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Thursday, 21 June 2012

Volunteering in Marrakech, Morocco - Page 2

Written by Shabana Adam
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We settled at stall number 97. There were hundreds, each offering traditional Moroccan cuisine. That was another reason Marrakech was so enticing when making the choice of where to volunteer, the great food. I filled myself up with chicken tagine and cous cous with freshly squeezed orange juice. Afterwards, I treated myself to apricot ice cream at Café Argana, overlooking the square. The meal set me back around £7, which by western standards is a bargain.

volunteering in marrakech

A city filled with children riding their bikes and chasing the neighborhood dogs with a very small number of tourists braving the crowded souks to haggle for a souvenir, Marrakech oozes rich culture and character. This is what I appreciated the most, living among the locals and seeing a side of the city that remained untouched by tourism yet was just as welcoming to outsiders. But my taste for local life was quickly tainted as I realized within the first couple of days that what appears in the travel brochures, a haven for culture lovers, is also a place where the line between privilege and poverty is shockingly thin.

Seeing old men living on pieces of cardboard in the streets while businessmen in tailored suits with iPhones passed them by, without blinking an eye, was a harsh reality of the inner city areas that I wasn’t prepared for. Our team of volunteers agreed to help the homeless along with other projects which included repairing day care centers in two Berber villages, Tamesloht and Tahanaout, and daily visits to the orphanages.

Volunteering Arts Craft

I met Fatima Zahra, a widow living in a small hut made from woven shred straw. She has three children: Hamed, 8, Nashrin, 6 and two-year-old Hassan. Every morning she helps the Ferran Sousad bakery to make biscuits and cakes. She spends the next 10 hours perched on a tiny wooden stool on the pavements of the famous souks around the medina, selling sweet treats out of a tray. The little money she makes goes towards feeding and clothing her children. On a daily basis, I bought food from Fatima and water from Saleem, a 56-year-old cart puller, to give out to the homeless.

I grew close to the children at the orphanages, especially Abdesalaam, a 14-year-old boy who lost both parents as a baby. He loved nothing more than to paint and listen to Akon’s music. I don’t know French or Arabic, the two main spoken languages in Morocco, and the kids didn’t know English, but that didn’t pose a barrier to our work. The children were cheerful, openhearted and extremely appreciative of us being there. I’ll never forget one hot Tuesday afternoon when we all had a water fight on the roof terrace of the orphanage.

volunteering in marrakech

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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