Returning to service with new skills and experiences

By Kelly Parliament
Feb. 13, 2022

I was thrilled when I was offered the opportunity to reconnect with Peace Corps Morocco through the Virtual Service Pilot

Much of the foundation I have in project management and grant writing comes from my time serving with Peace Corps Morocco from 2016 to 2019 as a Youth Development Volunteer. The grant-writing experience gained through Peace Corps service led me to work as a humanitarian aid worker in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, I was able to build upon my experiences to secure funding for a variety of projects, including funding for the Ebola response and for food security programming.

I was thrilled when I was offered the opportunity to reconnect with Peace Corps Morocco through the Virtual Service Pilot (VSP) because I wished I had the experience I do now when I first served in the Peace Corps. VSP was an opportunity for me to use my expanded skills and experiences to support communities in Morocco.

Through VSP, Peace Corps Morocco connected me with an awesome counterpart, Youssef, who works with Association Tazizouate, in a small town in Morocco. Association Tazizouate is a youth-led organization that works in the areas of environment, education, youth engagement, and women’s empowerment. Youssef is passionate about strengthening the association’s capacity to serve its community and, when the association went door-to-door delivering backpacks filled with school supplies to students, Youssef learned more about the needs of the community. He acknowledged that, although it was not possible to address everything at once, the association could be doing more.

To grow the organization’s programs and reach, we agreed to strategically address knowledge, funding, and capacity gaps. We first conducted a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis and used it to identify where the organization could grow and learn. Some of the areas for improvement were in fundraising, logistical capacity, and community relations. Together, we created a curriculum covering the basics of development project management and grant writing for local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The curriculum also included sessions on needs assessments, logical frameworks, community and stakeholder relations, and donor landscaping. We invited other Moroccan associations to join us for the trainings and even had the opportunity to invite the Peace Corps Morocco grants manager to present a session on budgeting.

VSP has been both similar and very different from my Peace Corps experience. While presenting virtually has its advantages (being able to serve from home), we have faced some of the same challenges I faced teaching in Peace Corps, as well as some new ones.

Communication has been a bit challenging during my Peace Corps Volunteer service and with virtual service. I speak quickly with a thick Midwestern accent and it's difficult for many people to understand me — even fluent English speakers. It was not unusual for Youssef and me to laugh during a session due to misunderstandings and my use of obscure idioms. Youssef’s favorite new idiom is the term “soap boxing," lecturing or ranting about a specific subject. We've also had some fun discussing the origins of the word “stakeholder” and how I pronounce “scope” and “scoop” the same way.

Making virtual sessions engaging has been tough, but Youssef and I used creative methods to problem-solve for each session. Our attendees have been agile and adaptable, sometimes using their phones to connect when necessary, and joining sessions from cafes with Wi-Fi or while they are on public transportation. These clever and flexible solutions have made the program accessible to youth and expanded opportunities to participate.

Youssef and I are very happy with how engaged the attendees are and how much they have learned through our VSP sessions. We are excited to see how they apply their new knowledge to their respective associations.

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