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.
The following is a post by AUA Summer Service Intern Jenny Lee, written after returning home from Morocco.
As I sit on the sofa in my house in Maryland listening to cars and pick-up trucks pass by on the road, it seems hard to believe that only a month ago I was in Morocco. I miss hearing the nightly call to prayer, the malawi bread, traveling on to the desert, and shopping in the old Fez Medina. I miss the mint tea – it’s not anywhere near as good when I try to make it myself in the U.S. Most of all, though, I miss the people I met in Morocco. I loved the incredibly welcoming atmosphere, where you were treated like part of the family, even if it was only your first time meeting somebody.
Of course, some aspects of Morocco were not as enjoyable: riding the jam-packed grand taxis leap-frogging traffic on crowded two-lane roads, or eating at the school dining hall. However, my time in Morocco made me see the triviality of some of my complaints. When I first arrived, I was upset that many restrooms did not have toilet paper or hand soap, things which seemed extremely basic to me. By the end of the trip, I realized just how unimportant those details really were in the grand scheme of things. What modern conveniences you have, or what material possessions you own do not determine happiness. A sense of community is much more important. Those I met in Morocco taught me to find joy in what you do have and in the people around you. The small hamlet of Tarmilat, where I taught environmental education for an afternoon, made this very evident. Though only a poor village, the children were content to go hiking or make games out of simple things like paper planes and slightly flat soccer balls.
Things did not always work out how I planned them to, but sometimes the experience was just as good. One day anenvironmental education field trip went awry when our bus got a flat tire in the middle of the national park in which we worked. Rather than continue with the environmental lesson plan that day, we simply walked with the campers through the park, talking and having fun. Despite the language barrier, we still found ways to communicate, and I ended up having a good time teaching them very simple cats-cradle type games with string.
My trip with AUA this summer also showed me that communication goes far beyond simple words. A smile is universal. People are people no matter their race, religion, or socio-economic status. It is important to connect to people on all levels, sharing your culture, and trying to understand theirs. I look forward to sharing my experience in Morocco with my community here at home, and hopefully to encourage future dialogue between Americans and Muslims. I want people to think of other cultures by looking at the individuals that make up those groups; to see the common ground and empathize. I hope that I was able to represent my own little piece of the U.S., giving those I met a fuller picture of America than what they see in movies or on the television. Most of all, I hope that I have made a difference – even if only a small one – in other people’s lives. Undoubtedly, Morocco has made a significant difference in my life, and I am so glad to have spent my summer there.