Radical Hospitality served Jordanian Style. Presents or presence.

By Jen Whitmore

At the end of the day I’d like to instill in my sons, “a generosity of spirit.” I hope they will always make the decision to go out of their way to support another, listen to another, or simply give a little more than expected. It’s not a financial transaction I refer to, but a moral one. The decision to give more of one’s own self for no other gain than personal satisfaction and true esteem. I have always prided myself on being a mother who could instill in my sons a devotion to this concept of generosity of spirt, but I had no idea I wasn’t even in the arena of generosity yet, and if I was, had the cheap tickets way up in the bleacher seats!

The moment I entered the arena I had landed at Queen Alia airport in Amman, Jordan. I learned very quickly that people take care of each other here. Think, arrival of refugee populations, victims of unrest, war and civil conflict, as well.  There is a level of generosity of spirit here that I refer to as Radical Hospitality. It was evident at my very first business meeting in Irbid. There were more sweets than I can possibly describe. Beautiful cookies, cakes and tea (or coffee or water whatever your choice.) It is as though a party may break out at any moment and you are the honored guest being celebrated. I was concerned a few times that it must be for someone else? But each time I was assured it’s ‘the way.’ And I also learned quickly you ruffle feathers and hurt feelings and esteem by turning the gesture down. Do not even attempt to say, “no thank you.” The temperature in the room will go down quickly and you take the wind out of peoples’ sails when you discount their gesture of providing for you. It’s actually a visceral reaction they have. And it is not positive.

Here’s a wonderful crazy example. Once I learned that sweets are coveted and respected with the devotion, they deserve to be present at each meeting…

I stopped at the small bakery across the street from my hotel to buy a kilo of beautiful cookies for the Academy students I would be visiting with that day. After I acted out the transaction for the gentleman behind the counter who did not speak English and who could not understand my incomprehensible broken Arabic… (my acting may be better than my Arabic!) I went on to ask, (act/mime) “do you also sell Turkish coffee?” The gentleman said “La,” (no) but asked me to wait one moment. He dashed out the front door and ducked into the restaurant next-door. It was then that I realized what he was doing! He hurriedly ordered me a hot Turkish coffee to “take away.” He rushed back in a flurry, pushing the hot, open cup into my hands. I fumbled for my Dinar, but he was adamantly refusing with clear intention. This was his gift to me. It certainly brought joy to my day, but at the same time it gave me moment to pause. I felt a little bereft: I had received, but had nothing to offer in return in the transaction. I felt a little marginalized that he had the power to give and my only role was to receive or to take (?) It almost approaches a power imbalance that’s hard to describe openly. I had no inkling what to expect when he rushed off, then had the shock of the realization and the surprise of the offering. The gesture left me feeling provided for (and powerless without opinion.)


I don’t in anyway mean to negate the joy of the intention, but acknowledge the emotional investment in the transaction/exchange. I have found with this immense generosity also comes a feeling of angst. How do I reciprocate?! How do I feel more in control of receiving? And how do I express both my joy and responsibility in the offering? It took me a number of days here to reflect on this and reconcile my feelings. I came to this: we as people have an inherent need to provide for one another and we each need to feel we are capable to reciprocate, share, and serve as well.  This can and does take on different iterations, clearly. For the gentleman at the bakery, of course, I continued every morning to visit him during the exchange. (Interestingly I don’t eat ‘sweets’ in the US!) For the Academy students, staff and hosting Fellow’s true and incredible amount of generosity, all I had to truly share was my time and my presence.  Which, in turn I learned became the greatest gift for each of us. The act of giving of one’s own self for no other purpose, but presence coupled with the ancient art of offering and receiving with grace. These are the true gifts the abominable spirit of the Jordanian people are sending me home with! I leave Jordan’s arena of generosity with my ticket fully stamped knowing full well I will share this ticket with the next person in line!



