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 Maddy Becker at the end of her time volunteering in Morocco.
As I am packing up and getting ready to leave Morocco after six weeks, I have been reflecting on the impact of this trip for me and for the people who I met along the way. Last week my French students proudly chanted the alphabet song at our closing ceremony in the schoolhouse in Tarmilaat. Over the weekend my fellow AUA volunteers and I camped out under the stars in the Sahara Desert and made friends with travelers from all over the world. It is an amazing experience watching people grow and realizing that you were apart of that. Looking around at my students and our group of volunteers I’ve witnessed a beautiful progress in each of them, and I am so proud of the work that we have done.
At a personal level I feel that I have pushed myself and been rewarded with so much. The greatest gift of this experience is the way that this country has gradually come to feel like a second home for me. I have overcome my fears of being unable to communicate with others, and I have formed a network of friends who really feel more like family. Part of this is the incredible generosity, hospitality, and compassion that has been extended to me, but equally important is the efforts I have made to show my sincerity. The most valuable lesson I have learned here is the significance of being humble and showing sincerity. You may not be well-versed in the language, know how to eat couscous without a fork, or how to tie a headscarf, but show that you are willing to learn and make the effort, and you will find that is the simplest and most impactful way to connect with people.
One of the most rewarding experiences for me was trying to fast during Ramadan. The holy month began on July 8th, a little over a week after we arrived in Morocco. There are well-known guidelines about who should participate or refrain from fasting, but basically with a few exceptions, most adults will fast all day from dawn to dusk. It means refraining from food, drink, and also striving to be more self-aware and conscious of one’s words and actions.
The first time I observed the fast over a week ago I was pretty unconvinced I would be able to make it through just one day. Yet, despite my lack of self-confidence I managed my first day, and then I was hooked. I had expected that my hunger would make me distracted and irritable, but I found it actually allowed me to be more focused and in the moment. With this, my resolve grew stronger, and each day a pushed myself a little harder to silence my complaints and tune in to the positivity around me. I set a goal and ended up fasting for a total of nine days. At first I was a little angry with myself for not starting on the first day and fasting all month, but then I had to think about the value of what I had accomplished. I could walk down the street and know that I was sharing in the same struggle as those around me, and I felt such a strong connection and compassion for perfect strangers. I spent many evenings breaking my fast with the other volunteers, and many times we were invited into people’s homes to have ftour with their families. There is an overwhelming sense of gratitude you acquire at these meals; for the food that is in front of you and the people you get to share it with.
Thinking back to the beginning of this trip, I held a lot of expectations for myself and had set high goals. I can proudly say that my experience has taught me much more than I thought it ever could, and even more importantly I have been to share it with so many people.