Village Health Fair, And Why My Students Are The Best

“It was a pleasure to help others. You know I had the time of my life today. Since watching those little kind faces was so cool. I feel jealous toward you guys. Because when you help someone that gives you energy to get going. So at last I am so glad that I could help. So that if you need anything or me, I am yours. Peace and love, thank you to give me the opportunity to give a helping hand.” -A message I received from a student following our health fair at Madrassa Bouadia.

Hands down the best part of this project was the opportunity to involve students from the local high school and university as volunteers and teachers.

Prior to joining the Peace Corps, I had the ill proffered notion that it was all going to be about ‘me.’

I was going to organize spelling bee competitions for high school students.

I was going to build latrines for schools that didn’t have any.

I was going to present an HIV/AIDS workshop to illiterate, older women.

Note the emphasis on ‘I.’

These are of course, all things that I did throughout my time in Morocco, but the difference is that I didn’t do them alone. In fact, I merely served as a facilitator for many of these projects. I helped provide the impetus, but by and large the success of these projects belongs to the people who worked on them. My counterparts.

It’s my firm belief that project sustainability in the Peace Corps is only possible when managed with a counterpart. Anything I could do in my service could be done much better by a well-equipped counterpart. I think counterparts are critical to both project success and failure.

So when 10 students showed up to volunteer for the health fair on the first day of their spring vacation, I knew it was going to go well. These students led 20 minute workshops for 65 madrassa students on pertinent health topics like dental hygiene, environment, nutrition, physical fitness, and hand washing. They repeated these lessons 5 times.

They were engaging, capturing the imaginations and attentions of the younger students, all the while remaining professional. They were realistic role models for the madrassa students, truly the best ambassadors to promote healthy living. I could wax poetic about how great they were. But what was so wonderful about their involvement was that they wanted to be there. Unlike high school kids in the United States who volunteer for resume or college application purposes, these kids showed up out of their own volition. And they did it with a smile.

For me, a well completed latrine project meant the successful implementation of a health fair at the madrassa. Beyond just building the toilets, there needed to be an education focused takeaway. This was achieved on all counts. The madrassa students took away health information, the high school students took away notions of volunteerism and what it means to be a peer model, the community took away what it means to design and implement a project like this from the ground up, and I took away the importance of working with others to achieve a common goal.

A job well done.

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Transformation

From this…

Site where the toilets will be built, across the way from the school

To this…

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To this…

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More soon!

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“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” -Shakespeare, Sonnet XCVIII

She runs past me shouting my name. “May-la-nee!” She’s spinning an old bicycle tire with her hand, she yells that she’s ‘playing’ when I ask her what she’s doing.

A wedding party starts up down by the river. There’s a flatbed truck, a few gallant drummers, and a young girl clad in a takchita dancing in front of spectators. The irony is not lost on me.

A herd of sheep grazing in the decrepit, abandoned, and usually locked playground by my house. It’s a funny sight.

“Yeah…she knows Arabic. She’s our teacher,” the taxi driver says to the woman next to me in the taxi. Ustada dyalna.

My landlord tears up, turns his back to me in fact, as we discuss my imminent departure. He repeats his oft quoted assertion that I’m like one of his daughters. B7al b7al.

In some friends’ town, a terrific sight: A woman in jellaba, riding a bike, with her toddler quietly seated in a front tire basket.

Poppies, poppies everywhere. Brilliant red poppies. Yellow daisies. And unidentifiable purple flowers.

Sights and sounds and everything of this April.

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So Long Super Staj

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A few weeks ago I had a party for the volunteers in my region to celebrate the ‘beginning of the end.’ Wrapping up our service in Morocco, saying goodbye, and moving forward.

In all, I had about 22 people over. And amazingly none of my neighbors complained.

A few days ago I had my COS (Close of Service) conference at the Peace Corps headquarters in Rabat where we talked about, you guessed it: wrapping up our service in Morocco, saying goodbye, and moving forward.

I’ve waxed poetic on this blog about the people in my community, but it occurs to me that I haven’t spent nearly as much time reflecting on the Americans, other Peace Corps Volunteers that is, who have made my time in Morocco worthwhile.

I’m talking about my CBT mates, my region mates, volunteers I’ve only encountered one or a few times. These are the people who have enriched and inspired my experiences in Morocco.

I’ll miss the long bus rides, the conversations ranging from bowel movements to philosophy, the talk-as-long-and-as-much-as-you-want phone plan, the food we made together, the collaborative loathing of a certain government ministry we work under, the effortlessness with which I can vent and be understood, the humorous moments, etc.

We had about 90 volunteers at COS conference. 22 short of our initial 112.

Two years ago we were gifted with the name ‘Super Staj,’ a semi-dig imparted on us by the older volunteers. We were unprecedented in Peace Corps Morocco. The largest group of volunteers they’d ever had. The fulfillment of Peace Corps’ commitment to a sole Youth Development program. Groups would only arrive once a year after us.

And we paid for it. Many of those 22 volunteers who decided to end their service early, left within the first 6 months. But we were pioneers. We paved the way for future staj’s, vastly improving their training needs. So many of the positive changes in Peace Corps Morocco could be attributed to the growing pains my staj endured.

It took me a long time to get comfortable because of our size. Maybe until COS Conference even. In fact, I dreaded IST (In-Service Training) and felt relieved that I didn’t have to go to MST (Mid-Service Training) on account of my sister’s visit.

In general I tend to work, thrive, and relate to people better in smaller group settings. I prefer the intimacy of getting to know a few people well, over getting to know a lot of people on the surface level.

But something about this last meeting felt different. Maybe it’s because I know more people or maybe it’s because it physically was a smaller group, but it did feel more intimate. More relaxed. Less anxiety producing.

A good time was had.

It was the last time we’d all be together. Volunteers from my staj will begin leaving as early as April 23rd and will continue to leave throughout the end of May. We’ll be scattered to the winds, but united in some common feeling of what it means to have served in Morocco as the ‘Super Staj.’ The one and only.

Thanks to all of you for being truly super.

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