Digesting the Significance

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Essaouira, Morocco – Where we called home for 3.5 years.

June 10, 2017

We are flying now, northeast, over the Mediterranean. After officially signing off our final Peace Corps papers yesterday, we spent the night with a couple, friends, who worked at the Embassy and USAID. They graciously threw us a going away get together with other friends from the State Department in Morocco. The night was full of good food, good conversation and kindness. This afternoon they graciously drove us to the Rabat airport. From the beginning, Morocco has been filled with warm, generous and welcoming friends, too many to count, so it’s no surprise that this is how the journey ends. Our luggage is on board, one backpack and one backpacker’s pack apiece, and as the sun sinks, I lay my head back, close my eyes, and try to digest the significance of the moment.

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Part of Something Bigger

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John Kerry swears in our Peace Corps Morocco Staj 96 in April 2014

Before boarding the plane as a Peace Corps Volunteer trainee, you already knew you were part of something much bigger.  The Peace Corps application process breeds an eagerness to hear and learn from others who have been in your place before. Family members, coworkers, complete strangers who have served are happy to share their experience with you before you venture into two unknown years. They will generally lay it all out for you, good or bad, and yet almost always finishing with, it was the best decision they made, even if they wouldn’t necessarily do it again. Rhetoric used to market the experience often says in big letters, it’s the “hardest job you’ll ever love.”

No two Volunteers’ experience is the same, but we are all part of a global community, that I’m finding out more and more, just get each other. No matter the corner of the world, you’ve experienced uncomfortable situations, a lack of understanding whether it be linguistically or culturally and a demand to go outside of your comfort zone whether you like to or not. Some experience more hardships than others and learning how to empathize and support fellow Volunteers can serve as opportunities of growth for many of us.

Humanitarian statistics go from hard numbers to actual people and we see some of the world’s most pressing issues through the lens of those experiencing them, many of whom remain happy and grateful for what they do have. Sometimes those with the very least still find ways to give so much.

Peace Corps does its best to value community integration and keep money/band aid fixes out of the equation. Sure, we can apply for grants and often have access to resources we can introduce into the community, but the relationships and bonds formed with people we become the closest with are based on things that do not come with a price. As Peace Corps Volunteers, valuing relationships is far greater than money signs. Relationships that grew from endless glasses of tea, songs sang and dances danced (or were attempted at least) and stumbling over the local language in order to go a little deeper. 

I will hold close the memories made during my 3+ years in Morocco and am fortunate to be able to keep in touch with many Moroccans and other Volunteers I served with. But Peace Corps is much bigger than the time of service and I look forward to listening and following more stories of future colleagues, neighbors and friends. Because, despite the geological and cultural differences, there is a common thread among us and for many, we want to embrace it well beyond our time of service.

-O

Growth

 

0S8C9957.JPGLast month, Project Soar launched the much anticipated Project Soar in a Box (PSB), the 50 empowerment lesson expansion. A Training of Trainers for 23 facilitators representing 12 locations across Morocco was put on at the PS Headquarters outside of Marrakech. It provided the first cohort of Peace Corps Volunteers and their Moroccan counterparts with the tools and resources to carry out the empowerment curriculum to girls in their communities.

The preparation for the roll out began since the first day of my new role as the Field Manager of the organization and since then it has been a time of growth for the organization and for me personally.

I was in the unique position to combine my Peace Corps connection with a budding organization whose mission of empowering girls and supporting them to carry out more productive and fulfilling futures aligned with Peace Corps Morocco youth development sector goals.

Launching the expansion took lots of long hours and late nights. Despite the sometimes slow pace of everyday Moroccan life, deadlines quickly approached and the time and energy of lots of people both in Morocco and abroad allowed for it to happen when it did.

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The amount of work put into the growth of a non profit organization like Project Soar does not return the type of significant financial benefits it would in other day jobs. However, the return that does come  is significantly satisfying. Capacity building Moroccan female leaders in further understanding their potential to inspire and empower girls in their communities makes it worth it.

Managing local staff for the duration of the preparation and roll out of the expansion, tested my leadership skills, ability to trust and capacity build. Until those final hours, “Project Soar in a Box” was a concept, something that local staff whose first job experience was with Project Soar did not fully comprehend. We all gained a deeper understanding of the many elements that go into making an organization grow. We all learned by doing and took on tasks that were not necessarily what we expected to be our role. Knowing the goal, people took responsibility completing tedious tasks such as translation review and coordinating transportation and lodging logistics.

The Training of Trainers and the official launch was an incredible experience for me as I was surrounded by Peace Corps Volunteers, who, like me three years ago, were overly eager to begin working with girls in their communities, while at the same time, I was working alongside a team who had a goal we’d been aiming for months and we achieved it. 

While it was an accomplishment, it is only the beginning. I look forward to hearing and seeing how the Project Soar in a Box chapters play out with girls and facilitators as well as the next set of trainings planned for the fall to reach even more female leaders and girls across Morocco.