The Most Meaningful Gift

By Corrin Meise-Munns

Sudden immersion in a foreign land, where the people speak a foreign tongue, feels like reverting to a state of childish helplessness. A competent adult just yesterday, today you need to learn the basics all over again. First, you need to learn to communicate — formalities, pleasantries, and broken phrases — to relay your needs. Even hand gestures can be unreliable in a culture originating halfway around the world. Moving around Jordan, I was reliant on others to communicate on my behalf. Multilingualism seems most impressive when you’re unable to ask for even the bathroom or a snack. So you start to collect bits and pieces of language, single words to string together to convey intent in broken syntax. Marhaba, forsa saida, yelleh.

Once you can convey your basic needs, then you need to learn to follow through to meet 20200225_153603these needs. Mealtime traditions are not universal. In Irbid, we eat on the floor in the living room. We use our hands, we use tissues for napkins, we do not dip the hummus into the za’atar. We eat these types of olives for breakfast, and this type for lunch. We eat two meals a day, not three.

Then there are the restrooms. Even this most basic act you must learn again! “Arabic toilets” are literal holes in the floor with treads on either side and a rubber hose, or in rustic locations plastic water pitchers, located beside. Toilet paper is considered nonessential, but try explaining a hose or pitcher situation to an American as she is coming out of the stall with wet shoes and a scared look on her face.

Once I had gained reasonable competency in a few Arabic phrases and was passably familiar with the rubber hose, I found myself in the less bewildering but more frustrating experience of needing to ask questions about everything all of the time. In other words, I had graduated from toddlerhood into the phase of young childhood where kids just ask questions. All the time. About everything.

As a kid, you ask because you want to know and you don’t care about being a good conversationalist. As an adult, you know you’re being annoying. But, limited in language and cultural competency, you don’t have any other conversation to offer. Also, questions are a good way to counter unexpected situations when you find yourself at a loss — such as when the entire government of a major city misinterprets your role and thinks you are here to fund their transportation projects, or when you visit a local business and asked to star in a commercial for them, or when you meet a friend at a cafe, thinking you’re there to sip limonana and catch up, and they ask you to devise a plan to develop a board of directors for their nonprofit within the hour you have together. As an adult-child or as a guest, you are put in the position of receiving all of the time. This can feel uncomfortable, like you’re a burden, or like you are freeloading. In our own culture, we understand our place and how we can add value to society. In a foreign land, we are out of context and out of place. This forces you to ask a lot of questions about yourself, and how best to interact with others.

When it comes down to it, what of value do we have to give? The Jordanians I have met, and been reunited with, on this trip have given me so much. Their incredible generosity has kept me afloat and thriving. My meals were more than provided for, with tables overflowing with mansef, makloubeh, kunafa. My transportation was arranged; boiled Turkish coffee with cardamom and tea with nana or maramia was almost forcibly thrust in my hands at every meeting; so many gifts were given by everyone, including near strangers, that I had to buy a second suitcase to take home from the old souk in Amman. But what floored me the most was how much time, and how much real service, each new friend dedicated to me. From what I could see, this was also time Jordanians dedicated to each other. Cooking for each other, driving each other, stopping for long conversations in the street. Beyond the gift giving and huge meals, this was the true Jordanian hospitality. It affected me not least because it was something I was able to reciprocate. I could give my attention; I could strive to understand; I could be present for others. Here is something that is crosscultural, that I didn’t have to learn again. The gift of our time, and of deep listening, may be the most meaningful gift of all.


Tuesday Morning Coffee Rush Irbid, Jordan

By Jenifer Whitmore

IMG_5352I would love to talk about the Incredible abundance of colorful, healthful food here in Irbid or the radical hospitality I am experiencing, which of course I will, but first I want to acknowledge what quiet silence is feeling like. I am not mute or entirely deaf, but I am finding a place of quiet reflection as I sit and experience what on a typical day in Boston would simply be known as the ritual of the morning coffee rush!

It’s a poignant experience not being able to understand or speak the language of the country I am visiting. It’s interesting to sit in a room and hear all of the conversations going on around me but not understanding a word, not a single word or even a point of reference. The din of the room seems louder to me when I cannot understand anything. The cadence of conversation seems faster and foreign. I sit alone with my back against the wall facing all the other tables openly listening and acutely aware of my surroundings. People do not seem to notice me. It does not seem as though they feel I am out of place although that’s how I feel, internally. They are going about their business enjoying each other’s company and I am listening and bearing witness to their relationships and community. Although I cannot understand a word they’re saying and actually no one in the room is speaking any English, there’s one thing that is very universal. Eye contact and a smile. It speaks volumes. It alone makes me feel welcome and included.

