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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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*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.

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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.

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Creativity sparks civic engagement

By Amy Shapiro

These days in Morocco seem like weeks. I appreciate the care and attention to our well being by Katie (ITD), Ismail (Sim Sim) and the Moroccan Fellows who have made it possible to soak in the sights, sounds, smells, and culture of this country. Getting to know and learn from the Moroccan Fellows, hearing about their projects and experience Morocco in a way that the Fellows directed has shaped my assumptions about the country. All these experiences and learning has provided an insight to how the country’s history and politics impact the future choices of young people. From the Fellows, the mural artists, Ynis, and Hamza at Craft Draft I see over and over again how young people are making choices sometimes seeking creative solutions for shifting the paradigm to make change that provides opportunities and a quality of life for young people.

Friday March 22, 2019 we gathered at the MCISA center to hear the Fellows present their projects, challenges and seek support from the group. This was my first opportunity to meet the other Moroccan Fellows and learn about their innovative projects. They are amazing people who are taking initiative in creative ways, who love their country and are committed to civic engagement.

The celebration continued to Menorah restaurant where our American and Moroccan Fellows shared a joyful evening of stories, filling in gaps of learning, and eating good Moroccan foods. What a wonderful moment for both American and Moroccan Fellows to deepen their relationships. We presented Amina, Rim and Latifa sweatshirts printed with their new logo to help launch a new collaboration as well as Yassine with his logo. The gifts were a symbol to remind them of the support back in America. We witnessed the Fellows reconnecting again for the first time since their fellowship that displayed optimism for the future of Morocco. The evening of friendship and cross-cultural exchange was wrapped up with Hatim singing to everyone.

Sunday March 23, 2019: In Fez Fouad took us to the Medina for a special cultural experience. We were greeted by Yunis, a man who lives in the Medina with his family, who became our guide for the day. We walked narrow paths that wove all around like a maze in between buildings with small businesses along the way witnessed by others for hundreds of years. Yunis invited us to his home to meet his family, have tea. I was again touched by an authentic experience that introduced us to his world of which was different from what we had seen.

In the Media we went to Craft Draft (http://www.craftdraft.org/ ) where Hamza greeted us with a warm welcome to his bookbinding workshop. A place where he was trained by his father a Master bookbinder. The space filled with tools and seats organized from years of use. We took our place and Hamza started to explain that we were going to make a book using original techniques and traditional tools that have been used for decades. After several hours we gained a rich experience that passed on the craft of bookbinding. Hamza (maybe in his 30’s) is married, participated in a in the U.S. State Department Program, will continue teaching bookbinding the traditional way to be a Master like his father and live in the Medina. His focus is to teach and share the tradition taking advantage of traveling to the U.S. to participate teaching his craft to pass on the tradition. Another example of how a young person has chosen to blend the old tradition in contemporary days.

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I was fortunate to have an informal conversation about Moroccan art history with Khaoula Erraoui who explained how the original Moroccan art is made up of abstract images that began with tattoos. The large art that we saw in Casa and in Rabat is part of an intentional public art project with an open call to artists from around the world. These large murals stay up for a year at a time impacting the community with images. Creative activities are everywhere in Morocco. Another example of public art can be seen from Khaoula’s project using words to create change and building collaborations that shows another dimension of creativity impacting civic engagement.

My experience was shaped from many informal discussions to understand the creativity, visual images and traditional crafts and how young people see their future. I can see how these young professional Moroccans are creating NGO’s that focus on young people to deepen civic engagement, are connected to community, and passionate to build a new way to sustain the country and make positive impacts.

People to people diplomacy at its best

By Caroline Gear
The best decision that I made last year was to say yes to hosting a State Department Professional Fellow, through the Institute for Training & Development in Amherst. Hosting Sana Lamtara in October opened my world to a profound experience that has given me a wonderful friendship and has brought me, and four other civic-engagement non-profit folks from the Pioneer Valley along with our ITD leader extraordinaire, Katie to Morocco.

