Category Archives: Volunteer Activities

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

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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.

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Rotary Race for Peace & Friendship

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Today I had a lovely stroll through Rabat with Rotarians and many smiling children, when I participated in the Rotary Race for Peace and Friendship. Organized by Rabat’s Rotary Clubs, it was part of “The Week for Hope and the Future,” announced by North Africa’s Rotary District 9010. The weather was beautiful too! It was a first time in a few months that I left the house without my winter jacket. I definitely wasn’t expecting that I’d be suffering from the cold coming to Morocco from Chicago, but I didn’t consider the lack of heating, nor could I have foreseen that it would be an exceptionally cold year. Hopefully, the pleasant weather of today is here to stay.

Ready, Set, Go!

The Awards Ceremony

The Awards Ceremony

Rainy Days

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This week was the routine: School, teaching at the orphanage, and recovering from last weekend in Paris. It was funny in Paris to see the giant Morocco travel adds at every metro stop, with catchphrases like, “dicover yourself in Morocco!” Man, I wish I got a picture.

Lesson planning for the orphanage has been taking more time than I thought. I have about 12 students, all boys between 16 and 18 years old. They know just a bit of Enlgish from movies, TV, and the occasional past volunteers at the orphange, though I don’t know if they’ve had before regular volunteers like me that are going to come twice a week for several months. But because of those other volunteers, some of the older students have had a bit more English than the younger ones, which also makes it challenging to try to teach to some who are pretty much absolute beginners and others who can at least introduce themselves and know a lot of basic words, especially types of food and sports. They can all read and write the Latin alphabet, because they have already learned very basic French, but some read with much more ease than others. I don’t have any books to work from and the chalkboard in the classroom I’m supposed to use doesn’t even work. That means I have to teach many words orally and then prepare a lot of worksheets so they can see how the words are written and practice reading and writing. Here’s an example:

Letter from John

Dear …….

My name is John. I am 18 years old. I am from the United States of
America. I live in the city of Baltimore in the state of Maryland. I am a
student in high school where I study math*, reading**, writing***, science^,
history^^, and Spanish.^^^ My favorite subject is history. I like to play
sports. My favorite sport is basketball. And you?

Sincerely,

John

كتابة ***          **  قراءة        * الرياضيات
^^^ اللغة الإسبانية        ^^ تاريخ             ^ علم

Letter to John

Dear John,

Nice to meet you. My name is….

Took this pic while waiting for the tram to the orphanage. Guess they weren't prepared for the rain.

Teaching English at the Orphanage

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After many weeks of making arrangements, I finally taught my first English lesson at an orphanage in Salé, a neighbouring city flowing into Rabat. (The two are like the Twin cities of Minneapolis & Saint Paul). Today, I suppose, was a trial session. I tutored one student for an hour and a half, though in the future I will teach larger classes. Anyways, I think the lesson went well! By the end of it, the student was able to speak more articulately about what he does everyday in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and at night, and what he does sometimes, usually, always, and never. For homework, he will write a similar conversation, but  talk in the third-person about his friend, rather than in the first-person about himself.

English is important to the future prospects of these orphans, and for economic success in Morocco in general. This is not only because of the significance of the country’s tourism industry, but also because of the U.S.-Morocco free-trade agreement, which entered into effect in 2006 and will likely have a growing impact as more American companies discover this place. And it’s generally beneficial for higher education to understand and communicate in what is increasingly becoming the international language.

As a side note, it’s easy enough to get to Salé by the tramway, a modern escape from the usual crazy traffic of the city. I almost feel as if I’m back in Switzerland while riding it. Actually, the Moroccan government seems to be very keen to invest in sophisticated transportation. The country already has a decent train system, linking its major cities. And recently, a decision was made to hire a French company to build a super-fast train (TGV)  between Casablanca and Tangier. Though the project’s cost of a few billion dollars–and to the French– is raising protests from some quarters.

At the orphanage

Courtyard at the orphanage