Peter Browning - General Care Projects in Morocco
I have to admit that I may have been a bit lax with my pre-Morocco preparation. Having already taken part in a Projects Abroad programme in Peru I thought that I could forego reading all the information uploaded on my ‘myprojectsabroad’ web information page - after all, going abroad is going abroad, right? ...Wrong!
I thought to myself – Morocco: They speak French there, right? It will be sunny there, right? It’s just like Europe there, right? Wrong, wrong wrong! I was made painfully aware of my oversight when on arriving in Casablanca airport I discovered that, although I was in the country safe and sound, my whole-life-in-one-bag rucksack wasn’t! What ensued was a painstaking process of pointing at pictures of bags which looked somewhat like mine - accompanied by a conversation which was a multicultural mixture of broken French, Arabic and Pigeon English. It was, of course, cold and wet, and felt about as European as eating nachos at a Superball game. Moral of that story – do your research!
Having said that – I must now contradict myself and tell you that no amount of research can truly prepare you for your time in Morocco. Morocco is itself a country of contradictions: it can feel both European and Middle Eastern. It is in Africa. The rich are very rich, the poor, very poor. There is a lot of westernisation, and yet westerners are defiantly still an amusing spectacle. The pace of life is laid back, but in a strangely chaotic way - of all the places I’ve been Morocco is certainly the most challenging – that is to say the most culturally shocking.
Never before have I been in a country in which you can cross the road - nearly being run over by a brand new, flashy sports car - to enter a slum in which families are confined to living, sleeping, eating, washing, working, praying in one tiny room that we in the West would not even consider suitable for our pets. Mr.Sportscar meanwhile speeds home to his swanky new apartment in which he has all mod cons and surrounds himself with as many Western luxuries as possible.
Mr. Sportscar only earns a modest wage by Western standards, but it is enough to set him in good stead in Morocco’s economy. Mrs. Sportscar probably works in the tourist industry and commutes to one of the bigger towns to work as a tour guide. Mr. and Mrs. Sportscar have enough money to put Little Miss Sportscar through private school so she can, one day, afford to buy herself a shiny sports car (then she too can speed past the reality of Morocco’s poor and pretend not to see). On the other hand, Mr. and Mrs. Average Moroccan and their four children continue to live in their slum, stuck in a cycle of poverty. There is no way that disadvantaged families could ever afford to send their children to private school (in which students learn, amongst other things, English – an invaluable tool in Morocco’s growing tourism industry), in fact lots of children from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t even go to school, but instead are sent out to work from a young age to earn money so the family can afford to eat.
I spent my time in Morocco working in a centre for underprivileged children. Although I originally signed up for a care project, I ended up not only teaching music and art, but also teaching English, French, maths and even took part in sports activities - such is the keenness to learn and experience new things that these children have you have to be ready to adapt to anything. The children who come to the centre live in conditions I’d not have believed had I not seen them myself. They have the odds well and truly stacked against them, any logician would take one look, do some sums and condemn them to a life bound in their cycle of poverty – but we must not accept this as their only destiny, but strive to help them to break this cycle.
By volunteering in a centre like this you have the opportunity to change these children’s lives. I know that sounds like a bold claim, and somewhat clichéd, but it is true. As a volunteer your role is many fold: not only do you have the opportunity to furnish these children with practical skills – English, maths, people skills – that will help them later on in life, but your being there makes a big statement.
Projects Abroad’s dedication to this centre witnesses to the fact that these children are far from being a ‘lost cause’, and whilst you play games, run around and have fun with the children making them smile and laugh, not only are you helping those children in that moment, you are also making more privileged Moroccans wake up and take note of the situation they’re so used to ignoring.
By being so conspicuously Western (believe me, however hard you try, you will stick out like a sore thumb) and taking an active interest in Morocco’s underprivileged children you let everyone know that they, although so often ignored, are just as deserving of education, are just as important to society, and are just as valuable as human being as anyone else.
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.