Verity’s Volunteer Report
Just over a month ago, I returned to a chilly England after a very rewarding and challenging 6 months in Morocco, volunteering with Moroccan Children’s Trust, a small UK-based charity which aims to provide support for children and young people in a town called Taroudant in the South of Morocco. These children come from a variety of backgrounds, but all face hardships in their day to day lives.
I benefited enormously from this incredibly formative experience. It comprised part of my ‘year abroad’, which is a year’s break from studying, something all language students in the UK are encouraged to undertake in order to increase their oral skills in their chosen language. As I am studying French and Arabic at the University of Cambridge, living in Morocco for 6 months was of course of huge benefit to my degree. However, it is the more personal side of the experience that I think benefitted me the most. It may sound and feel very cliché to say that it was of the single best experiences of my life, but it truly was. Given this opportunity to travel and take time out from studying, I knew I wished to pursue a non-academic endeavour which would help others less fortunate than myself. This was important to me, because, as a Cambridge student, I am hugely aware of the privileges I am afforded in my day-to-day life; from simple, essential basics such as clean water and enough food to nourish me to more extravagant luxuries such as Cambridge Balls. I therefore wanted first and foremost to dedicate my year to aiding others who were less advantaged than myself.
My colleagues in the centre were so helpful, kind, welcoming and generous and I am sure will remain friends for life. They supported me daily throughout the process. When I first arrived, I had two weeks of induction, improving my Moroccan Arabic and Standard Arabic and learning the essentials of Moroccan culture, so as to avoid causing offence, honing cultural sensitivity during my time working with them. This was provided by wonderful Moroccan volunteers and it was really gratifying to be able to work alongside them, as well as other international volunteers. After that, I was slowly integrated into life at the centre. At first, my role was fairly simple, with a few contact hours of teaching French, but as the weeks progressed and I grew in confidence and ability, my colleagues decided I should have the challenging but essential role of main teacher for the children. This meant attending the centre most days from 9 until 6 and spending many hours as the main classroom teacher playing games and organising activities, whilst still teaching them French. Eventually, I was left to fully co-ordinate schemes of devised lessons and activities and dividing the day as I felt beneficial educationally.
I was also fortunate enough to be involved in other aspects of the charity’s work; I was asked to facilitate a research project looking at the possibility of setting up a foster care system in Taroudant, control the social media pages for MCT and translate social work documents from English into French. This variety meant that I was always challenged because the work was constantly changing and evolving! It was also made clear to me that my presence was vital, as it allowed the social workers to actually commit themselves solely to their social work, rather than having to act as temporary teachers as they had been before my arrival, which gave me a real sense of purpose and achievement. This is one of the most wonderful aspects of the job, as, working closely with these children made me so aware of how beneficial the centre is to them, both in terms of providing them with a safe space to play and learn and by giving them access to social workers who can help them with their issues.
Having had three weeks of reflection since my project has ended, I can unequivocally say I achieved what I set out to. I wanted to spend my Year Abroad helping others in an environment as remote as possible from the academic rigour of Cambridge and I certainly achieved that aim. The memories I created with all the wonderful, kind, generous people, both Moroccan and British, whom I met out there will stay with me for life, as will thoughts of the days spent with the demanding but inspiring children in the centre. I have learned that I was emotionally stronger than I believed, which was especially significant for me, as I had rather struggled with the stresses of Cambridge the previous year. I will always be grateful to Moroccan Children’s Trust for helping me find my old self again and for welcoming me into their enormous family! Ana daba roudaniya! (I am now from Taroudant!)