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.
Joe Sgroi from Ewing, NJ, has returned from volunteering at a Summer Day Camp in Ifrane, Morocco. He shares stories about teaching new sports and games to the kids of Tarmilaat Village and why his time there was unforgettable.
Another important soccer experience of mine in Morocco was during my time in Tarmilaat Village. Tarmilaat is a remote village, fifteen minutes outside of downtown Ifrane. My assignment for the third part of my internship was to introduce new sports and activities to the kids of Tarmilaat Village. When they weren’t in the schoolhouse refining their French, I was teaching them how to play kickball, wiffleball, American football, and Frisbee. As much as they liked these new games, the sport they always gravitated to was soccer. Soccer is embedded in Moroccan culture, urban, suburban, and rural alike. Playing soccer on the rustic terrain at Tarmilaat at full speed with only flip-flops, was something that I will never forget. My hope is that the children that I met at the village will use soccer and the games that I taught them, as an outlet and means of exercise, as well as a connection to the culture of their country.
My last week at Tarmilaat Village is one that I will never forget. My goal as a volunteer for America’s Unofficial Ambassadors was to relay lessons regarding teamwork and individual growth to the children at the Al-Akhawayn Summer Camp, Al-Akhawayn Soccer Camp, and Tarmilaat Village. For me, sports have always been a means of exercise, learning, crisis management, and leadership development. Sports and activities give children a medium to come out of their shells and find something they are passionate about. Furthermore, children are able to mold their minds at an early age, so exposure to as many new things can be beneficial to growth.
I was extremely proud with all of the campers that I came in contact with during my 6-week, 3 site internship. They had developed into receptive students of the game while I became a further developed leader and coach. The best qualities from past teachers and coaches came together within me, allowing me to be the leader that the children of Morocco could rely upon, learn from, and hopefully always remember. While being successful towards achieving my goal as a coach and volunteer, my long-term hope is that these campers apply the lessons that sports can teach them to their lives and the lives that they touch in the future.
Each of the three sites for my internship provided a unique experience for the children and myself. However, Tarmilaat Village was the site that hit home the most. As an adopted child who had spent time in foster homes and whose mother lived in a similarly organized village in Peru. This experience at Tarmilaat became less of an internship and more of a mission. This mission was about helping these children to find themselves while I did the same. During their classes and during the sports and activities, I saw myself in their mannerisms, intensity, and promise. I was also able to see the trials and tribulations that they go through as pre-teens living in the modest village of Tarmilaat. If not adopted, my life would be just as modest growing up. Therefore, I felt even more obligated towards my mission as it felt more personal than the other two sites.
In retrospect, the impact of being a volunteer at Tarmilaat did not hit me until I left from my last day’s assignment. It was hard to say goodbye, as I had grown close to the roughly fifteen children that filled the schoolhouse on a daily basis. One child in particular, named Youssef, was hard for me to say goodbye to. Aside from sharing the same name, we both had personalities on the quiet side. Sometimes we get lost in the fray, underestimated, or simply overlooked because of this. His willingness to open up eventually to me and the other Tarmilaat children was one of the biggest personal victories in my experience as a coach and leader thus far. Through my experience at Tarmilaat and with Youssef, I could see that we are in fact all reflections of one another. Our names, religions, and cultures, may seem to differentiate us, but we are the same down to our cores and should be exposed to experiences that will help us see our own reflection.