I’m now sitting outside waiting to catch a taxi to the Academy. Sitting in the warm sunshine looking at the brilliant beautiful blue sky. People are hustling and bustling past me. It is noon time and people are well into their workdays and school days. I learn quickly that school is letting out. Again, I sit and listen as people walk past me. No one approaches, but people do glance at me. I smile at everyone to let them know I see them and appreciate their beautiful community. The sun feels the same on my face as it does in Boston! A young boy just approached me and asked me for money… I smiled and answered in English I don’t have any. I don’t carry cash. It’s the same answer that I have in Boston! I don’t carry any money! Again, I smiled at him wishing I had something to offer just as I feel in Boston. School must let out early here? As young students keep passing and start approaching me. Just curious, I guess. No one says hello they just look at me. Actually, one brave soul did say hello to me. She was a beautiful young girl. She boldly stepped up to say “hi”. Actually, the longer I sit, the more children are approaching me. Very sweet. Saying hello and asking about my dress. I do my best to say hello in Arabic and explain I am visiting from the United States. I am not certain if the children are braver than the adults who walk past me? Or if they simply have a more open perspective on a different looking woman in a work dress and heels? Regardless, it is heartwarming and endearing. They taught me a few words, in Arabic, as they are smarter than me and they practiced their English on me as well. We all smiled and struggled together! I felt joy as I began the work day with their smiles in mind.

I am doing it again… I’m sitting here in Irbid, in a coffee shop bakery with a piping hot, pungently strong, artistically made tiny cup of coffee. Again, alone, I sit at a table listening to everyone around me speak rapidly and confidently. I try to sit close enough to be able to hear easily and, in a position, that I appear welcoming, open and available if anyone would like to chat with me. I continue to make eye contact and smile and say good morning in my unfortunately poor Arabic. I am watching a table of women wearing Niqab, everything covered except for their eyes laughing and joking and carrying on fully enjoying each other‘s company. They are entirely present sharing deep Camaraderie with one another. It tickles me watching them enjoy each other’s company. Again, I am finding a smile is universal and clearly, I see one can smile with their eyes! It is reassuring seeing the twinkle and energy behind those eyes!  Again, I begin my Fellowship work day here in Irbid with joy in my heart that although I cannot understand the language, eye contact and smiles are universal signs that we are quite obviously more alike than we are different!

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A Warm Welcome

By Corrin Meise-Munns

Jordan is famous for its hospitality, and we were made to understand why within just a few minutes of landing in Amman. The world over, people work the counters at passport control are notorious for being taciturn and intimidating. In Queen Alia Airport, however, we were greeted with smiles and well-wishes for our travels within the land of Petra. Our driver, who met us at baggage claim, gave us an (un)abbreviated history of the Kingdom and extolled the virtues of peace and brotherly love between all religions and nations of the world. He then gave us his personal cell phone number in case we ever needed anything while in the country. As it turned out, he had lived in Boston for years before moving back to Jordan, and so we all felt a certain kinship and sadness at parting when we arrived at Ayass Hotel.

The next morning was no different. Jet-lagged, after 24+ hours of travel and no sleep in the same amount of time, I walked into the best breakfast I have ever had. Not your ordinary continental breakfast of a bagged croissant and watery coffee, this was a full-on, traditional Jordanian breakfast. 

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The buffet took up an entire room, and was filled with savory delights such as foul, a mashed bean dish served from a clay pot with six condiments, sausages, eggs to order, honey fresh from the comb, an assortment of cheeses, hummus, olives, pickles, whole vegetables, and a full wall of different breads. I ate enough for three people that morning, which was fortuitous, because as it turned out I needed the training. Jordanians’ meals are always very big—and even bigger if you admit even a hint of hunger before the meal begins!


