Sunday, March 25, 2012

So What Do You Do?

Many PCV's get asked the question "So what do you do?" all the time.  It's tough to describe a PCV's job.  It's not as easy as a job description in America.  A PCV's role is defined by the needs of the community.  For Youth Development (YD) PCV's, our job includes many things.  In order for you the reader to understand what it means to be a YD PCV let's define a few things first.

What does youth mean?  Many will probably say someone between the ages of 8 to 21.  Here in Morocco youth is defined by your marital status.  If you're not married, you fall into this category.  Another way that we describe youth is young at heart.  Many PCV's work with married members of their community who are looking to better themselves in some capacity.  Whether that be learning English, learning how to knit, learning about healthy lifestyle choices or learning how to write a grant.  This is one of the challenges of being a YD PCV.  It's up to the discretion of the PCV to determine the needs of their community and then find the best way to meet the goals and objectives of PC as it applies to their community.

Many people think that YD means teaching English but that is not the case.  We're not TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) volunteers.  Many of us teach English as a way to meet people in our community and to have a 'job' in the eyes of the community.  When people ask us what we do and we say we're a volunteer they become very confused.  "Volunteer isn't a job.  I asked you what you do!"  When we respond with "I am a teacher" then they understand why we're here.  It also gives us an amount of respect within the community.  So what does YD mean?

YD means that we are working with youth to prepare them for the world of work, teach them about healthy lifestyle choices and working with community members to present youth with the best opportunities for their future.  This includes many different types of activities; teaching English, creating sports clubs, art clubs, theater clubs, journalism clubs, health clubs, environment clubs, working at camps, helping at Special Olympics, SOS Villages, organizing workshops etc.  It's hard to create a job description so that friends and family back home understand why we left our home and traveled to a foreign land for two years.

A new group of trainees just arrived in Morocco this past Wednesday.  In order to give them an idea of what their job will be like for the next two years, I was asked to gather pictures from current PCV's and create a short video about the current work being done in Morocco by YD PCV's.  You can find the finalized video here.  Hopefully this will help explain exactly what it is YD PCV's do.

So what does YD mean?  Well it means that we do what we can within our communities to help youth and community partners to prepare youth to be successful, contributing members of society.  That might still be too vague a description for most people but how do you explain that you sit at your dar chabab and talk to your kids about stereotypes and opportunities to learn outside of Morocco?  How do you tell people that your job includes sitting at your students house for tea or for couscous and talking with their parents about letting their child attend camp over spring break?  There's no job description that can fully explain a YD PCV's job.  That's just another reason why PC is the toughest job you'll ever love.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hello! My name is NOT hey sexy!!!

"Ca va ghazhelle!"
"Ciao bella!"
"Hey baby!"
loud whistling noises

These are all forms of street harassment.  In most cases, it is just a shout out to a single person walking by.  Sometimes, it is more intense followed by touching or in extreme cases, being followed.  Some people believe that this is a way to compliment the person walking by.  In reality, it is harassment and it is not ok.

As a PCV, I've experience multiple forms of street harassment.  In Albania, it was usually "ciao bella!". In Morocco, it is usually "ca va ghazelle!".  There have been occasions where I have been touched but thank God it has never been a case where I have felt unsafe or scared.  PCV's worldwide experience street harassment.  It is not limited to places where PCV's serve.  It is in America.  It is in Europe.  It can happen to anyone at any time.  It happens more frequently to the 'outsider'.  As a PCV, we are usually different from everyone else in our community which makes us more susceptible to street harassment.  This week, people around the world are raising awareness on street harassment as the key to ending it is education.

If you have ever been the victim of street harassment, now is the time to speak up.  Tell your communities that it is not ok.  Follow this link to read an article that goes into detail on how people around the world are trying to end it.  Do your part.  There are fliers that you can print out and put up around town.  There are ideas for other projects and activities you can do to to educate your communities.  Tell your story.  Tell the people you know about what you have experienced and how it has affected you.  This is the time to take action.  Now is the time to stop street harassment.  

Friday, March 9, 2012

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun!

