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Teaching and learning from the youth in Morocco

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I find myself at a strange and exciting transition moment in my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The shock I felt arriving in my final site, and the shock I’m sure more than a few of my neighbors felt at meeting a random American, has long since faded away.

I believe that we now find ourselves in a situation where I, and many of the people in my community, have dropped some of our ill-conceived preconceptions and begun to try to learn from each other in a more honest and openhearted kind of way.

Due to the work my site mate began the year before I arrived, my community and I have recently opened a new sports court that has made our youth center even more popular. Together we do athletic workouts and skills workshops for soccer and basketball. More importantly, we go out of our way to emphasize fair play and sportsmanship to the young people we work with. Now that school has let out for the summer in Morocco, I find myself often acting as a referee, coach, and occasional substitute player when an extra pair of hands is needed to play ball at the center.

I also run a film club at the youth center. This was an effort to combine goodhearted fun with more substantive opportunities for personal growth for the teenagers in my area. By watching popular American film and TV series during the club, I hope to share some pieces of my own culture with the young Moroccans I work with. I also try to take in all that I can from the local culture that surrounds me. By simultaneously encouraging the youth to analyze the works that we watch and giving the opportunity for students to write and produce their own work, I try to encourage a spirit of creativity and imagination in not only creating a story, but finding the resources they need to bring their visions to fruition.

Sports and film take up much of my time, but I’ve found my most rewarding work acting as an English teacher and tutor in my community. I work with everyone from absolute beginners to long time students who wish to increase their skill and fluency in conversation. Through these sessions, I've had the opportunity to hear honest opinions from my students on culture, religion, and their prospects for their own future and the future of their country. In those moments, my English classes became more than a chance to drill conjugation and grammar. They became my first true insights into the outlook of the people whom I call my neighbors.

These learning opportunities have thankfully moved out of the classroom into my normal everyday life experience. During Ramadan, the call to prayer rising from the minarets represents both the end of a long day’s fast. It also serves as a call for neighbors and even strangers to invite me to their homes in order to break my fast with them.

The mountains around my new home have become a beautiful place to both bike and reflect on my time and work in Morocco. Most importantly of all, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to learn from the Moroccans who have grown closest to me during this time. My tutors and coworkers balance of some of the loneliness and homesickness that inevitably comes up during Peace Corps service. Through them, I get to dive into some of the nuances of a foreign culture that would have left me incredibly confused otherwise.

My relationship I’ve made with the people in my community here has allowed me to initiate projects that are actually useful. The work I do to develop opportunities for the young people in my community is deeply rewarding, but it is made so much more consequential by work with kindhearted Moroccans who go out of their way to welcome and work with me. The path is not always easy, but the work I do with the Peace Corps has led me to cross paths with committed people that I never would have met otherwise, and without whom none of what I’ve attempted would be possible.