I had very little expectations as to what the trip would be like, except that I was incredibly excited to see Sana again. After so many hours of conversation about teaching and learning while she was in Northampton, seeing her in action with public school English teachers in training was truly inspiring. On arrival we were met with Moroccan mint tea, an extraordinary number of different cookies and a warmth of welcoming that would be the overarching theme throughout our stay.

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I was honored that Sana had asked me to present to her students about ILI’s civic engagement and a quick, non-traditional way of looking at teaching pronunciation. I loved being able to share my knowledge and passion for teaching as Sana did in Northampton with our staff and teachers in training. I was impressed with the students’ English language skills, their own presentations and the thoughtful questions that they asked me about teaching. As with all of our visits, we felt that our guests truly felt it an honor to have us visit them and despite their busy schedules, dropped everything to make sure that we were welcomed and that the visit was well documented.

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This trip not only reunited our professional lives, but our personal lives and that evening Sana welcomed us to her home for kaskroate, Arabic for snack. Sana went above and  beyond in preparing our welcome and that ‘snack’ turned out to be an incredible meal with new tastes including a delicious avocado juice. Sana has a wonderful family and as I said goodbye to them, I was overcome with emotion of how lucky I am to have had this opportunity.

Another memorable visit was at SimSim and learning about all the work they are doing including being the incubator for Innovation for Change, a global network of people and organizations who want to connect, partner and learn together to defend and strengthen civic space and overcome restrictions to basic freedoms of assembly, association with Ismail (6)and speech.  SimSim is ITD’s partner in Morocco and the Director, Ismail Ilsouk and his staff’s level of attention to detail has made the trip run incredibly smoothly and more importantly Ismail has given us access for dialogue with a wide variety of fascinating people allowing us to dig deep into the Moroccan culture as well as understanding the bigger picture of civic engagement in Morocco.  Plus, Ismail is truly patient, engaging and fun to hang around with!

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A quick request to see a potential partner at the Center for Cross Cultural Studies was arranged by SimSim and SimSim staff member Marouen accompanied me, helped navigate the Medina to find the Center, housed in the former home of a polygamous and my meeting with Farrah Cherif D’Ouezzan, Founder and General Director of the Center became the start of an additional new relationship in Rabat.

Hearing what all the Fellows are doing in their work as well as their Action Plans is so inspiring.  The themes of youth empowerment (and youth means as old as 40), advocacy and training, innovation in technology and entrepreneurship have been consistent in all of the Fellows work.

At the Ministry of Education Abel shared with us how he creates educational and promotional videos for scholarship opportunities that are shown on the 10 government-controlled TV stations. Plus, I was able to speak Spanish with him – he is self-teaching himself and already has a lot of fluency. I am amazed with the Morocco multilingualism of French, Arabic and Amazigh language, known as Tamazight and made an official language in 2011. In addition, many of the people we have met have a high command of English, too. Hands down, the most multilingual country I have ever been in.

What has struck me are the close relationships that have developed among the Fellows and these have grown into current and certainly future collaborations. This was evident when Rim joined us to visit Abdel as well as the hours at a café with the original focus of hearing about Khaoula’s work (working with youth in a variety of different capacities; helping them focus on capacity building as well as the Losje Morrocco chapter). What started with a small group of people having coffee grew larger and larger as other Fellows arrived and more stories unfolded about what this impressive group of Fellows are working on. I think that Majda summed it up the best when she left the Action Plan session that the Fellows presented: Thank you for what you are doing. Not only is this for your professional growth, but you are helping our country move forward.

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Our next visit was to Kenitra, a city the size of Springfield, Massachusetts, and where Khalil is working to help educate youth and also push forward the plan of creating a sister-city partnership including a cultural exchange that would send musicians from Kenitra to participate in the Springfield Jazz Festival. We were welcomed with another wonderful reception and a special presentation of a trophy for ITD and pictures.

