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.
This post was written by Haley Luce after her first few weeks volunteering in Morocco as a camp counselor at the Al-Akhawayn University soccer camp.
The past 3 weeks that I have spent in Morocco have gone by so quickly that I can barely catch my breath. From the moment I stepped off the plane in Casablanca, I began to experience the hospitality, chaos, work, and fun that come with the “Moroccan Lifestyle”.
My first seconds in Morocco were characterized by the feelings of panic that come when you realize the airline has lost your bag. Too tired and bewildered to even care, myself and the 7 other wonderful AUA interns sat in the Casablanca airport for hours, and eventually boarded a bus for the 4 hour ride to Ifrane, many of us without luggage. Although exhausted, confused, and stressed about my missing bag, I was overwhelmed with the feelings of hospitality that came from members of the AUA interns and staff as well as the Moroccans who I met in the airport, the gas station, and on the campus of Al-Akhawayn. This theme of hospitality is one that has been absolutely consisted throughout my stay in Morocco. Whether I am touring in Rabat with friends, walking through villages in the countryside, or working with the other counselors at the summer camps, I can honestly say that I have been blown away by the amount of kindness I have been shown.
In addition to spending my weekends touring Morocco in places such as Chefchaouen, Tangier, and Rabat, I have spent my weekdays at the University’s campus interning at two different summer camps. For the past two weeks I have had the privilege of working at Al Akhawayn’s Summer Soccer Camp for kids. What is so unique about this camp is that almost a quarter of the kids were girls. The idea that girls would go to a soccer camp, let alone go on a scholarship, is almost unheard of in Morocco. Unheard of, that is, until the athletic director of the University, Adil Kamane, who organized the program, pushed hard to incorporate girls into his camp in order to give them the same opportunities as the boys they play soccer with everyday at home.
One of the other AUA interns, the wonderful Hallie Westlund, and myself were able to work with this group of 13 girls who come from a variety of different backgrounds. Some are members of middle class families whose parents are paying the full price for them to attend an outstanding soccer camp. Others are the children of school employees who are getting a break on the camp’s tuition. Many are kids from local villages and neighborhoods who, without this camp, would have never had the opportunity to go to a summer camp, let alone one at a prestigious university with outstanding soccer coaches.
This camp has given these kids the chance to have a fun summer. For two weeks, these kids get to come to a beautiful university, work hard, have fun, make new friends, and have experiences most people that they know do not get to have. I have witnessed within the short 2 week time period kids develop leadership skills, the ability to work in a team, and the motivation to continue with soccer or education to be able to one day come to a university like Al-Akhawayn.
Now, don’t let me fool you, every second with these kids was not always peachy. After all, they are a group of girls from ages 7 to 12 and sometimes these girls were flat out mean to each other, especially when it came to soccer. There was a divide between girls from the different neighborhoods and, although I can’t understand Arabic, I got the gist of their nasty comments. Within the first week we probably had at least 5 girls crying for various reasons everyday. While this was stressful, it was also mildly comforting to know that young Moroccan girls can have similar personalities and interactions as young American girls!
One of the most incredible things to witness was that by the end of the 2nd week, all of the girls were friends. They laughed, teased, got mad, forgave, and played with each other. Something that struck me about these girls was that even though most of them came from backgrounds in which they had very little, they were always generous with each other, and with me, with what they did have. One example of this is when the girls got ice cream for dessert one day after lunch. Now, when I was 10 years old, I would have downed my ice cream all by myself and not even thought about offering it to someone else. Not these girls. One after another offered me a bite; I couldn’t stop smiling. In addition to their generosity, I have never met a group of people, especially kids, who were so happy to be in a place receiving resources that seemed to me to be just a normal part of childhood. Everyday these girls showed up with huge smiles on their faces. When we lined up to go outside, smiles, when we did drills, smiles, when their technique got corrected, still smiles! One afternoon we had the chance to go swimming and many of the girls didn’t know how to swim, let alone owned a bathing suit. When one of the counselors came in with oversized swimsuits for the girls you would have thought they had just won a million dollars!
I know that this camp has been very valuable to these kids in many different ways, but these children have also taught me a lot about kindness, appreciation, hard work and life in Morocco. In the next two weeks some of the other interns and I will be putting on our own summer camp in the village of Tarmilaat. I am excited to see what new surprises and challenges are ahead, but I will miss the smiling faces of the girls at the soccer camp dearly.