Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Working in Morocco
Everyone kept saying wait till October. Work will pick up in October. And they were right. After four months of integrating and building relationships, setting up our apartment and figuring out the basics of living here, learning the language, doing some Peace Corps-related traveling, and reading as much as I could about development work - not to mention enduring the month of Ramadan - the fall weather is bringing renewed vigor in work.
I am lucky in that I am placed with a very proactive group of association members who already have a long list of things they want me to do. I haven't had to go out and look for, or create, work for myself at all. So I'm grateful for this. The month started with several weekly meetings about projects, meeting with the beneficiaries of the project to hammer out details, and then working on project proposals which I then submitted to the association. Although the pressure can sometimes feel overwhelming, I wouldn't have it any other way. I'd much rather be stressed than bored!
I am working with three associations: Association Ahadan, Association Noor, and Association Green Valley. Ahadan and Noor are focused primarily on women's development, whereas Green Valley does general development with an environmental focus. I have been asked by Association Ahadan to do lots of teaching work: to teach English and Health to the high-school-age girls living at the student house (out-of-town students who come to the high school in Talmest), to do a Health Club for the elementary aged students at one of the elementary schools in the town, and to teach dance/exercise to the local women three nights a week. In addition, I want to do health workshops for the broader community, and in neighboring Sidi Abdel Jalil where there are several brothels, on sexual and reproductive health.
I was approached yesterday by a high school student asking for English tutoring to help her prepare for her Baccalaureate exam, so I am thinking I will hold a Bac study group once or twice a week for those who want to attend. I am supposed to be helping teach English at the high school, as well as have a Health Club that I think will have a Public Health focus, and will work with my sitemate's Environmental Club on things like trash and water projects, as soon as the new principal comes and we can get it going.
The associations have also asked me to do some business development work: they want to help empower the women financially through argan oil production and sales, in particular to do market research to find markets abroad for the women to sell their products. In addition, I also want to do some NGO development work with all three associations - in particular workshops on things such as the laws that apply to NGOs and small businesses and how to navigate the bureaucracy to apply for available government funding, to enable the associations to function better in striving towards their goals. Of course, the thrust of all of my work should be in equipping them to carry on better after I leave than before I came. I'm not here to take over for them.
So there is no shortage of work and I'll be spending a good part of my time writing lesson plans - a new but engaging challenge for me! And of course a big obstacle in this endeavor is language. Teaching, in particular, is heavy on communication. So my first reaction is to freak out, conclude I can't possibly do this, and retreat into my shell. However, then I have to pull myself out again and remind myself that there ARE ways. First, the association has assured me that one of the members will always be there with me in the sessions to assist with language (and perhaps helping to maintain order in the classroom). Secondly, I am surrounded by people who can translate for me. So I can write my lesson for the day, and send it off to be translated, and then use it as a guide during the class to give me the words to use to communicate concepts to the kids, as well as to learn new words myself.
And third, I have FINALLY - after 4 months of searching - found a tutor myself, so perhaps I actually might learn this language and be able to do some of this communication myself. The tutor used to work with Peace Corps about ten years ago as a language trainer, so understands where we are coming from. He speaks English quite well - he has a degree in English Literature from a Moroccan university - and is very smart and energetic. I'm so grateful to have found him. And now just need to continue to integrate daily study time into my schedule...
I'll keep you posted as I begin each new project so you can follow me in my efforts and hopefully encourage me and give me strength to keep putting my best forward. I really do hope to empower the people of Talmest - especially the women and girls - to find the best in them, to open their eyes to their own capacity to rise above mindsets that are destructive to their own gifts. I hope we can all come to greater understanding that the humanity within us all is more important than the different cultural or gendered manifestations of it. I want to help everyone find greater freedom to more really and truly fully live their lives.
And in so doing, find it myself.
Posted by Larissa Marie Naylor