For many women where I live, their day consists of cooking, cleaning and caring for their family.  In their free time they might go to a friends house for tea or maybe to the hammam to get squeaky clean but that's about all the fun they see.  For International Women's Day, I wanted to host an event at the dar chabab for the women in my community to gather, learn something new and get to do one of their favorite things - dance!

The women starting the dance party!

About a year ago, a PCV along with PC staff created a video called "You Can Dream".  It is a short documentary on the lives of six Moroccan women who have looked to help their communities by doing something that is out of the norm for most women in Morocco.  If you would like to see it, it is in Arabic with English subtitles but can be found here.  We watched the video and had a short discussion on the obstacles that the women had to overcome and talked about how things are changing for women in Morocco.  I also put together a short presentation (in French!) about gender roles around the world and we discussed important Moroccan and Muslim women from history.  I think the women really got into it and we had a great discussion.

Without these girls, this wouldn't have been a success

After the nitty-gritty of the day we went on to what the women really came for, dancing!  I had planned on making a few American goodies to the event and I bought soda for everyone.  I was surprised when each woman walking through the door had also bought a treat to share.  These women don't mess around when it comes to parties!  They had bought a buta tank and all the fixing for tea as well.  The women started passing around the drums and as we prepared all the cakes and tea they started doing their different traditional dances.  You know they're getting into it when they need to open the windows and wipe their faces down!  What Moroccan party is complete without dressing up the foreigner?  I was a willing doll once again to be dressed up as a bride and have the wedding song sang to me.  I enjoy it just as much as they do.  

Leslie, an American doll coming to a Moroccan town near you!

Before we knew it, it was 7 and the women started to head out.  After our good-byes and multiple invites for lunch and tea, they left and I stayed behind with my girls for the clean up and to finally eat our share of the goodies.  Without the help from my three students, this event wouldn't have been as big of a success.  I was expecting around 20 women to show up but we had over 40!  At first the women were a little cautious of me and said no pictures.  After they dressed me up though, everyone wanted a picture with me.  I feel as though that counts as part of the success.  

Getting our dance on

It's events like this that make me happy to be where I am.  Even though it's taken me over a year and a half to be invited to a house that isn't my host families, I now have over 10 people who are insisting that I come in the next week.  All the work that's gone into this event and all the cheek kissing has paid off!  I finally feel as though they have accepted me into their community.  I'm one of them.  I couldn't have asked for more :)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Respect the Tape

Last week I had the honor of meeting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the embassy in Rabat.  Morocco was her last stop before heading back to Washington after a week of travels in North Africa.  She only had a short time in Rabat so the meet and greet was a quick affair.  About 70 volunteers had traveled to Rabat for the event along with PC staff and their families and embassy staff with their families.

After going through the "rules" for the meet and greet, we all stood around holding our spots as close to the front of the courtyard as possible.  The Secretary was slightly delayed to no one's surprise.  About an hour after she was supposed to arrive, we saw the cars pulling up.  First one, then two and finally four big black SUVs.  Everyone was quiet and had their cameras at the ready.  A group of secret service first appeared, then the aides, then Ambassador Kaplan with his wife and finally, Hillary!!

She just looks important

The Ambassador gave a few opening remarks, mentioning PC and the work we do for Morocco, and then gave the floor to the Secretary.  Her posture and gestures through her short speech were perfect for the occasion.  She wasn't stiff or too formal.  She reached out to the different groups of people in attendance and it looked like she made eye contact with everyone in the audience.  I was amazed at her as a public speaker.  Her remarks were short but said it all.  She talked about what a great time it is to be in Morocco and in North Africa.  She talked about how far Morocco has come in the past year but that the journey is still long.  She pointed out the fact that Morocco was the first country to support America as a new country and that our support of Morocco now should be just as strong.  She mentioned the work that PC does (to much applause).  After her speech, she took a picture with the children of the embassy and PC staff and then went around and shook as many hands as she could before being whisked away to break ground at the new embassy complex.

I shook her hand!!

It may have a been a quick event but I'm glad I made the 11 hour journey to Rabat to see her.  It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and what she said only made me prouder to be doing the work I am doing.  Run for office again Hillary!  I'll vote for you!

PC girls of the Souss, represent!