Camp!

We did a spring camp last week. I know we often mention it in passing, but I don’t think we’ve ever actually described what goes into a camp, so I thought that’d be a nice post for today. So without further ado… Camp!

Spring and summer camps are a mandated part of most PCVs’ jobs here in Morocco. That’s because Peace Corps’ partnership here is with the Ministry of Youth and Sport, which is the ministry that oversees the Dar Chebabs and Nedi Neswis, and camp is an important part of the Ministry’s yearly plan. The way this usually works for PCVs is that their mudir receives a fax at some point letting us know there will be camp. Unfortunately, this fax often comes days before camp is supposed to start, and you can imagine the kind of chaos that creates. Luckily, this year we’ve been planning on doing an April camp since February, so we avoided the usual chaos.

When we say we do a camp, we literally mean we do the whole thing (not all volunteers’ camps work this way, but ours usually do). We plan it, bring in friends to work it, buy any extra supplies we need, and run it. The only thing we don’t worry about is food – that’s up to the mudir. This year there was no money for food, so we were completely in charge. A couple weeks before the camp Matt and I sat down to make the schedule – we could do a half-day camp since there was no food, we decided to use a daily team competition structure to enforce discipline, and we brainstormed some ideas for instructional sessions. The next week we called up some volunteers to see if anyone was interested in helping out, and then the day before the camp started we sat down with everyone who would be helping to finalize the schedule and pick which sessions we could offer. We can get away with this type of planning because PCVs are awesome and most of us have tons of instructional sessions and activities in our back pockets, ready to go.

After the usual confusion of calling our mudir and finding out no kids had signed up, then going the next day to check it out and finding out there were, in fact, 20 kids signed up, we began camp on a Tuesday afternoon. Our first day was filled with playing get-to-know-you games, creating teams, having the teams create their flags, explaining how the team competition would work, and playing team-building games after they had their teams. It was a pretty good day – the trust falls were especially popular.

 Caption: The team names they picked were “Anonymous”, “Ayour” (Tamazight for “moon”), and “Evil”. Teams got points for behaving well, helping out when asked, and for participating in “Library Time” at the end of the day, when they had to write English sentences, answer a couple questions about the sessions we had during the day, and identify countries on our big world map.

The team names they picked were “Anonymous”, “Ayour” (Tamazight for “moon”), and “Evil”. Teams got points for behaving well, helping out when asked, and for participating in “Library Time” at the end of the day, when they had to write English sentences, answer a couple questions about the sessions we had during the day, and identify countries on our big world map.

I'm being very trusting since I'm pretty sure none of them had done a trust fall before that day

I’m being very trusting since I’m pretty sure none of them had done a trust fall before that day

The rest of the days were filled with rotation sessions – campers stayed in their teams most of the time and the teams would rotate through three instructional sessions offered by three of the volunteers. This turned out to be a great structure, because it broke the kids down into groups we could manage, and it meant we got to lead the same session three times, which when you’re doing it in a foreign language is extremely helpful. It goes without saying that Matt and I were suuuuuper thankful for the help of our fellow volunteers throughout the camp, because without them things would have been a lot harder. Here’s a quick outline of the sessions that we offered:

Wednesday: Matt led a session on how trash pollutes the water supply. It includes an activity where you slowly add vinegar to water and have the kids taste it until they can taste the “trash”. Our volunteer helpers, Lara and Clay, led an art session where kids drew their “paradise”, then passed the drawings around in a circle having each kid draw a piece of trash onto someone else’s paradise. They paired this with a presentation on how long trash takes to decompose to really emphasize the effect trash has on the environment. I led a free time session where we played games.

Matt's trash session

Matt’s trash session

Thursday: Matt and Clay led Frisbee golf in the park next to the Dar Chebab. Lara led an art activity to encourage self-esteem and respect, where the kids traced their hands then listed characteristics they liked about themselves in the fingers. I led a volunteerism session where we talked about what volunteerism is and its importance, then I helped each group plan a short volunteer project.

Friday: Each group completed their volunteer project. One group cleaned the Dar Chebab, one group picked up trash in the garden and read stories to kids at the little kids’ camp upstairs, and one group planned and taught a Tamazight lesson to our campers. Afterwards we had a short discussion on how the projects went and what they would do differently in the future.