-O

Mother, Mama, Mom

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“Are you married?” is almost always the first question asked after simple greetings. If yes, as with my case, the next question, “Do you have kids?” follows. When I say no, I know what’s next (why not?), so I hurriedly say “humdullah,” thanks be to god and “Drari 3ndhum sta7,” kids are noisy and no matter where, their favorite word to repeat over and over again is “mommm.” This always gets a laugh out of whoever I’m talking to. I proceed to say I want to focus on my graduate studies, my career and have the flexibility to travel. All of which are still doable with kids, but for me, I’m not there yet and who knows if I ever will be.

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A month, a service, of Women

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I am lucky to have worked alongside numerous inspirational women during my 3+ years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. In the spirit of March being Women’s History Month and celebrating International Women’s Day, it’s a perfect time to reflect and profile some of the women and girls who remind me why I’m proud to be a feminist and part of the progress of women’s and girl’s rights and opportunities. I find myself surrounded by women and girls, not exclusive to the list below who I couldn’t have more reason to celebrate during March and all throughout the year. Here are a few:

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The Taste of Welcome

 

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Text conversation with our host father after traveling for a few weeks, the longest it had been in 3 years since we hadn’t all been together.

Hospitality, in Morocco, isn’t so much a trade, it’s a lifestyle, a cultural fabric, central to the identity of the Nation. Public and social norms demand it, and it is a value that has helped make Morocco a popular destinations for tourists worldwide.

Particularly in the beginning, for many Peace Corps Volunteers, it can be overwhelming—the inescapable, vivacious, welcoming spirit and generosity can sometimes be more than we can handle.  Mrhaba—welcome! Followed by lots of tea and plenty of bread with demands to sherrb–drink,  and kul, kul, kul–eat, eat, eat. More mrhaba’s are sprinkled in.

We have spent innumerable hours around the living room tables of both friends and strangers, but there is one table, one family, it is safe to safe, that has redefined what it means to be hospitable. If you are a reader of this blog, odds are you already know who I am referring to.

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#GirlPower

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For everything last Friday wasn’t, Saturday was and more, much, much more.

With no march close by, I did what I did every Saturday, and prepared for a Sunday full of programming where 70 girls would spend their day.

Saturday night, I scrolled through social media feeds displaying the light at the end of a gruelling election season tunnel. Thousands, turned millions of people in solidarity for things we all can’t believe we’re still fighting for (here, here, here, here, okay just too many).

I woke up the next morning to a circle of girls and as we explained the events of Saturday, a number of them called out that they already saw and heard about them from Facebook. “New president!” “Women’s rights!” were among the chatter. Like every week, the girls did their affirmations, but this, time part of a global movement that is far from over:

-O

A Third Year of Soaring

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My third year as a Peace Corps Volunteer looks significantly different than my first two and half, binding them together is my focus, based on the community need, of providing opportunities for women and girls to embrace their potential. Last Spring, I accepted a position to serve as the Field Manager for Project Soar, an NGO that seeks to empower girls to stay in school by providing after school programming. I made the move from the seaside town of Essaouira, to a small village in between the High Atlas Mountains and the bustling city of Marrakech. The mission of Project Soar aligns directly with what I find most important in development, education for all. For me and for Project Soar, it’s urgent that girls are encouraged and supported to both continue their studies and to have opportunities that allow for them to express themselves.

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No, everything is not Ok.

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Kentucky Flood by Margaret Bourke-White

Greetings in Moroccan Arabic (Darija) are incredibly repetitive. A friendly conversation follows a predictable course and a couple years in, the conversation just falls out without a thought. Mine goes like this:

Salam. Hi. 

Kifdar? How are you?

Kulshi mezyen? Everything good?

It’s a folded conversation so as I ask, I am also being asked nearly identical questions. Without pause, the answers, follow the same thoughtless response: 

Iyah, Labas. Kulshi mezyen. Yeah, I am fine. Everything’s good.

On the morning of November 9th, while walking to breakfast, I passed a friend. We exchanged our greetings and before I could help myself, the words tumbled out. We passed quickly but as I continued down the street, I thought: 

No, this morning I am not fine. Everything is not good.

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You’re invited, to the White House!

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The whole LGL Morocco and Liberia group with the First Lady in the White House.

A shock, a dream, a once in a lifetime opportunity for anyone, let alone for 44 girls from Morocco and Liberia. The girls were invited by Michelle Obama to be part of the first of its kind, “Let Girls Learn Exchange Program.” In partnership with the Peace Corps, USAID, US Millennium Challenge and the State Department, the President and the First Lady started the Let Girls Learn (LGL) initiative to promote awareness around the 62 million girls around the world who are not in school and to assemble resources in order to combat this injustice on the ground.

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Peace Corps Morocco participants after landing in the US.

In late June, First Lady Michelle Obama, actresses Meryl Streep and Frieda Pinto and CNN International’s Isha Sesay traveled to Liberia and Morocco to promote LGL. The Girl Rising film team accompanied them, as they met with girls overcoming their challenging educational systems to be featured in the CNN Documentary, We Will Rise. The film serves as an insight into the world of challenges facing girls education specific to Morocco and Liberia while representing the global scope of the issue. We Will Rise debuted on the International Day of the Girl and to bring things full circle, the girls were invited to view the film at the White House.

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