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 from Alessandra. This past Summer Alessandra taught English at the Al-Akhawayn Azrou Center for Community Development in Ifrane, Morocco
Giving back to the community is an important part of serving as an Unofficial Ambassador. This past summer, I shared English skills with over 50 students between the levels of kindergarten and Ph.D in a spacious classroom in the Al-Akhawayn Azrou Center for Community Development in Ifrane, Morocco. While I was acting as an American cultural ambassador in the way I looked and spoke English and broken Arabic in Morocco, I was also able to represent Moroccan culture I absorbed back home in the United States. As soon as I stepped off the airplane in JFK, I was answering questions from curious friends and family members about exactly how Moroccan people lived, what they spoke, what they ate, how Islam worked, and my thoughts on my experiences.
Last Tuesday, I gave my second presentation at a Social Justice Fair headed by our school’s chapter of New Jersey Christian Fellowship, a Christian group I belong to at The College of New Jersey. Seated next to a girl who headed a table on Trenton’s education system, I presented my ESL experiences in Morocco. I focused on the international education aspect of my internship by showing pictures of mystudents taking vocabulary tests, presenting their skits and choreographed songs at the end of our six weeks together, and handwritten notes some of my students made me. I also showed a chart of the Arabic alphabet I made when I was first starting out my Arabic minor. Many students who stopped by our tables were curious about the differences between American and Moroccan education systems, so I was able to share what I picked up in Morocco. While Morocco has a Western-style system of education given its French colonial history, these same influences have created friction between “French-educated” and “Moroccan-educated” students. Not surprisingly, students who go through the French-style education system are stereotyped as being privileged, rich, and given preference for university admissions while their Moroccan-educated counterparts are viewed as being vindictive and not as well educated.
Thanks to AUA, I was able to use my knowledge and experience in Morocco to communicate the differences and similarities that people in other parts in the world experience. I was initially excited to be giving my presentation at a Christian event because I thought that it would spark important and revelatory discussions on Christianity and Islam. Surprisingly enough, I got more questions about the Moroccan language than on Islam, and I certainly experienced the same last summer. Perhaps religion is less of a barrier than we are led to believe.