But while I continue to be impressed with the food here, I have come to realize that the culture of food, sharing, and hospitality to guests is representative of a larger world view. On our first morning in Amman, while Mark, Jen, and I were slowly wrapping up our breakfast feast, we met Khaled Shorman, Executive Director of the Masar Center, and coordinator of the Jordanian Fellowship on this side of the ocean. He started our official workday with a brief history of the Arabian middle east and the struggle of forced and created identity in this region. Just over one hundred years ago, the middle east was a land without borders. Now, the Kingdom of Jordan, less than one hundred years old, is home to Jordanians, Palestinian refugees-turned-citizens, and Syrian refugees, amongst other, smaller groups. In order to maintain its reputation as the “oasis of stability” in the region, Jordanian people welcome these refugees with open arms, and without fear, citing frequently that they have no differences except, sometimes, accents.


At a smaller scale, this worldview was reiterated by the 2018 and 2019 Jordanian Fellows in Civic Engagement, with whom we met for lunch and presentations. The Fellows updated each other and us about their progress on their action plans—and it struck me that, out of maybe 15 fellows across the two cohorts, nearly all relied on volunteerism to make their projects work. Not only relying on volunteerism from others, they themselves were dedicating huge amounts of time to making their altruistic plans a reality—from generating training courses for citizens living with disabilities, or young people who were unable to complete their secondary certificates, to inspiring a love of classical Arabic learning in elementary school students, to getting out the Jordanian vote. 


The fellows are engaged because they love their neighbors, and because they realize that their society, symbolic of all across the world, should still be a region without borders—one where neighbors love and respect neighbors, always with too much food.


Economic Development Strategies for Marginalized Populations in Morocco

By Anh Vu Sawyer

I am leaving Rabat, Morocco, in a couple of hours, but will leave some of my heart here. What a beautiful country! And what wonderful people. I am honored to have learned so much from the Morocco Fellows and the U.S. Fellows. Both have humbled me greatly with their wisdom, experience and passion for their non-profit work serving the marginalized people of Morocco and the US.


Having myself worked in economic development with ethnic minorities in the highlands of North Vietnam, and, since 2012, serving immigrants and refugees as the Executive Director of the Southeast Asian Coalition of Massachusetts, I see many shared similarities between the women in Morocco and the women I’ve worked with elsewhere. All are very hard working and are eager to support their families. Many of them have excellent skills, such as sewing, embroidering, weaving, cooking, baking, etc., but don’t have the opportunity to start a small business with their skills. This is where the roles of the Moroccan Fellows and their associations become critical, in empowering the women, especially those who are widows, to become self-supporting and equipped to provide for their families.

During this trip I learned that 40% of Moroccans are illiterate. Once a married woman becomes a widow, and is without an education or outside job experience (many have 4-5 children and need to stay home to take care of them), it’s almost impossible for them to support their children without the help of these associations. Gleaning from my own experience, I was able to share about SEACMA’s work in promoting and supporting entrepreneurship among English Language Learner immigrants and refugees, especially women and elders, by leveraging their existing skills. In addition, associations also will need to help them access other forms of support such as mental health, personal coaching, business acumen, financial literacy, healthy living and eating habits, and other support for their children, etc. Most importantly, I believe that support for these widows will also help to restore their respect and dignity, which is very important in helping them rebuild their lives holistically. Using the 4 H’s from MIT Professor Bill Aulet: Heart (passion), Head (strategies), Hand (keep doing what we do well) and Home/Community (partnership, collaboration with others), to point out the 4 important elements that help entrepreneurs to succeed, I believe effective Economic Development strategies can eventually help many marginalized people to become contributors to the greater society and even change the world for the better.

Looking back over the last 10 days, I realized the wide impact the US team was able to make in Morocco – from the grassroots community organizations, youth, adults, widows, families, people of all genders, ages, and education levels, to Parliament policy makers and Regional leadership.  But most important of all, the relationships we built as we took our time to visit families in their homes, connecting with others over meals, sharing our challenges and victories over barriers, and championing each other, we’ve found life-long friends who will always be there to root for each other’s vision. We are inspired to work towards making the world a better place for all through our work with the environment, child protection, support for widows, and promoting civic engagement across all people, youth and elders.

