A Heart-Warming Gift: Orphan Girls Singing “Happy Birthday” to Me in Four Languages


It’s been a while since I’ve written an update about the orphanage, even though I’ve been teaching there twice a week for the past few months, I guess it’s like my Arabic school: I go there everyday, but not much new to share. And to be honest, I was a bit disheartened when kids started skipping my class. At first I was teaching all the boys 16-19, but sometimes only one or two of them would show up. Well, there was the one student who kept coming to every session and made a lot of progress. I guess that’s what kept me going. The French volunteer also complained about students not showing up to his class. So it wasn’t just me. The hardest part is to convince the kids about the importance of their education in general, and foreign language skills specifically.

To be fair, some of the students told me that they were too busy studying for their exams, and sometimes they had review sessions for other subjects on evenings when I came to teach. The communication from the orphanage officials to me about all this was not the greatest. They never informed me about changes to the schedule, even after I complained about the issue a couple times. On one occasion, I came to the orphanage only to find no students to be taught. Taking a taxi to a tram to get there is not the easiest or cheapest for me. So it’s pretty frustrating to make the trek only to find it was in vain. The officials did express to me their deepest apologies, and every time I meet them in person they are always very nice. I suppose the lack of communication by phone or email is not atypical in Morocco. I’ve been discovering that the best is just to show up at the orphanage and talk to the people directly and not try too hard to arrange too many things in advance.

But along with the weather here, the situation at the orphanage is starting to change for the better. I informed the director that I would also like to teach girls. I just had my second class with the girls today, and it was great. Whereas I had to keep reminding the boys to take notes and pay attention in class, most of the girls have been carefully recording everything I put on the blackboard. More boys have also returned to class the last couple times I’ve been there.

Plus, I recruited two other American girls to help me teach once a week. (They are high school students on a scholarship exchange program) . This is great for a few reasons, especially because the classes should really be split up into a couple different levels. For example, among the girls, there is at least one who has already studied some English. And among the boys, there are two who are more advanced than the others. Today, the two Americans mostly observed as I first taught the girls for a couple hours and then the boys. But hopefully next time, they will be ready to start teaching one level and I will teach the other.

And, today is my birthday 🙂 I mentioned it in class after the girls asked me, “how old are you?” They subsequently broke out into singing of “happy birthday” — four times: First in English, then in Arabic, then in French, then in Berber. What an amazing treat. They truly made it a special day!

UPDATE (4/4): This is not such an important point, but actually the students at the school where I teach are not full orphans, but more like foster children. They live at the school during the week, usually becuase their families lack the means to provide for them. It took me a while to understand why a number of the students mentioned their families (sometimes positively, sometimes negatively), but it has now been clarified.

One response »

  1. The birthday wishes sounded great! You post reminds me of what a Peace Corps Volunteer would post. Very informative-liked it a lot.

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