Sara Mandil - Human Rights in Morocco
One day I was lying in bed staring at an enormous world map poster I hung on my wall. I started thinking of countries I would really like to visit; especially in the Middle East or Northern Africa. I spotted Morocco. I couldn’t explain it, but I developed a sudden interest and fascination with Morocco out of nowhere. I had finished university two years before graduating with a Political Science degree.
I did an internship in Cairo, Egypt and loved the experience there so I thought; maybe I could find an internship opportunity in Morocco. The subject of Human Rights was of great interest to me, so I chose a two months placement in Human Rights in Morocco. With this, I combined two interests: educational field and destination. It was wonderful.
Arriving in Rabat, Morocco
I arrived in Rabat on 31 March. My curiosity was mounting and I couldn’t wait to get off the plane and begin this adventure. It was my first time travelling to a country where I knew no one and I was not even scared. Asmaa, a Projects Abroad staff member, met me at the airport with her co-worker and recognised me right away, because we had added each other on Facebook beforehand. She was incredibly friendly. She greeted me with such warmth.
She took me to the home of my host family. I met the entire Bissilimi family and they were so welcoming. They offered me some tea and biscuits and Asmaa told them a little bit about my background how I am a mix of Egyptian, Sudanese and Lebanese. They were very captivated by that.
I spoke Arabic, but it was different than the Arabic Moroccans spoke. I did not speak French and found that they integrate a lot of French terms along with Berber and some proper Arabic. The family I was staying with spoke mainly Berber, they could understand me fine but I had so much trouble understanding them (or any Moroccan I interacted with). This went on for a couple of weeks.
After about half an hour of tea and introduction, Asmaa had to leave and it was time for me to rest after a long flight. They showed me to my room, which was very spacious and clean. I had a private bathroom right across from the room. This was something I appreciated, because I do like my privacy and space. As a cold breeze came through the window, I was about to fall asleep when I looked around and realised, maybe I am home-sick already.
Was I ever wrong! Early the next day, Asmaa came and picked me up with four other new volunteers to give us a tour around the ‘Madeina’ and show us where our placements will be. We went for lunch and got to know each other and got to know more about Moroccan customs and tradition. I was enjoying my time so much I forgot about being home-sick.
My Human Rights project
The next day I started my placement with L'Espace Associatif. They knew that I didn’t speak any French, but never made me feel that it could be a problem since all the work is done in French. If anything, I felt that they liked me speaking Arabic and it was different for them to have an Arabic speaking volunteer.
I met everyone in the office and was so overwhelmed by how friendly they were. I had my own desk and was introduced to several projects the organisation was working on. I rotated from working with one co-worker to another, depending on the load of the project. It was interesting, the work I did. It gave me an inside, first-hand look on how social programmes come to existence.
I worked on a project that aimed to create political interest in apathetic youth. Another one was creating better maternal health for women. The projects vary, but each was so motivating and remarkable those made me appreciate the kind of work L'Espace Associatif was doing. I was using Google Translation to understand what the documents were, but then did the work in Arabic or English then translate it into French. I did not mind it, because I was picking up on lots of French words.
I would have a meeting twice a week with Mr Said, the Senior Project Coordinator, where we would do a lot of brain storming for existing projects. There was a time when my English came to his rescue. He had applied for a grant proposal to a European organisation. He had to be interviewed over the phone as a final step before the decision was made. He told me the interview will most likely be in English and he would need my help to interpret the interview. I was glad I could help and especially when it lead to the grant approval.
Aside from the actual work I did, the work environment was unique. I always got a laugh out of the bickering my co-workers would get into. Mr Said, was the nicest, father-like, genuine man I had ever met. During lunch we would gather around a table in the kitchen where lunch was served. We often discussed politics. In fact, it was always only politics. I loved it.
Free time in Morocco
Every Wednesday we had a gathering in which all the volunteers would attend. It was different each week. It was the best opportunity to meet and socialise with everyone in English. I met some great volunteers who till this day I am in contact with. Everyone was so friendly. Normally we discussed where we would like to go during the weekend. This was another great thing about this internship. It was not just work, but we had a lot of chances to explore the country. I got to travel to Fes, Marrakesh and Casablanca, just to name a few.
A month into my placement I was still not home sick. In fact, my mother complained that I didn’t call her enough. I was having too much of a great time. My most memorable Moroccan experience happened a week before it was time for me to go home. There was an annual festival being held in Rabat called the Mawazine Festival. My favourite Middle Eastern and Western artists were scheduled to perform.
We went in small groups, sometimes only three of us and seen variety of Western artists such as Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and Pitbull. We would sing our hearts out and have a wonderful time without needing to pay a penny. There would always be a huge crowd and we often made new Moroccan friends every time we went. They were so friendly. I knew I was not ready to go home yet, that between work and my free time, I was having too much fun. Leaving Morocco did not thrill me.
I could sincerely say my trip to Morocco would not have been the same without the amazing friends I found in the Projects Abroad volunteers. We travelled the country, went out on strict budget dinners, went surfing, enjoyed random walks around the medina and rocked on to free concerts for two weeks. Morocco has been the most exciting thing I have done in my life thus far.