John Portal - General Care Projects in Morocco
My decision to apply for a placement in Morocco was slightly blind in many ways. Having just finished school, I wanted to get far away from the hustle and bustle of England and do something completely different to my life at home. Volunteer work was something I’d always wanted to do and Morocco had plenty of enticing characteristics. I have to admit that the concept of paying to volunteer slightly put me off when I began looking into the options.
However, as time went on and my departure got closer I was extremely grateful to have the help at the end of a phone. Having said that, it wasn’t until my arrival and initial days in Rabat that it became fully apparent how good it was to have support and help available, even if you don’t need it the whole time.My Host Family
After a taxi ride from the airport we arrived at my host family who couldn’t have given me a more genuine welcome. People had explained to me that the family would embrace you as one of their own for the duration of the stay and that they did. Food was plentiful and always delicious but it was the genuine wish to make sure I was happy which struck me most. Each day when I got in from my placement my host mother would ask me how my day was and a big smile overcame her face every time I said I had a great day.My Placement
I didn’t know what to expect on my first day at the ‘Centre Socio Educatif’ in Salé. As I walked through the door of the first class room faces turned around and stared in amazement. I wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or an insult but as the day went on, it became clear that the children were full of energy and fun and were intrigued to have an Englishman in their ranks.
Communication was limited owing to the fact that I didn’t speak any Arabic and they didn’t speak any French or English. Most of the communication was done with hands and facial expressions which was very funny on numerous occasions. The children were so keen to learn and join in the games we played; ‘duck duck goose’ being a winner and anything involving singing and dancing.
Whilst it was always a pleasure being with the children and teaching them, it definitely presented challenges. Keeping young children entertained is not always easy and I think I learnt valuable lessons in the importance of planning and knowing when to move on if an activity wasn’t too popular but at the same time, when to persist. It really was one of the most rewarding aspects seeing some children trying extremely hard with their English and succeeding.
I had the pleasure of working at a disabled children’s placement for 2 weeks whilst the orphans were on holiday. It was amazing to see how much joy you can bring just by taking some time to focus on one child. We did lots of arts and crafts, and again, dancing was a favourite activity. It was all a rewarding experience but there isn’t much that gives more pleasure than seeing a small disabled child smile when you spend some more time with them on their painting. Their mothers are incredibly devoted to their children and appreciated the time we were able to spend with them. It was sad leaving them especially as it dawned on us that we probably wouldn’t see them again unless we were fortunate enough to be able to get back to Rabat at a later date; something I hope I will be able to do.Weekend Activities
The weekends provided ample opportunity to travel with the new friends we all made. I managed to get to Marrakesh, Fes, Chefchouen and Assilah. It’s almost impossible to choose a favourite but if I had to choose, the beautifully set mountain town of Chefchouen presented some outstanding views. The delightful sea blue medina was the perfect way to escape busy city life and get lost in the relaxed atmosphere and surroundings.Saying Good Bye
I was dreading saying goodbye to everyone at the orphanage but as time drew on it became clear that many of them had such ambition that would put them in good stead for the years to come. They certainly touched my life and hopefully they will remember some of the many happy times we had together. I had the most amazing time in Morocco and my only regret was that it wasn’t a longer trip.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.