Our days in Morocco were very full, and quite enjoyable. Moroccans are among the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. Many, such as Naoaur, Najoua, Zida, Hamit, and Abdul, opened their homes, hearts and lives to receive me and the other US Fellows as if we are members of their family. It’s so great to see so many young people eager to be engaged in social issues and actually doing something about it. All of the associations we visited have members who are volunteers while holding down their full-time jobs. Their collective effort has helped to rebuild the lives of many widows, and hundreds of low-income and at-risk children and youth.

What a rich experience and much-cherished journey I was allowed to have with the Moroccan Fellows as they strive to build vibrant communities for their beautiful country and people. A heart-felt thanks to the Department of State and ITD for selecting me as a US Professional Fellow. I hope my small and humble part during this time will have a wide ripple effect in building lasting relationships between the people of Morocco and the people of the United States, and beyond.

Friends Across Borders

By Maryellen Santiago

The moment I met Slimane Amansag, Executive Director of the Fondation Amane Pour la Protection de l’Enfance (FAPE), I knew we were meant to be lifelong friends and partners for the rights of children across the world.  His infectious smile made him an instant member of our small community at the Treehouse Foundation in Easthampton, Massachusetts where he spent weeks as our Professional Fellow as part of the Professional Fellows Program (a program implemented by the Institute for Training and Development (ITD) and funded by the U.S. Department of State. He spent countless hours engaging with the staff, elders, and children of our community, and exchanging ideas about child protective services.  He traveled with youth of the HEROES Youth Leadership program to the State House in Massachusetts during their annual performance of Youth Truth, a creative arts & media project focused on improving the lives of young people who experience foster care and adoption. The youth were impacted by his drive and have since been dreaming about visiting Morocco and joining his advocacy efforts to ensure a child protective system that guarantees rights for their international peers.


While in the U.S., Slimane spent time meeting with key stakeholders and asking dozens of questions that would provide insight for his team at FAPE in Taroudant, Morocco. He inspired the staff, elders, and children of an Easthampton, MA community and has a stream of followers on social media cheering on his progress for children’s rights.  As is often the case, it was time to say goodbye to our fellow, but many of our community members, including myself, knew that one day we will meet him again.  We couldn’t allow our friend Slimane to lead the children’s rights movement in Morocco without our support.


Although I knew that someday I’d see my friend again, I never imagined having the opportunity to see Slimane in Morocco as the US Professional Fellow through ITD.  As I reflect on these incredible days I’ve spent learning about the Moroccan culture and the incredible partnerships that Slimane and his local friends from FAPE, the Centre Pont Pour la Protection de l’Enfance, and the Association Tarouanou des Enfants en Situation Difficile have created, I feel honored to have the experience to learn about each organization’s history and where they currently stand in their local movement.  As each leader of the organizations shared their stories, one thing was paramount: friendships and organizational partnerships were the core of the children’s rights movement in Morocco.  Although there were some varying ideas, each organization showed mutual respect and support of each other’s work to create pathways for their local children.


I’ve been inspired by the testimonies of the bridges Slimane and his co-workers are building through awareness-raising workshops, trainings, advocacy efforts, child and family psychosocial supports, and foster care placements. For each day I’ve spent exchanging ideas in Morocco, I’ve shared a daily log with the youth back home who requested a daily account of the amazing journey I’ve embarked on. I’ve also highlighted certain service learning projects to take back to my community and implement with our youth.

I know that the journey is arduous for all on board the global children’s rights movement, but as previous movements have shown, I also know that nothing is impossible.  As my friends across borders breakdown barriers for all children, I too will do my best to continue the work at home and to support theirs as well.

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better; whether be a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our Shared Responsibility

By Lora Wondolowski

When Americans think of Morocco, we often picture a place of markets and spices or Humphrey Bogart and the resistance.  I suppose this is a little better than most stereotypes of African countries or having no image at all.  Either way it highlights our general lack of knowledge of other parts of the world.  Last May, Leadership Pioneer Valley had the pleasure of hosting a professional fellow from Morocco through the Institute for Training and Development.  Farah Achbabe was with us for a month, sharing her insights and culture and learning about civic engagement in the US.  Although we spent a month together, I realize I didn’t really learn that much about Morocco.  I am incredibly appreciative of being accepted into the same program with the opportunity to spend 10 days in Morocco with 3 other US Fellows.

