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.

Special Olympics Morocco

I recently had the opportunity to volunteer at the Special Olympics here in Morocco – something that I’d been excited about doing since I first heard about it at the beginning of the summer. It definitely lived up to my expectations and I would go so far as to say that it was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done since our arrival here in Morocco.

A bit of quick information about the event:

  • 1000 athletes from all over Morocco and a few other North African countries
  • 4 days of events including track and field, soccer, basketball, tennis, cycling, badminton, swimming, weightlifting, table tennis, equestrian, volleyball, and gymnastics
  • 150 volunteers (30 from Peace Corps Morocco)

My job was pretty simple and involved guiding a group during the opening ceremony, helping with the running races throughout the week, providing as much cheering and support for the athletes as possible, and assisting with anything else as needed.  While some of my interactions with the adult leaders and organizers of the event were less than ideal (it seemed that some of them had little experience working with special needs youth), my interactions with the athletes themselves were always positive.  Nearly every athlete was beyond excited to be there and to be competing in such a huge event.  We could tell that they were appreciative that we were cheering for them.

Me and a fellow volunteer at the opening ceremony with our groups of athletes and their coaches.

Me and a fellow volunteer at the opening ceremony with our groups of athletes and their coaches.

Doing my job like a pro.

Doing my job like a pro.

Also my job.  While this photo is staged, it is a near perfect representation of how I actually looked every race.

Also my job. While this photo is staged, it is a near perfect representation of how I actually looked every race.

The medal spread.

The medal spread.

Athletes excited to be receiving their medals!

Athletes excited to be receiving their medals!

The "assisting with anything else as needed" involved moving literally thousands of water bottles from the delivery truck to the storage rooms... not easy.

Bonus photo!!! The “assisting with anything else as needed” involved moving literally thousands of water bottles from the delivery truck to the storage rooms… not easy.

It was really encouraging for me and my fellow PCVs to see an event like this happen in Morocco.  From what I’ve seen thus far, it doesn’t seem that special needs education and inclusion is a very common practice in Morocco.  I’ve heard rumors (I have no idea if this is true, so don’t quote me) that families will sometimes even hide their child from their community if some special needs issue is suspected.  Because of these issues it was definitely encouraging to see such a significant event put together with large scale media attention and even some royalty in attendance – all things that could help to raise awareness.

After the Special Olympics, Cori and I met up and we spent the next few weeks seeing friends, attending a wedding! (we’ll post about that soon), and getting one of my wisdom teeth pulled (much less fun than all of the other things).  And now, home!

-Matt

Summer Camp: Or, a lesson in expectations vs. reality

Sorry for the few weeks’ lack of posting – at the beginning of August we went from having very little work to having two straight weeks of it, and we’ve been unable to update.  With the end of Ramadan, Summer Camp Round Two started, and since we had no camp in Azilal, we got to go help out at other volunteers’ camps. We decided to split up – Matt went to help at a camp near our training site, Taounate, and I went to one on a nice beach town on the Atlantic. We both had a great time at our respective camps, but we also each got a reminder that when it comes to planning work here in Morocco, the result rarely matches the plan.

I was scheduled to work at an 8-day-long camp of 40 kids led by some other volunteers. What actually ended up happening was a camp that started a day late and ended a few days early. We had 15 kids the first day, 40 the second, and 15 again the last couple of days.  I’m not complaining by any means – it was a great camp and I’m really glad I went to help out – but it definitely didn’t turn out the way I expected it to. I suppose the whole week was a nice reminder for me that when things don’t go as planned, sometimes it can actually be for the better.

Matt was scheduled to work at his camp for 10 days with another volunteer. His camp also got cut short, but in his case it was because the supervisor was 5 days late in taking them to the camp (partially because of a trip he took to Casablanca, a city 4 hours away, without letting anyone know). After an unexpected overnight detour where they were enlisted to help clean up a different camp that had just ended, they finally made it to their camp and started working on their main activity, which was to organize a soccer tournament for the kids. Despite the fact that many of the games had to be cut short or cancelled because they started over an hour late and daylight ran out, Matt had a good time and he also counted his camp experience as a good one.

The funniest thing to me about our two camps is that in Morocco, the fact that the reality barely met our expectations is basically considered to be normal. Every time the situation at my camp changed our general reaction was “well, of course,” because it’s not work in Morocco if things don’t go differently from how they’re planned. If any other PCV read these stories, they wouldn’t be surprised in the least because stuff like this is so common in all that we do. And it’s not just us Americans resigning ourselves to a cultural point we don’t understand – Matt was visiting our host family a couple days after his camp was supposed to start, and when he told them it had been moved back, their only response was “OK,” no questions asked.

There’s a word in Arabic – “inshallah” – that means “God willing.” It’s a favorite among PVCs because it just captures so perfectly the attitude among Moroccans that what will happen, will happen. You expected 40 kids but you have 15 (or vice versa)? Well, that’s just how it is. Camp got moved back 5 days, partly because your supervisor took an unannounced trip to Casablanca? God willed it, so you’d better adjust. This situation is often amusing, sometimes infuriating, but most of all is a great lesson in flexibility. When it comes to planning work, what actually happens is often far from what we’ve planned – summer camps are just one really good example. But we’re learning to be flexible, and inshallah everything will work out fine.

– Cori

Camp is all packed up... and apparently shoved into this one truck.

Camp is all packed up… and apparently shoved into this one truck.

Planning the tournament

Planning the tournament

IMG_2536

Matt had the camera all week, so you only get pictures from his camp 🙂