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Corps Africa: An Opportunity for Moroccans to Heighten the Notion of Volunteering

Goulmima – Over the last twenty years, CorpsAfrica has grown from a small idea in the mind of Liz Fanning, and the day it sees the light has now arrived.

Being a former Peace Corps volunteer in the High Atlas, Liz Fanning feels the Moroccan drums beat so hard in her heart, bringing her back to a land that earned her love and respect. In 2013, she launched the first pilot year of CorpsAfrica in Morocco, modeling it after the American Peace Corps volunteering program.

The notion of volunteering has always been associated with Americans who come to Morocco and serve for two years in remote villages and high-poverty communities. Despite the amazing work that Moroccan language and culture facilitators do to help integrate these volunteers into Moroccan communities, the language and cultural understanding has remained a barrier to implementing the volunteers’ projects. CorpsAfrica reshapes this idea among Moroccans, choosing Moroccan to serve in their own country for a period of one year.

It is worth noting that Moroccans do volunteer everyday with their neighbors, friends, and even strangers. It is a fundamental part of this country‘s culture and religion to provide unconditional help for other people in need, with the sole reward of a simple Lah Irhem Lwalidin- may Allah have mercy on your parents. CorpsAfrica takes this aspect to the next level and assigns volunteering tasks for Moroccan youth to serve in poor areas and bring positive change to their adopted communities. It is a revolutionary endeavor to “promote community and cross-regional volunteerism, an understanding of poverty that only comes from living it, and encouraging bolder philanthropy toward poverty,” said the official website of the organization (www.corpsafrica.org).

Given its novelty and partially homonymous name with Peace Corps, CorpsAfrica volunteers have often been assumed to be Americans; however, the unexpected fact that the organization recruits only Moroccan nationals has received a remarkable amount of appreciation and encouragement. In its first year pilot phase, CorpsAfrica received a large number of applications from Moroccan youths who were eager to serve in their country and gain new experiences.

Seven young women and one young man are the first volunteers who were chosen to embark on this amazing journey towards discovering another aspect of their country, as well as of themselves. Though the disparity between gender participation in the program is notable, the strict filtering process ensures that the individuals chosen earned their positions in the program due to their qualified resumes.

CorpsAfrica took into consideration the factor of cultural sensitivity. Being culturally sensitive is very important in gaining people’s trust. The volunteers need this trust because through it, they can pave the road toward fruitful community meetings with local authorities and individuals. CorpsAfrica has introduced an entrepreneurial element to the traditional practice of volunteerism, as the young volunteers need to listen to the people to understand the needs of their host communities, working toward changes the community wants and not the other way around.

A potential challenge to this experience for female participants would be the extent to which rural people might accept a woman as an agent of change. Given the conservative and strict practices in some of those areas, a woman might think twice before stepping into a gathering of men.  However, as some volunteers have mentioned in their blogs, mentalities have changed, and men were often the first to voice their requests to female volunteers, while also providing remarkable support and assistance throughout their stay in the villages.

Malika Boukbout is one of the brave Moroccan Berber females who decided to devote one year of her life to occupying herself with other people’s concerns and trying to find a common ground and implement solutions. In an interview with Morocco World News, Malika shared the following insights about her participation in the program:

MWN: Why CorpsAfrica?

Malika: That’s a good question. Because I worked for Peace Corps, I was inspired by Peace Corps Volunteers so I embraced this opportunity to get the full image of the life of a volunteer with all its ups and downs, face the challenges, learn from them, bring change and give something back to my beloved country, be it small.  I chose CorpsAfrica to be the change I want to see in my own country, that being said, to be a role model for generations to come, to instill on them the spirit of volunteerism.

MWN: Was it easy to leave your life behind and give your time and energy to people you do not know? 

Malika: It is not easy to change and get out of your comfort zone. But I believe in what I want and I am pursuing the path because I know that I will reap a lot from it, both on personal and professional levels. I know that it is not easy to leave all the conveniences behind and live in a poor village, but the more I integrate and see how people live, the more I become aware that the material world is not a prerequisite to live a comfortable life. We cling a lot to money and salaries, which we think will make us happy, but happiness is far beyond that. It is how you can dedicate your time to help people.  It is that joy that you make others feel that matters more than the joy you try to make through material possessions.

MWN: How do Moroccans look at a Moroccan female volunteer in a remote village on her own?

Malika: As a female volunteer, and as far as our culture is concerned, to volunteer in a small village far from your home is a little bit frowned upon, which is heartbreaking, especially when you listen to some comments or see some facial expressions from educated people that make you feel uncomfortable.

MWN: What about your family and friends? Did they support your decision?

Malika: My family did not agree 100% with this initiative, but all my insistence and constant reinforcement of whims, inclinations, and the strong desire to embark on this journey made my family give up. On the other hand, there are some other people who seem very excited when I inform them about my volunteerism, they are very eager to know what I am doing and they encourage me fervently. Down the road, I find people who support me and I find solace in them instead of those who scorn and give me a look. As I mentioned before, I believe in what I do and I want to lead by example for generations to come and I will never give up.

MWN: How does it feel to be the pioneer with CorpsAfrica?

Malika: I hope I will be a good resource to other volunteers, smooth the way before them to enlighten it because they will carry the torch and pass it on to the next generation of CorpsAfrica volunteers. I want to instill the spirit of volunteerism- I know that it is in our religion “Islam” and people do it unintentionally and intentionally. CorpsAfrica is an opportunity to give it a professional frame. We need to leave a stamp in our beloved country, let’s contribute, all of us.

MWN: Do you think that volunteering is bound with age? 

Malika: Age does not matter as long as you have a young heart and you are determined. Traditionally, at my age, I am supposed to be married and get a stable job, that is why I was considered by many people who know me as derailed from the usual track.  But they don’t know that I want to beat the unbeaten track in which I find happiness, felicity and bliss; and people perceive bliss differently.

MWN: What is your advice to future CorpsAfrica volunteers?

Malika: My recommendation to the next group is to take into account the fact that it is not an easy endeavor. It is hard to get out of your comfort zone but by cracking its shell, you will reap a lot. You need to be very patient, and patient and patient.

Another CorpsAfrica volunteer was eager to share her opinions. Bouchra Kouryani joyfully disclosed to Morocco World News her reason for joining CorpsAfrica: “I chose to be a volunteer with CorpsAfrica because I like volunteerism. I want to spread the sense of volunteerism in Morocco especially in the small villages. Also, it is hard for me to see poor people live in very bad conditions. I joined this NGO to do my best to help them live a better life because it is my duty to do that. I am young and educated ….I have to help them.”

Bouchra commented on the question of her surrounding’s reaction towards leaving home for a whole year, especially considering that she is a recent graduate, “It is a learning experience for me. I have the opportunity to challenge myself and make new friends, living in another place, which is different than my hometown. It was hard for my family to accept that easily. My mother disagreed at the beginning but later on, and after a long discussion with her, the rest of the family and I had the chance to convince her and my father encouraged me the whole time. He loves traveling, he is open-minded, he agrees with my decisions.”

On her perception on volunteerism, Bouchra said, “I am already involved in a lot of volunteering activities in the Figuig Province, Eastern Morocco.” Her last word to MWN was, “I advise Moroccan young people to do their best and involve in volunteering activities and use their skills to help poor people because it is their duty to do that. I also recommend that they join CorpsAfrica because it is a good opportunity to live a new challenging experience to discover themselves.”

The program started on September 15th 2013 and it will end on August 31st 2014.

Edited by Melissa Smyth. Photo by Joel Dowling

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