Please login to vote.

Displaying items by tag: Volunteering in Marrakech

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Volunteering in Marrakech, Morocco

A shopkeeper’s donkey trod over my 27kg wheeled backpack and my instant reaction was to yank the zip open and check that the coloring books and crayons had survived. I didn’t care about my shoes and toiletries; those were luxuries that I could live without. I was here for the children and as far as I was concerned, the tub of Hasbro ‘Play-Doh’ in my luggage was more important than my hair straightener.

Volunteering abroad is full of highs and lows so choosing to do that in one of North Africa’s most thriving capitals seemed less difficult in comparison to the next two choices on my list, Peru and Cambodia. Within the first five minutes of stepping out of a small, sputtering beige taxi, I was convinced that this was going to be a trip I’d never forget.

In 45 degrees blistering heat, I stood in a grey hoodie, black leggings and knee-high brown boots, at the entrance of a narrow, stone-laden alleyway, in the district of Bab Doukkala, in Marrakech. I had just endured a hot and bumpy 15-minute drive from Menara Airport and, forgetting that I was sweating profusely, I smiled – looking around at palm trees, camels and buses without windows. I was genuinely excited to be here on a three-week project, living with 18 strangers, eating whole grilled chickens every day and, most importantly, working in orphanages and local villages around Morocco’s pink city.

volunteering in marrakech

I was taken to a converted riad (a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden), boasting richly carved patterns in marble walls with simple single bed dorms. This is where I stayed during the project. From the top terrace, I saw that the riad was set in the middle of a jungle of cubic rooftops dotted with hundreds of large white satellite dishes. The panoramic views were breathtaking though. In the distance, Koutoubia mosque’s tall minaret towered above the Bab Doukkala district skyline which itself was set against the backdrop of the High Atlas mountains.

On my first evening, all the volunteers made their way to the heart of the city, the one spot where Marrakech is truly alive, Djemma el Fna Square. A 10-minute walk through the meandering souks and I was face to face with a place that touched every one of my senses. I saw belly dancers and snake charmers, heard storytellers over the sound of reedy music, smelt and tasted the delicacies being prepared in open-air food stalls as the air carried a distinct aroma of kebabs, tagine, scampi, snails and other weird and wonderful delights.

volunteering in marrakech

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

I got one day off a week from volunteer duties and made the most of it, visiting the local historical sites in Marrakech, such as Bahia Palace, and being pampered at Hammam Ziani. I also took a day trip to the windy city, Essaouira, and another to the plush valleys of the Grand Atlas village of Tanaghmeilt to see the stunning Ouzoud Waterfalls. Shopping was also a pleasure. I picked up some unusual remedies such as saffron paste for flu and Argan oil for muscle pain along with a pair of beautifully ornate Moroccan lamps.

volunteering in marrakech

What struck me most about Morocco is its authentic and varied beauty. In Essaouira, an idyllic beach was perfect for a day’s escape from the vibrant surroundings in Marrakech. The drive to the Ouzoud Waterfalls was along picturesque mountain-lined roads and then back in Djemma El Fna, a bustling ambience awaited.

volunteering in marrakech

I was also touched by the nature of the Moroccan people: sincere, hospitable and always willing to help. Most locals were intrigued and curious. I met Rasheed, a 78-year-old carpenter from whom I bought a Moroccan magic box, a small wooden chest made of pine with a secret compartment that requires the owner to solve a puzzle before being able to open it. He wanted to know why someone like me, who “has everything in life” wanted to spend time helping “people like us”.  My answer was simple, “to make a meaningful difference where it’s needed”, even if that meant three weeks living next door to a shopkeeper with a noisy donkey.

Berber Singers At Ouzoud

©Shabana Adam

Published in involved

Search Content by Map


All Rights Reserved ©Copyright 2006-2021 inTravel Magazine®
Published by Christina's Arena, Inc.