Pushing Your Boundaries
Sorting through the endless summer opportunities for teens is a daunting task, so why is Morocco exactly where they belong this year? I spent five months living and working at our program site in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco working at the local school, helping to run a CSS-funded summer camp, and chaperoning our teens through the winding streets of the Fez medina and the beaches of Rabat, to the scorching hot sands of the Sahara where we arrived on camel-back and slept under the stars. Working closely with our High School Volunteer Abroad program showed me just how valuable this cultural learning experience can be to expand their view of the world and instill confidence in their ability to navigate new challenges.
Our High School program participants have two main volunteer assignments during their time in Morocco. Their first priority is to complete construction and beautification projects around the local schools where we work year round. They are directed by our country president, Mohamed, along with the local parent teacher association to improve the school grounds and create a welcoming learning environment that the community can take pride in. Thanks to their efforts in past years, we now work at one of the most colorful and exciting schools in the world and we’re eager to continue that legacy at more and more schools in the Azrou area! This coming summer we are offering a Sports Leadership program beginning on June 22nd to construct a basketball court at the school and promote qualities of teamwork, collaboration, and leadership.
The second work assignment for our teen volunteers is to design and lead lessons that improve students grasp on the English language through games, crafts, and fun activities that encourage creativity and critical thinking. The teens would gather on the third floor of our homebase to plan their educational games and prepare crafts and activities. Coming from high school, these volunteers did such a great job of making sure they were designing fun and engaging activities and I’m proud to say that our 8 week long summer camp, that started with 65 students in attendance also ended with 65 students in attendance because they just couldn’t stand to miss a single day of fun! Of course our teens don’t have extensive experience of being the ones at the front of the classroom so we work closely with them to help generate ideas and make sure they are fully prepared each day. Watching them evolve from tentative foreigners to empowered, beloved members of the community was truly heartwarming!
When our high school volunteers aren’t at the school, they are busy! Busy getting to know Azrou, exploring other parts of Morocco, and learning about the cultural intricacies of such a diverse country. During the week, their afternoon Cultural Learning Activities include cooking classes where they learn the art of making traditional Moroccan tea and a tour of town with a stop at the Artisan Association where craftsman make traditional carpets and other goods out of locally sourced materials from the surrounding Atlas Mountains. Our country president, Mohamed, also leads a talk on Islam where he goes in depth about the history of the religion and the power it still holds throughout the country. He is able to relate his beloved beliefs to everyday life and describe the purpose of the religion at its core. He shares his experiences as a Muslim in Morocco as well as abroad as he also spends months out of the year at our program site in Greece helping at the refugee camp where we work.
Did you see all the pictures of our teens on camels?! During their weekends, teens get to explore outside of Azrou and see the main attractions of Morocco. They get to spend an entire weekend in the Sahara where we take camels far enough in the desert to have a view of nothing but sand dunes on every side. We sip on hot tea, drum, dance, and sing with locals, and then pull our mattresses out of the tent to sleep under the abundant stars, unaffected by light pollution. Now that is truly an experience of a lifetime! Our high school volunteers who stay longer than 2 weeks will spend each weekend in a new city- Chefchaouen offers us electric blue alleyways reminiscent of a Spanish version of Santorini, Fez has ancient secrets hidden within the winding Medina and boasts the first university ever founded, and finally the renowned capital of Rabat is most famously known for the cool coastline and Kasbah of the Udayas.
Morocco is the perfect summer experience for your high schooler. They will return home more confident in front of groups, experienced in taking the lead and collaborating across cultures with people of different faiths and mother tongues. They will be able to eloquently describe their experience in a primarily Islamic country, busting false stereotypes and sharing their newfound love of a once mysterious country. It is such a valuable experience for teens to push their boundaries of comfort and discover just how much they are capable of outside of their hometown. I hope that you’ll consider Azrou as a summer destination; we can’t wait to learn, teach, and grow alongside your teenager!