This update arrives fairly overdue. I (Matthew) am now back in the UK after returning from my volunteer placement in Taroudannt at the end of May. Yes, I miss the daily tagine; yes, I miss the etay; yes, I miss the warmth of the peopleâ¦ But what have I carried home?
Taroudannt is like no other place I have visited in the world. And by the tone of conversations and brief excursions, fairly unique even within Morocco itself. As a British traveler you have to work very hard not to carry both skepticism and cynicism with you when you pack your suitcase, or indeed assumptions, whether they are born by media portrayals, tourist brochures or even certain âbackpacker guide books.â The beauty of Taroudannt is that youâre lucky if you get a paragraph written about the place â if you want to know, you need to get yourself there.
Never before have I received such genuine hospitality, warmth and care from people who have welcomed me to their country; their town; their home. Generally, Morocco appears fairly liberal in its practice of Islam, yet its faith is vivid in behaviours of both adults and children: listening, desire to share, care for others and sense of community responsibility. This placement was about much more than what I could give…
If I arrived with any preconceptions of the knowledge, skill and ‘western enlightenment’ I could bring, I would be misguided. I arrived at Centre Afak to the sound of singing, clapping, performance and Mohammedâs secure djembe rhythm. Here I found a project embedded in its community and confident in its work. Built on relationships of fairness, openness and equality, the project doesnât need heroes â but it welcomes family (particularly those willing to dance!)
I was lucky in my time there, getting to work closely with Hicham in the centre for sport as well as with many of the London-based MCT band who were in town for periods contributing to the close working relationship between MCT and GMH. I also arrived at the same time as Briony, a volunteer from Australia who tried bravely (and mostly in vain) to assist with my French tuition. After five weeks I think we both settled on the truth that she would be my translator. There is no end to my gratitude for this (even if she did laugh out loud at some of my poorly attempts!). I therefore focused my attentions on the classical Arabic classes, which were a fantastic element of the volunteer programme.
Language formed many of my hurdles while in Taroudannt. However, luckily there are some things for which you do not need words to understand. Working each day with Hicham, I was able to see just what these children, and the work with their families, meant to the staff at the centre. I observed genuine love, humility and dedication â the hours these people put in are remarkable and no less than inspiring.
Over time, I found natural rhythms within the centre and worked on a couple of art projects; one which I now hope to extend in to something more sustainable for the future. 5 weeks was not long. And it felt even shorter once it was over. But it was just long enough to begin to really see the work that goes on there, and it was invaluable to see first-hand my fundraising working live. Now in the UK, I am back in to the uniform of primary school teacher, with the Queenâs jubilee and the London Olympics on the horizon. Itâs great to be home and there is so much to do. But I will certainly go about it with an enriched view on what people together can achieve. I have established a personal care and interest for the future of Centre Afak and I hope that it is a relationship that may continue to thrive.
Matthew Bisco â volunteer, spring 2012.