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After Kenitra we were back in the van with our driver, Youseff, at the wheel who has a wonderful smile and willingness to help correct my feeble attempts at Moroccan Arabic. I have so enjoyed being in the shoes of my students as they try to navigate a new language. What I have found is that everyone I have met is willing to help me – another example of how welcomed I have felt in this country. Thank you to ITD and the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This was a life-changing trip for me and I will never forget this experience of meeting such wonderful Fellows, team members from the Pioneer Valley and the fantastic food and exposure to a new, exciting and extraordinary welcoming culture. People to people diplomacy at its finest.

Morocco by Emily Slotnick

We are six Americans who have been honored with a rare opportunity to participate in a professional exchange program – having spent 6 weeks in our home towns and places of employment in the fall as hosts to some of Morocco’s brightest young minds and leaders in civic engagement – embarking on a reciprocal visit to Morocco. We are teachers, community organizers, business advisors and environmental planners who have come together for a 10-day exploration of the country and to learn about the work the Moroccan fellows are doing in their own communities. 

A few more notes on the structure of our adventure – ITD is the state-side organization administering the fellowships through a US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Professional Fellows Program. To assist with planning for the return trip, ITD collaborated with a local (Moroccan) team from Sim Sim, a Rabat-based organization whose mission is to promote greater understanding of parliament by citizens, increase governmental transparency, and facilitate civic engagement in the political process.  

Our charge as a group of U.S. Fellows is to dialogue, document, and discover. We arrived Picture1in the Casablanca airport Tuesday afternoon, weary from travel but wide-eyed with excitement. Lucky to have landed midday, our “discovery” began at the medina. No, not the traditional commercial nucleus of an ancient city. We began our exploration at “the Medina,” a traditional Moroccan food restaurant a few blocks from our hotel in the modern metropolis. We shared a mosaic of salads, tagines, pastilles, lattes, teas, and cookies, dining alfresco and appreciating the warm welcome we had been offered into this land of kind faces and phenomenal food!

Some of us began our dialogues on the flight over, but the real exchange began once we arrived at our hotel and were greeted by Ismael and Marouan, from Sim Sim. They would serve as our local hosts and organizers, but quickly became trusted story tellers, Arabic coaches, and cultural advisors. We also met Saaid, a recently awarded participant for the next round of U.S.-bound fellows. Together a group of us took an evening stroll to the actual medina, winding through narrow alleys flanked by vendors of all goods imaginable. We ended the night on a central plaza nearby over cakes and mint tea, sun setting on the medina just as the full moon rose above the crackled facades of old Casablanca.

Picture2Monday morning we visited Technopark – a start-up incubator on the outskirts of the city where one of the former ITD fellows, Rachid, has grown a successful business over just a few years – and were then welcomed by past fellow Sana at her workplace, a post-graduate program for teachers in training. 

Tea and cookies with the school’s leadership preceded a full presentation from the English Language Teacher trainees. Moroccan students in public school begin learning English in grade middle school, so these trainees will soon be leading classrooms of up to 45 pre-teens and young adults. I was overwhelmed not only by the trainees’ admiration and respect for their teachers, including past PFP fellow Sana, but also by each student’s drive to be a positive influence in the lives of the next generation of Moroccans. 

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The trainees abide by a new educational paradigm, one in which the teacher is no longer the lecturer, but rather a facilitator, leader, quality controller, and the student takes a more active role. The visit culminated with an interactive exercise led by U.S. fellow Caroline Gear introducing a pronunciation technique for trainees to add to their toolbox for their future careers. 

Later that afternoon we saw a different side of the city – a non-secular yet publicly funded architectural masterpiece. Described by our hosts both as the largest mosque in the tallest minaret in all of Africa, the grandeur of the building and grounds perfectly framed by the brightest blue sky and spray of an eager Atlantic breaking over the seawall. 

It has been less than 24 hours, and already my gratitude for this opportunity is Picture6overwhelming. Just as the day began with warm greetings shared between new friends, it wrapped up by breaking bread with Sana and her family in their beautiful home. This is the stuff that memories are made of – the sights and smells, laughter and embraces that get seared into your soul for a lifetime. 

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