mortars that hit very close to the sleeping containers I was in at the time. It was a viciously loud and violent boom that shook the ground with lasting effects that caused ringing in my ears for quite a while afterwards. As I woke up and realized what happened I went numb. I felt cold as if I died and the world stopped for a few minutes. The only thing that I could think about during those moments was that it was Mother’s Day and I probably should call my mother in case something else happens. Many troops that I knew were injured and had to be flown in by helicopter to the base doctors.
I can tell you why I joined the military simply, but I cannot tell you simply why I do this volunteer work like I’m doing now in Morocco. Certainly at times I may have felt a bit uneasy; yet here I am. It’s been challenging surrounded by a different culture, but it’s also been rewarding.
When I go to the hospital, I get a sensation that I rarely feel. That sense of accomplishment like I am truly doing something that can and will change the lives of these children even if for a moment or possibly forever.
The children I generally work with on a daily basis all have some sort of problem. One child I noticed didn’t have all of his toes and another young child was born with some type of leg problem where one leg is not straight and twists in the wrong direction and has been in a cast. I am not a doctor so I cannot tell you what their symptoms were. But I can tell you that everyday these very children play games, puzzles, enjoy movies and have essentially forced me to listen to Justin Bieber more times than most grown men will ever admit to.
Despite what they go through and continue to struggle with during daily doctor visits or surgeries, they always come ready to play and have fun as if they were born without any physical difficulties. How they muster the strength to do this when some are in casts or have a tube inserted into them I will never know.
I can’t simply tell you why I do this volunteer work like I can tell you why I enlisted in the military. It’s hard to really put emotion into text form. It’s like an intangible object that is tangible in a way. You can’t feel it the way you can feel a book or your car, but you can only truly feel it by experiencing it for yourself.
As I continue onward with my final week I’ve become overwhelmed with joy and sadness. Sadness in that I won’t be able to see their progression from a child in the hospital to one that has been healed and released. But I do feel a similarly strong sense of joy knowing that even if for a moment I made them smile or laugh then I did something worthwhile in my life again that has changed theirs.
Now hopefully I can make these last few days an awesome experience for them as they will have made this two week program something I’ll remember for life.