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.
By Bridget Quinn
It is a Thursday afternoon, and my students are working on directions and prepositions of place. I have the students working in pairs. Each has an image of a square with other shapes in the square. Their task is to only use directions in English to describe their image and have their partner recreate it by drawing. Almost the entire class explains to their partners “triangle down left” when trying to have their partner place a triangle in the bottom left corner. We then spend some time as a class using “bottom” and “down” in their correct places. This is the type of confusion we face every day in the classroom: learning where and when to use what word, which phrasing, and so on.
In the vast world of international volunteering and international NGOs, the most common question is “What is the impact of the target project?” I have been in Morocco for a month now and this question is constantly on my mind. What is my impact in the Azrou Center for Community Development? How will English really help my students? What is the wider role I play here in my 16 weeks of work?
As a citizen diplomat and international volunteer, I want to make sure that I have an impact in the community where I am serving. It would be incredibly irresponsible for me to not reflect on my role in this community, or to not ensure that I was leaving a positive impact on my students and preparing them for success. I also need to consider the next group of AUA volunteers who will arrive this summer, and pick up where I leave off with my students. So, I have approached this question of impact from many different angles, first understanding the role of the Azrou Center, understanding my role as an educator, and understanding what my students can learn from me.
The Azrou Center for Community Development is a branch of Al Akhawayn University. Located about 20 minutes from the University’s main campus, the center uses the University’s resources, such as athletic facilities for the children in the Azrou programs, as well as many on-site resources, like its own health clinic. The programs run by the center include primary education for students unable to attend public schools, certificate programs in commerce, web design, and infographics for young adults with their undergraduate degree, and lastly programs that educate women in skills such as hair dressing and literacy classes. The impact that the Azrou center has on its community through this wide range of programming is incredible. They draw students from surrounding areas and they offer high quality programs and services that these communities would not have access to otherwise.
Being surrounded by driven individuals has forced me to reflect extensively upon my role as a volunteer educator here in Morocco. I am relying on one basic skill set here, my ability to speak English. I use these strengths – my language skills and my resourcefulness – to try and offset my greatest challenge: I don’t have extensive experience in education. These facts have forced me to reflect often on what I am attempting to achieve with my students. Simply put: I want them to have a better command of English than they had when I began teaching. However, what is the impact behind that? How useful is English in a country where a vast amount of dialects are spoken, where most people can speak French, Arabic, and the native Darija, and Berber or Tamazight. Why is English more beneficial to my students than Tamazight?
This question has since been answered by my students who truly believe that becoming fluent in English will increase their career potential. In my Web Design and Commerce classes, English is essential to my students: English is one of the most used languages in web design instruction and it has come up for them in building their commerce skills. The students in my night classes have explained their desire to learn English because they encounter it in their work often. My students express to me that they are truly grateful for the opportunity to learn English and they believe English will help them accomplish their career goals in building websites that can be accessible to English, French and Arabic speakers. Those looking to start businesses want to work with, and sell to, English speakers. I have learned that English may be a very useful skill to have in their futures.
I still have about three months of work ahead of me. Humbly, I feel there is a lot to do, but I believe self-reflection on one’s impact is one of the most important jobs for a volunteer. I look forward to having the chance work with my students, measure their improvement, and see how they can take their newly-learned skills back to their communities and careers. With three months ahead of me there is plenty of time to see this improvement for both myself and my students, and we will get there together.
Though I hope my impact on my students goes much further than three months. I hope I can help the incoming Unofficial Ambassadors get started and comfortable with their work in teaching English. I hope they either pick up where I leave off with my students or are able to use my lessons to guide them in their first weeks of teaching as they adjust to life here in Morocco. I hope that one day my students find work as businessmen and women, and that they are able to make webpages accessible to Arabic, French, and English speakers. I hope for my students to use their English language skills to complete their tasks more effectively. If I am to truly do my job here in Morocco then my impact will be much more than four months of lessons.