We arrived in Rabat, Morocco on Saturday afternoon.  Since that time, we have toured some of Rabat’s sights with some of the local fellows.  The last two days, we participated in a conference with roughly 20 of the Moroccan fellows from the last two years.  Like Farah, they each spent a month in the US with a non-profit organization or public agency.  They were tasked with creating an action plan for civic engagement back in Morocco.  The conference featured presentations from both US and Moroccan fellows about our organizations, projects, and issues.


I was particularly struck by a session about civic engagement in rural areas.  Thirty nine percent of the Moroccan population lives in rural areas.  They are challenged with lack of infrastructure, education, health care access, economic diversification, and emigration of youth to cities.  The Moroccans called for stronger urban and rural partnerships and access to broadband.  The conversation rhymed with conversations we have had at Leadership Pioneer Valley in Franklin County.  Broadband access, rural poverty, transportation, and aging population are all issues that we discuss in our regional leadership program.  I appreciated the ways the fellows were engaging young people in the cities to advocate for rural areas.  I could see opportunities to build collaboration with our counterparts in Boston to support our rural initiatives.  Western Massachusetts, like rural Morocco, is often forgotten in Boston as they are in Rabat.

The final day concluded with a panel on intergenerational dialogue.  Our Moroccan counterparts did not use the word millennial but otherwise the conversation could be happening in Springfield. They spoke about the need to engage young folks and build leaders.  Unlike the US, Morocco has a large youth population.  They spoke about involving more young leaders in decision-making.  The need to develop the next generation of leaders is the reason that Leadership Pioneer Valley exists.  Leaders in our region saw the need to engage the next generation in decision-making and civic involvement.IMG_8505[1]

Whether in Morocco or Ashfield, Massachusetts, we face many of the same challenges in our communities.  My new Moroccan friends reminded us that “with freedom comes responsibility.”  This is a notion that is easy to take for granted in the US.  We ended the conference in a circle hearing from the Fellows about the impact of the conference and their plans for their future.  They take their responsibility seriously and were enthusiastically embracing their next steps.  It reminded me of the closing circle for our leadership program when our participants discuss the impact on themselves and what their next steps might be.  The conference has provoked me to instead ask what impact they want to make on our region.


An Open Door

By Rachel Mims

IMG-7695When I think back to our experience hosting an ITD fellow, Najoua Maarouf, at the National Democratic Institute* (NDI) in Washington, D.C., I remember the picture she painted about Morocco. During Najoua’s time at NDI, she shared her expertise on the state of youth civic and political engagement in Morocco and demonstrated an eagerness to learn about youth organizing approaches and programs that would encourage more youth participation. Najoua also spoke about the barriers young people face and a pathway forward that promotes youth leadership and connects young people to formal politics. I never thought I would have the opportunity to see Najoua’s words come to life, but she shaped and guided my introduction to Morocco. The moment I stepped off the plane, I thought, this is what it means to exchange experiences and build bridges. This is what it means to take advantage of an open door.


During our first few days in the country, we deepened our knowledge about the country context and discussed civic engagement and the political system. We also reconnected with a few of the Professional Fellows Program alumni. During our conversations, it was clear that the alumni have continued their work and leadership journey in remarkable ways. From supporting environmental projects to teaching in Universities, they are demonstrating that young people are assets to development and democracy; they come to any situation brimming with ideas, solutions and an eagerness to contribute. Often young people are met with closed doors, especially regarding civic and political participation, but the alumni from this program are creating opportunities for themselves and others by starting organizations or sharing their talents beyond their paying jobs. They are also exhibiting a different type of leadership, where inclusion, collaboration and representation are the norm.