A students from Team Ayour reading to kids

A students from Team Ayour reading to kids

Team Evil teaching me how to write my name in Tamazight

Team Evil teaching me how to write my name in Tamazight

Saturday was our last day, and we had planned to bleach-dye t-shirts, make drawings to post on a “board of the camp”, and have a talent show, but most of the kids didn’t show up. Whether this is due to them not being satisfied with Friday’s volunteerism activity, or because it was a Saturday, I have no idea, but it was still kind of disheartening. We still did the t-shirts and the drawings, but nobody wanted to do a talent show, and at the end of the day when we announced the winning team and handed out certificates it was like pulling teeth to get them to come in. But, all in all, Matt, Clay, Lara, and I led a camp that we were proud of, and it also turned out to be far less stressful than normal. We’re very glad it’s over for now… until, of course, we get back from the U.S. and it’s time to plan for summer camp. Dun dun dun…

– Cori

The One-Year Slump

Today is our one-year-and-one-month anniversary in Morocco. Our one year anniversary went unmarked on the blog because it felt pretty unremarkable overall. Worse than unremarkable, actually – it may have been one of the most discouraging anniversaries I’ve ever celebrated. Sure, knowing that we’d completed a year living and working in a different country was exciting, but it was heavily overshadowed by the realization that we still had the same amount of time left plus three months. I try to keep the blog pretty positive in general, because my service overall has been a positive experience for me, but on a day-to-day basis both Matt and I often swing between very positive and very negative emotions, and I wanted to finally take the opportunity to share that. Don’t worry, nothing bad happened at the one-year point. It’s just that the past month felt like a slump… a more extended period of negativity than usual, I guess. Luckily, thanks to some new things we’ve been doing, my attitude is starting to look up again – hopefully the one-year slump is officially behind me!

I’ve already mentioned it was tough to get back to work after my family left in early January, since their visit was one of the most fun periods of my service so far. Our one-year anniversary happened right after they left, so in addition to missing them, I also got to contemplate my additional year and three months of service while dealing with a winter drop in my class attendance and a general malaise when faced with continuing my same class schedule for 4 more months. Not to mention the temperature in our house was often somewhere around 48˚F. It doesn’t really sound like much now that I’ve written it down, but I’ve learned that in Peace Corps sometimes the little things make all the difference, and for whatever reason, these things combined to make the past month less than enjoyable.

To combat the one-year slump, Matt and I have been adding some new activities to our week to spice things up a bit:

  1. We’ve started planning a seminar series to take place once or twice a month, where we bring in a community member to talk to youth about topics such as employability, health, and the environment. We held our first session yesterday; it was an employability workshop led by a local employment agency, and it went really well.
  2.  I’ve been incorporating art projects into my classes – it’s a nice hands-on thing for the kids to do, and I actually look forward to it since I get to participate too. During my beginner’s class this week, we made Valentine’s Day cards in English, and the activity went so well that I repeated it the next day and made it open to everyone at the Dar Chebab who wanted to participate. Despite making a total mess with glitter (or maybe because of that, for the kids), we all had a great time.
  3. We’ve been taking some small weekend trips – last weekend out to the valley of Ait Bougamez (which is absolutely beautiful as you can see by the pictures below), and this weekend I went to Ouzoud with some ladies from the Women’s Center while Matt went on a hike to check out the nearby work of some French researchers who we just met.

Activities like these have made things a lot more interesting, and maybe also because it’s been a lot warmer and sunnier recently, I’ve been feeling much more positive. Also, now that we’ve booked our flights we can start counting down to our summer trips to the States and to Spain – which is one of my favorite ways to counteract negative thoughts!

– Cori

Back to Work!

I never thought I’d be glad to hear those words… but after a summer where our entire job consisted of working the occasional camp, I’ve actually enjoyed getting back to work in Azilal. It’s been a slow start – school started at the beginning of October, but then there was a week off for l’3id. Then there were a couple weeks on, and another week off from school last week to celebrate the Islamic New Year and the Green March holiday. But we’ve been gradually increasing time at the Dar Chebab and letting people know that we’ll be starting classes soon. We’ve got a big project going on the next few weeks (you’ll hear about it in our next post!) but after that we hope to finally get back to teaching regularly.

Here’s what we’ve been up to so far this school year:

  • I’ve been teaching aerobics and beginner English at the Nedi Niswi, which is the women’s center (yes, this is the part where you all laugh as you imagine me leading aerobics). I’ve really enjoyed it though, not least because I can always fall back on “do this” and “like me” when my Darija isn’t getting the point across. Awkwardness (usually) averted!
  • I also attended a training to be able to lead business education programs at the Dar Chebab, through a Moroccan non-profit that’s partnered with Junior Achievement. Youth unemployment is a huge problem in Morocco so this is something that I’m excited about doing this school year.
  • Matt’s been planning some big projects of his own, including starting the C.L.I.M.B. program in Azilal and getting his foot in the door with a few PCV-organizational partnerships such as a rock-climbing camp and Engineers without Borders. He’s hoping to get more involved with all of these at the beginning of next year.
  • Together we’ve been going to the Dar Chebab to hang out with the kids there. Since we haven’t started any structured classes yet, our crowd is pretty small, but we’ve enjoyed playing Frisbee, Uno, Scrabble, Chess, paper football, and whatever other games we can think of with them. For kids whose main form of entertainment at home is TV, these games are a great way to pick up some new problem-solving skills, even if the English we use is minimal.

