Volunteering abroad has been on my bucket-list for as long as I can remember! I would love to plan some volunteer work soon or even maybe a flight to Fez.
However, my lovely blogger friend Alexa of She Tells Travel Tales is way ahead of me here. Not only did Alexa travel alone to Morocco, but she also volunteered for a cause very important to me: female empowerment and equal access to education.
As you probably already know, girls in developing countries like Morocco have limited access to education and to the extracurricular activities many of us probably took for granted as kids. Project Soar, the organization Alexa worked with, aims to uplift communities through art, sports, and education.
Here’s a bit more about Alexa before we dive in to in her experience:
Alexa is a New York Native who is always on the move. So far, she has touched down on 6 out of 7 continents and is not intent on stopping any time soon. She loves black coffee, fresh notebooks, street food, collecting postcards, live music, semi-clean feet, epic beach sunsets, and the excitement of going somewhere new. She thinks it’s weird to talk about herself in the third person.
….she is also way funnier than I am, as you will see in her awesome guest-post below.
Kids are not my thing. They’re sticky, can’t act as my DD and don’t understand sarcasm (my main form of communication). When my little sister was born, 17 years my junior, I was not impressed.
So naturally, I signed up to work with 50 underprivileged little girls in Morocco with an NGO that ran every Sunday for the 3 months I was there. Wait… what?!
I like to live on the edge, okay? Pushing myself to do things I usually wouldn’t and cringing while I am bombarded with little kids trying to do my hair and asking to play with my phone.
No matter – I was ready. I was going to set a fabulous example for what a modern, western woman could accomplish in just 24 short years to these little girls. They would respect me and adore me, all at once.
The NGO that I worked for, Project Soar, is a program run by an American couple in a small village outside of Marrakech, Morocco. It aims to incorporate creativity and fitness into the girls’ lives, because they don’t get it at school. No, there are no sports or art classes at the small village schools in Morocco.
Sad, right? I don’t know who I’d be without my first art teacher, Mrs. Smith, encouraging me that yes in fact, my glittery clay snowman was indeed a groundbreaking masterpiece.
So every Sunday from 10am to noon, about 50 girls between the ages of 5 and 15 would line up at the gates and wait to be called in.
We’d take attendance, give a quick intro into the program for the day, do the usual
“WE ARE SMART, WE ARE STRONG, WE ARE CAPABLE, WE ARE WORTHY!” chant and split the girls up into two groups; sports and art.
There were usually 5-10 volunteers helping out, including translators. None of the girls speak English, save for a few words, and none of us speak their native language of Darija. Darija is similar to classical Arabic but a slightly more complicated dialect.
Every week, we’d have someone different come in and run the sessions. While I was there our art sessions included making mandalas and collages, experimenting with flowers and light-sensitive paper, film photography, mural painting, etc.
Sports included things like yoga, basketball, field day, calisthenics and pilates.
I ran two art sessions while I was there, both featuring tie dye. It was around the time of the Holi Festival in India, so I showed the girls some pictures of the festival and explained that it was held to celebrate the beginning of spring.
Since we couldn’t run around throwing colors on each other (I don’t think their parents would have loved that), we instead threw colors on fabric.
Enter: The Tie Dying Extravaganza
We bought pigments from the local markets in Marrakech, 50 pairs of white cotton socks and a shit load of rubber-bands. I spent that Saturday mixing up the pigments, washing the socks to make sure the dye would take and setting up the “disaster” area with tarps, towels and music.
Gotta jam to some T-Swift while you’re dying socks of course.
The session went pretty well, with just the occasional “WOOOOOPS!” and the socks came out great. The girls loved it and were super excited that they had something to wear that they’d made themselves.
I ran this session at the end of my time in Morocco and after spending 3 hours a week with these girls for 12 weeks, I was a big ole’ puddle of mush. Totally fell in love.
It doesn’t matter that you can’t speak the same language or come from such vastly different backgrounds that one can’t even fathom the other. It’s about connection, smiles, touching, showing by example and being sweet.
Also piggy back rides. Those’ll do the trick every time.
I’ll never forget my last day with them when I waved my hand and said “don’t forget to say goodbye to me before you leave cause it’s my last day!!” and every single one of them gave me a huge hug and kisses on the cheeks. A few of them even cried. It was very emotional.
It’s amazing the bonds you can form in just a few short weeks. I left a little piece of my heart behind that last day and I can’t wait to go back and see them again.
Photo Credits: Natalie Opocensky