Matthew Burwood - High School Specials, Care & Arabic in Morocco
Having never previously worked with or even heard of Projects Abroad, my travel companion Abdul and I left the airport at Rabat with open minds as to how the next two weeks of learning Arabic and volunteering would pan out. We met with enthusiasm and relaxed conversation, and quickly realized that both the staff and the volunteers were fascinating people who would be a pleasure to work with.
After a relaxing first Sunday of walking around the ancient Roman ruins at Chellah and getting to know the other volunteers, we began our joint program of lessons with work at our placement, Amali des Oeuvres Sociales. As intermediate level Arabic students, we were unsure what form the lessons might take and whether we would be able to work at our particular level of difficulty. We need never have been unsure! As soon as the Morocco staff realized that the Arabic level varied among us, they enlisted another teacher to ensure that we received the most helpful tuition possible. Our teacher magically knew exactly the right difficulty level at which to teach us and our language skills progressed in leaps and bounds.
The Volunteering Experience
The volunteering side of the program involved much teamwork, planning and of course physical exercise because we were helping to build a cafeteria area – a future relaxing environment for the local children of Salé. Digging in the Moroccan summer could be sweaty work at times, but this was no barrier to our efforts due to sufficient time to rest and the swapping of roles. Later on in the program we had the opportunity to freshen up the appearance of the walls outside the placement by designing and painting some lively murals. This was good fun for everyone involved, including the local children who we tasked with covering an area of the wall in colorful hand prints.
Beside the main program, the Projects Abroad team in Morocco made sure that every opportunity to meet up and socialize in the evenings was taken. Some evenings we traveled to the modern parts of Rabat for a coffee and a snack; other times we just walked around the Medina to soak up the atmosphere and spend our Dirhams, or took part in activities at some of the host families’ houses. For example, one lively night was designated as “Dancing and Henna Night”. It definitely didn’t disappoint!
The weekend was a chance to see some of Morocco outside Rabat. On Saturday we took a day trip to Fes, an ancient city full of intriguing sights, sounds and smells. One smell we are unlikely to forget would be that of the Fes tannery, where visitors are handed sprigs of mint to mask the stench. We also visited some Berber rug shops and a traditional Berber pharmacy and then a beautiful old madrasa (a school dedicated to the study of the Qur’an).
On Sunday we visited the Exotic Gardens at Salé, the neighbouring city, for some more interesting sights and some more silly photos. On the return journey, the Moroccan staff was open minded as always to the suggestion of a visit to McDonalds, where we got an important chance to sample the local fries. It seems that there is a limit to how far you can deprive volunteers of Western cuisine!
There are so many more things that could be mentioned here – the pottery session, the cookery (and eating) session, the tour of Rabat, or even the overall experience of living with welcoming host families and seeing Moroccan and Islamic culture close up. Hopefully it is already clear that the High School Special in Morocco is a unique way to discover this vibrant country, its many sights and its wonderful people.
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