My Life-changing Experience Volunteering in Marrakesh
In September, Justine Pemberton and her sister Dominique went to Marrakesh, Morocco for a week to volunteer with Original Volunteers. Justine had volunteered the previous Christmas and so knew what to expect, but for her sister Dominique this was a whole new experience! Justine shares her experience in Marakesh below...
In Marrakesh, we stayed in a modest Riad in Medina which is where the local Moroccan people live. It is tucked away down a dark dusty alleyway off a market street. The riad has 8 bedrooms and can fit up to 16 volunteers – with just two bathrooms!
Projects We Helped
Each day we would attend two Original Volunteers projects for a few hours each. The projects can vary from feeding the homeless to simply cuddling babies in the orphanage so that they are used to human contact and affection.
On our first day, we went to the Deaf & Mute school in the morning – where a classroom up around 10 children were waiting for us! The children’s ages vary between 4 and 18 but because of the lack of resources they are all taught together in the same classroom with just one teacher and a helper. We took craft kits of fuzzy bugs and badges that they could make and they all couldn’t wait to get stuck in! All the children are profoundly deaf so communicating is difficult.
In Morocco, everyone can speak Arabic and French. Here, they used Arabic sign language so even my basic BSL and Makaton was useless! However, with lots of smiles and thumbs up – we managed just fine. Our hearts were truly stolen by a little boy called Ayoub who is four years old. Ayoub is both deaf and mute and was finding things very tough as it was his first day. We tried to engage him in a lot of activities but only one thing worked... bubbles! Once we started playing with them, he didn’t want us to stop!
The next day we went to the baby orphanage which is part of a hospital in Marrakesh. Although it is called an orphanage, many of the children do still have both their parents. Sometimes they are taken away due to being born outside of marriage or the family being too poor to keep them, as well as other reasons.
At the orphanage, there are somewhere in the region of 20 children, many of whom are in the process of being adopted. As soon as we walked in I saw a boy I recognised, Omar – who is 5 years old. Omar has cerebal palsy and is finding it difficult to get adopted for that reason. When I saw him at Christmas he could shuffle on the floor and wasn’t keen on much attention.
When we entered the room this time I was overwhelmed to see him walk towards us and hold our hands. He wanted to dance! It was one of the most poignant moments of our trip. I was so happy to hear that Omar had been having treatment and it was helping his mobility and more importantly, his quality of life. We spent a few hours there with the babies and toddlers, cuddling them and playing with them. They were absolutely delighted with all the clothes and toys we took for them – all very generous donations from our friends and family.
Another volunteer program was to a place called the Bani nursery. We were essentially taken into a reception class of a very poor school. There were 50 children in one classroom and just myself and Dominique to entertain them! We asked them to make cards and handed out lots of craft materials including foam stickers and pom poms. Luckily, we had enough! The children all got stuck in quickly and couldn’t believe their luck that they could actually keep the cards they made! They were so incredibly grateful and kept wanting to kiss us to say thank you.
In the last few minutes of our visit the children stood up one by one at the front of the class and proudly recited the months of the year or days of the week in French. We were both so taken aback by how intelligent and eager to learn they all were, as well as wanting to desperately show us what they could do.
In this age that we live in; where our children are given ipads and computers, it’s hard to remember that when children are left to their own devices, they truly do amaze you with their imagination and innovation.
Over the course of the week we visited another orphanage in a very poor village half an hour outside of Marrakesh and painted a mural in another school. We were also privileged to join a music lesson in a school for children with additional needs. Finally, we went back to the baby orphanage for another emotional visit and back to the Bani nursery.
Everywhere we went, we were both completely in awe by how respectful the Moroccan people are. On buses and in taxis, our chaperones would always offer strangers sweets or a drink. If we were walking along the road, they would pick up rubbish. If they saw a homeless person, they would give them money to buy food. We couldn’t quite believe the selflessness even though they barely have anything themselves.
Halfway through the trip, Dominique asked me if she thought our experience volunteering in Morocco was “lifechanging”. I replied that I didn’t think so, but in retrospect, I think that it is. We have both learnt so much about appreciating the little things in life, about having respect for one another and your community, about being neighbourly and caring.
In Marrakesh, they do not have a lot of monetary wealth but they are so much more wealthy than many people I know. They are truly, truly happy and have an innate kindness that is simply priceless. Family, friends and religion are real assets to them, much more than any house or car. We have learnt so much from them and I’m sure in future we will go back to learn even more.
We would like to thank everyone who donated clothes and toys to us, it made a real difference.
By Justine Pemberton