A small group of alumni also gave us a tour of Rabat and explained the history of the city. We visited Kasbah of the Udayas, a beautiful city within a city, and the medina or ‘old city’. The historic, winding roads of the Udayas were filled with people, all taking a path that ends (or begins) at the ocean. As we walked past homes and vendors encouraging passersby to shop, I admired the beautifully colored doors and thought about how closed doors become open ones. The political realties are challenging to navigate, but people know what matters most to them and how they would like to see things change. The director of SimSim, ITD’s local partner, talked with us about their efforts to work collaboratively with political institutions and how they are working to bring citizens closer to the government. Through civil society-driven efforts such as local level advocacy and parliamentary engagement programs, SimSim is part of an engaged civil society that is demanding greater transparency, access to information and that the people in parliament and in political parties adequately represent them.


Both the conversations and the opportunity to walk the bustling streets of the medina reminded me of the spaces that we must navigate, sometimes confusing and other times frustrating, to ensure that everyone is able to have the quality of life they want. We can open doors by following the example of the alumni from the fellows program. Through listening to one another, sharing experiences, both personal and professional, and finding opportunities to work together, we can create more space for one another. This practice is both political and personal, necessary and worthwhile and along the way, we must always stop for tea.


*NDI is a nonprofit, nongovernment organization that supports democratic institutions and practices around the world.


Sincere Hospitality

By Emily Rodriguez

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My trip to Morocco has been an unforgettable experience. I was honored with the opportunity to visit this amazing country thanks to ITD and the Professional Fellows exchange program. My organization, Pioneer Valley Project had the pleasure of hosting Kamal Akaya, a young man who always has a smile on his face and a positive attitude. Kamal works as a Program Manager for an NGO that builds leaders and empowers youth in the community.

This trip has given me the opportunity to see the real Morocco. I am fascinated by the beauty of this country and the beauty of its people. It’s beyond words. What struck me most is the level of hospitality at every house, office or organization we visited. Every single visit, hosts received us with a big smile and a warm greeting of a kiss on each cheek followed by a tea with mint and a variety of delicious cookies. People were very excited to see us and treated us like family. One thing that I learned that Moroccans do when they greet you is after they shake your hand, the person will hold his hand to his heart as an indication of his sincerity and appreciation.

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The food is delicious! At first, I was afraid that I wouldn’t find something that I liked, but I really tried everything, and I loved it. What I liked the most is the beef Tagine because the meat its very tasty and soft and love the mix of the spices used to cook this kind of food.

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We visited six different cities and each city we visited has its own identity and characteristics. The infrastructure is very beautiful and very similar to the country of my birth, Dominican Republic and also to other Caribbean islands. People here also look different in every city; I would not be able to say who is Moroccan and who is not as they have unique characteristics and looks. One thing that was interesting to me is that I was asked many times if I was from Morocco at meetings or at the medina and many people would speak to me in Arabic or French which made me feel more at home.

The Past, Present, and Future

John 1by John Waite


The Medinas, (old cities) are all surrounded by beautiful, high, sandy, tan colored walls with shorter walls throughout the interior between homes and neighborhoods. When we had a high vantage point in Meknes, I noticed there are several layers of walls and it’s hard to know where one stops and where one ends. And there were many occasions when I didn’t know if we were on the inside of the wall or the outside.

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These are some of the confusing thoughts I’ve had during this exchange. Each day we learned more, sometimes building on what we had already heard and sometimes contradictory. It was like passing through a door in one wall, making some progress, but then finding another wall. And the paths in the Medinas are winding with many twists and turns, with many dead ends and a few openings to the outside. The Moroccan Fellows we are spending our time with seem to live with these same complications. They live in an ancient world, full of wonders, history and deep meaning, while at the same time they are trying to navigate the current economic, political, religious and cultural issues while pursuing their goals of a more equitable, healthy and open future for all.

After a full day with Fouad in Fes we took a midnight flight to Agadir and after a solid five hours sleep we met Fellow Adam Bouhadma at his alma mater, the Agadir Public University. We met with the Director and some staff who informed us that only the top students are admitted there because it is free and they can only accept about 10% of the applicants. Nearby we visited a Private Polytechnical College that won the North Africa Solar Car Challenge a few years ago.

