Using traditional crafts to work on the Third Goal
When my husband, JK, and I were Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco, we quickly became immersed in the routines and traditions that go with living in a Muslim country.
Our days were punctuated with the call to prayer from nearby mosques. Our year was built around major holidays like the month of Ramadan and Eid l-Kbir. And we eagerly awaited Fridays, not for the weekend but for the delicious couscous our host family would prepare to enjoy after evening prayers. We were humbled seeing that they always made extra portions so that anyone in their community who was without food could come and receive a meal.
While in service we received questions from our friends back home about living in a Muslim culture. We cringed hearing the assumptions in these questions, but also knew that we were lucky to have had the opportunity to field these questions and share our experience.
Since returning to the U.S. after service, I had often shared Moroccan culture with friends and family as part of Peace Corps’ third goal, which is “to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” Since all of my Moroccan friends, students, teachers, and host family members were devoted Muslims, I wanted to find a way to give non-Muslim Americans some grounding in Islam.
One day, I scanned my kids’ school calendar and noticed all of the holiday celebrations. I realized two things: first, holidays are a great way to share positive and universal beliefs and traditions; and second, there were no Muslim holidays on the calendar.
I contacted the teachers and they were supportive of me developing a curriculum for Ramadan. Ramadan is a month-long holiday when Muslims do not eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset as a sign of devotion and as a reminder of equality; by being hungry they remember that no person is worth more than another, from those who are rich to those who are without food. Charity is a huge part of Islam and is especially important at Ramadan, when communities take extra steps to care for those in need.
For the start of Ramadan, I shared some books and photographs with the kids. They had lots of questions about fasting, and were fascinated by the fact that you watch the phases of the moon to know when the holiday starts. Together we made drums from old coffee cans. These represented the drums used to wake people in the villages and remind them to have one last meal before the sun comes up. We ate dates, the traditional food that breaks the daily fast. And we held a classroom food drive for a local homeless shelter to represent the importance of charity in the holiday.
At the close of Ramadan, we held a party in
honor of Eid l-Saghir. This time I brought a craft activity: mosaic tiles called
zellige or zellij. The kids loved learning about Ramadan and the craft. They
were excited to show their parents their mosaic tiles.
I realized that traditional crafts, a passion of mine, were a great way to teach families about other cultures. This inspired me to start a business creating DIY craft kits based on artisan traditions from around the world. Through these craft kits, I’m able to share some of the places I’ve lived with families across the U.S. I also donate a portion of sales to non-profits in the countries where the crafts originate.
When I served in Morocco, I saw that the country was more developed that many Peace Corps countries, with running water, the internet, and cell phone service. I remember wondering if I was where I could do the most good. Was I really needed there? Now, I know I was in the right place at the right time. Working on the Third Goal, I feel that it’s more important than ever to give people a better understanding, and a relatable, joyful, human experience of what Islam means.