Even with starting up work again, we’ve still have some time for fun… we got to visit the Ouzoud waterfalls again this weekend with Max, a couchsurfer that we hosted from Germany. Got to see the beautiful falls, gorges and cliffs, play with some monkeys, and even do a little November swimming!

I guess Max shares some of Matt's crazy... and they hiked around in their underwear the rest of the day to let them dry out. no joke.

I guess Max shares some of Matt’s crazy… and they hiked around in their underwear the rest of the day to let them dry out. no joke.

Picture courtesy of Max, who is a much better photographer than Matt and I put together

Picture courtesy of Max, who is a much better photographer than Matt and I put together

Cropped to save you all a close-up of them in their boxers.

Cropped to save you all a close-up of them in their boxers.

Summer Camp

Matt and I often joke that the only reason we ended up as Youth Development volunteers is because we have such different talents and strengths that YD is the only thing we’re jointly qualified for. Which is especially funny to me because for the most part, I don’t feel qualified to do the work that we’ve done so far with youth at all (luckily, the YD umbrella is huge and there are plenty of projects I’m looking forward to working on in the fall when schools start again and camp season is over). Take last week as an example – it was Azilal’s first summer camp of the season. 40 kids ranging in age from 12 – 21 showed up at the youth center for an English camp put on by the director, and it was my job (along with Matt’s, once he got back from his climb) to entertain them for a week. As an introvert who never really went to summer camp, I felt waaaaay out of my league on this one. Thankfully some other PCVs who live in the area came up to help out – I don’t know what I would have done without them!

The first day of camp literally included my nightmare scenario – all the kids were seated in a circle around us, and the director asked us to individually stand up and sing a song or improvise a story. Never mind the fact that we were speaking in English and maybe 2 kids in the whole room understood… I was still horrified (my family will appreciate the fact that this brought me flashbacks to that birthday dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack). But we improvised by doing some spoken word renditions of Backstreet Boys songs, which was immensely entertaining to us (although the kids had no idea why we were laughing), and we managed to get through it.

The rest of the camp remained a struggle – the kids often didn’t want to do activities, they just wanted to hang out with their friends, so keeping to our schedule was difficult at best. But eventually the week ended, and the camp culminated in a talent show followed by a dance party that all the kids seemed to enjoy. As for me, I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed the actual camp, but I did enjoy getting to hang out and cook delicious meals with the other PCVs that came to help – we did a fantastic job distracting ourselves from camp during the evenings when we weren’t working! And I got a chance to meet a lot of kids who I’m sure will be great kids to have in our future activities (as long as they’re not surrounded by 40 other excited teenagers).

And I guess that now that I’ve helped run a camp (instead of just teach at one like we did in the spring), that makes me qualified to do it again. I certainly don’t feel like it, but I do have some ideas for how to make it better next time (although I’m hoping there won’t be too many next times…). This experience is also a good lesson for the next time I get thrown into a scenario I feel completely unqualified to deal with (which will undoubtedly happen, since this is the Peace Corps after all) – you do something, it might work or it might not, you will get embarrassed along the way, but you get through it anyway, and maybe you learn a little bit in the process. For now, though, I’ve been welcoming Ramadan and the slower schedule it has brought with open arms :). We’re almost into our second week of fasting now, and we’ll be sure to tell you all about it next week!

– Cori

Me teaching our combined beginners

Me teaching our combined beginners

We did get to take the camp to a festival happening in Azilal - we all got pictures like this, which was pretty cool!

We did get to take the camp to a festival happening in Azilal – a lot of the kids got pictures like this, which was pretty cool!

I swear we do work sometimes…

Hey all! So my family’s been making some cracks at me about how Matt and I are always off on vacation somewhere having fun and not doing any work, or about how scant our work schedule has been lately when we have had work. I hope you’ll all be glad to know that we’re back to work this week… well, at least until Ramadan starts next week :-).

After a couple weeks of being lazy and not leaving the house a whole lot, we’ve split up for the first half of the week. Matt went to help with another PCV’s program that is taking some kids to climb Mt. Toubkal (highest peak in N. Africa! can you believe that counts as work?), and I stayed in Azilal to start off the first summer camp of the season. A few volunteers came up to help with the camp (thank you!!) so it’ll be a good time. We started our first day of camp today with 20 kids and ended the day with 40 kids – so if that’s any indication for how the camp is going to go, I’m sure I’ll accumulate some good stories to share with you next week after we’re done. And of course we’ll be sure to post Matt’s pics up here at some point too!

Miss you all and hope you’re all enjoying a nice, relaxing summer!

Cori