Adam then took us to the business he stated in 2008, 9rayti.com, which is an education platform and media company, dedicated to helping high school students decide what to do next. At his office we spoke with his 8 employees who all seem amazingly passionate about their jobs because they care about young people and have a high level of programming and marketing skills. Their website has about 350,000 members and gets 20,000 hits per day!

Adam is also City Councilor in Agadir, which is a volunteer position but takes a great deal of his time. Agadir is on the coast in the south so he took us to the beautiful harbor for a delicious lunch that included local fish, a walk of the beach and then up a nearby mountain to the remains of the old city for a beautiful view of the city and ocean. A 1961 earthquake destroyed the Medina on the hill and much of Agadir, killing 80,000 people. The city has been rebuilt since, and now has a population of approximately 500,000. That evening Adam and his wife Safa hosted us at their home with about 8 of their friends. All these young people (ages 25 – 35) are activists, promoting positive change in their communities and the energy was exhilarating.

John 3

Khaoula Erraoui who we had met earlier in Rabat is another amazing Fellow doing incredible work with young people and homeless youth in her home city of Agadir. The non-profit she is involved with there reaches out to homeless and troubled young people and provides beds, life skills and vocational training. Khaoula took us through the market place and introduced us to the people that make the Argan Oil that her mother buys so we knew we would be getting the good stuff.

During the comfortable bus ride to Marrakesh we got our first views of the enormous Atlas Mountain range. When we arrived in famous city of Marrakesh we were greeted by Kamal Akaya.

Now we have had the privilege of meeting all 16 amazing Moroccan Fellows. All of these Moroccan Fellows, along with their friends we met, are an amazing collection of young motivated and passionate people. It not only bodes well for Morocco, but the world as well. They care deeply about citizen engagement, sustainable development, equity, and the future of our world. They are all involved in specific projects but at the same time they looking out at the wider world and realize that we all have to work together to improve everyone’s lives. Each one is doing an amazing amount of volunteer work, in addition to having a paid job, which is usually at a social enterprise that also fits with their values.

And I can’t post this blog without mentioning and thanking an incredible young man named Ismail Ilsouk, the Director of SimSim, the local organization that is partnered with ITD. He helped in the planning process of our trip and accompanied us to several cities while teaching us about the changes and challenges in this beautiful country.

There was a steady and much needed rain when we arrived in Marrakech so we decided to save the Medina to the morning and had a dinner of tagine and brochettes with Kamal and several of his friends.
The Marrakech Medina is a popular tourist destination and I was surprised, and rather disappointed, to see so many tourists walking around in their shorts and tanktops – this is not something a Moroccan would do. Kamal’s friend that lives in the old city guided us around and brought us behind the scenes to see amazing artisans at work, creating products out of leather, wood, metal and cloth just like their families have done for hundreds, or thousands, of years. We had a whole session learning about carpets made by the women’s cooperative. We were offered tea as we sat and heard about the various types of rugs. We did our best to support the local economy and the women. We learned that in the Marrakech Medina each neighborhood has a hamman (spa), communal oven for baking bread, a fountain (which they don’t use anymore since they have running water), a Mosque, and a school for children. Houses were built individually, and people kept everything behind their closed doors and walls with small paths in between. Marrakesh’s paths are wider than in Fes and motorbikes now zip around adding to the excitement. The old part was built in the 12th century and the rest in the 14th century. I was also saddened to learn that now outsiders are buying buildings and renovating them for hotels and vacation homes, which made me wonder if this living, breathing, active ancient city will soon become just a tourist attraction.

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Kamal introduced us to projects in Marrakech including The Spot – a co-working space; a Youth Association working to empower young people, and teach environmental education; the Amal Association (a women’s cooperative restaurant where we had lunch); and the High Atlas Foundation that is planting trees and helping small towns get clean water. At the end of another long and fascinating day we boarded a train to complete our journey around the country to Casablanca to complete our journey around Morocco.

Having had the honor of hosting Yassine and Amina at my home and at the Franklin County Community Development Corporation, this exchange visit in Moroccan was even more of an honor and incredible learning experience that will forever be in my mind and heart.

John 5

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