Volunteering in Fez
One of my goals for this experience in Morocco was (and is) to be open to new experiences, and to try to say yes, even if it puts me outside of my comfort zone. So, while eating lunch with some friends, when one of them mentioned some volunteer work they were planning on doing, I asked if I could join in. Luckily, there was space, because this was a very meaningful experience, and something I would never have been able to do in the United States.
First, for a bit of background. Many people are leaving their homes in Sub-Saharan African countries such as Mali, Cameroon, Ghana, Cote D’Ivore, and others. These people, leaving for a variety of reasons, are trying to make it to an unwelcoming European Union. And most of them are trying to do so through Morocco. This involves an incredibly dangerous and expensive trip, which almost always leaves them in an unwelcoming Morocco, with no money, and just a desperate hope of making it to Spain. Even worse, Spain and the rest of the EU is putting large amounts of pressure on Morocco not to let the migrants through.
These are people, looking for a better life. Many have been beaten and exploited. Their camps are burned, they lose friends and contact with loved ones at home. And now, many are stuck in Morocco. They cannot work legally. Those who do find work are often taken advantage of. In addition, one of the main camps near Fez was just burned to the ground, destroying many possessions and temporary homes.
Our small team of volunteers showed up to a church in Fez on a beautiful Saturday morning, with 55 pairs of shoes, bags of clothes and (most importantly), cookies. During our briefing, we found out that our main job was to listen to the stories of the migrants who came to the church. We were to find out what they needed, especially any health problems. But more importantly, we wanted to show them that someone cared. There was so little we could do to help, but just that seemed meaningful.
The stories we heard were heartbreaking. I won’t be going into specifics, but there were men as young as fourteen seeking our help. People came through with shoes that were falling apart, assorted injuries and scars, and stories of their travels to Morocco, and their failed (and sometimes temporarily successful) attempts at reaching Spain.
There were two main things that astounded me. The first was how little people asked for. A blanket, a pair of shoes, a jacket. There was very little greed, but much sharing. Seeing something so small make such a big difference in someone’s life was something I have never encountered. The second thing was how many of our guest were in very high spirits. At one point, some people brought out cell phones, and we were having fun taking photos together. At another point, one man from Cameroon, upon finding out I was American, began joking about how he looked like Obama, and maybe should become president some day.
All in all, it was a humbling experience. Talking to people who had been through so much, many of whom were younger than me. People who were still able to laugh and joke around, despite everything. I wish I had some large moral takeaway for all of this. But in the end, the main thing it taught me was to be thankful for what I have, and to remember that there is always time to listen, and to learn.