Leah Chisholm | Atlanta, GA – Neuroscience, 2015
Leah Chisholm is a senior in the College of Arts and Science at Vanderbilt. She is from Atlanta, GA. Leah is a neuroscience major with a Spanish minor, and will be attending medical school next year. Her Nichols Fund Project involves participating in the OACS Global Service Trip to Rabat, Morocco. While there, she will be working with multiple organizations involving health care, teaching the English language to youth, and social justice advocacy for women’s rights.
Blog Post One:
Week one of Morocco has been such an enriching experience. For one, the city of Rabat is beautiful. I absolutely love the view of the water from the Kasbah. Walking down the Medina is crowded but exciting because of all the market shops and people. I am slowly learning my way around the city. So far we have had a tour of Rabat in which we learned history about the “Old Medina” and its original intention to serve as protection against invasions. We have also had some orientations about women in Morocco and the challenges they face for equality. My homestay is all women so I haven’t observed many interactions between men and women. Furthermore, at my service site, the Lalla Meriem Center, the staff is also all women, although the majority of the kids are boys.
I am enjoying my service site a lot although it can be extremely exhausting. Lalla Meriem is a center for orphans and disabled children. It was founded by a former princess of Morocco, so the center is very well supported and well-funded. Our role is to plan activities for the 3-6 age group, so it is very similar to running a summer camp. One of the biggest struggles for us has been the language barrier. We have been able to come up with many games, activities, and ideas that we think the children will enjoy, however we lack the means to be able to relay the game to the children and implement it because we can’t communicate with words. Additionally, our supervisor has been very busy and we haven’t been able to meet with her to discuss what supplies and equipment are available for us to use. However, I feel confident that this challenges will become smaller and smaller with time. The children are extremely patient with us and have started to use gestures to help our understanding. They are also so sweet and entertaining. Additionally, being around them and hearing them talk has helped me pick up on some words and phrases in Darija.
One thing I’ve really enjoyed is the other volunteer that works with us. She is from Morocco, but speaks some English and we have been able to engage in some conversation about the culture. Her insight has been extremely helpful to giving me a more well-rounded perspective of the culture because she is more critical of some of the flaws present in the country. She spoke a lot of how she felt constrained by the laws of the nation and the lack of freedom she has not only as a woman, but also as a Moroccan. I find it interesting how much religion affects civilian life in Morocco. Because there is an assumption that everyone is Muslim, the customs associated with the religion are the basis of the laws and policies. For example, during Ramadan if a Moroccan is seen eating in public, they will be arrested and sentenced to 6 months in prison, even though Ramadan is a Muslim holiday and not all Moroccans are Muslim. Furthermore, there are various connotations and judgments concerning the quality of a woman based on whether or not she wears a Hijab.
We are currently in the middle of Ramadan and because of the fasting there have been differences in the normal day to day life. I have been trying the fast to be respectful to my host family and although not impossible, I do find it hard since I am outside running around with kids during the day. I still have a lot of questions about the daily life, especially concerning the Hijab, careers/working, the absence of a male presence in many of our homestays, and the culture’s attitudes towards orphans and adoption that I am hoping to have answered as my time here continues. This weekend we are going to Marrakech (which will be 108°) and I am excited for the to explore a new town and for some relaxation on the beach!
Blog Post Two:
During my last few days, I had mixed emotions about leaving Morocco. I was not 100% ready to leave Morocco because I feel there is so much more to see and learn about the country, people, and culture. But I was also very excited to head back to USA because I would be starting medical school and I was looking forward to this chapter of my life. Now that I am back in America, there are many things that I do appreciate more. However, I still hold a strong connection to Morocco. I miss my host family and the children at Lalla Meriem so much. Lately, I have been starting to think of ways to I can keep in touch and stay active with the organization beyond my presence. This is a little surprising to me because one of the struggles we with our service site was trying to find the meaning in our service. As much as I loved interacting with the children, in the back of my mind, I always had the feeling that there was more we could be doing with the organization to solve the root causes of the issue. As I reflect more, I ponder if we could’ve been of more us helping on the administrative side of things, with organization and creating lesson plans rather than just interacting with the children. However, even with these thoughts, I wonder if I am imposing an American mindset on the service work. Part of the reason I wanted to do the OACS trip was to experience global service work. I knew that this work would be temporary, and I had qualms about this, but I wanted to have the experience before forming my opinions. Yet, I am still confused in my feelings on the work. In some ways, I feel it was very beneficial and I saw the impact we made in making a child happy and feeling loved. On the other hand, I feel that if I had more time, we could have formed a strong enough relationship with the organization where we could begin to create solutions to some of the deep-rooted, long-existing problems. But even then I begin to question myself on why I feel I can give the organization advice and expect them to take it. If someone from Morocco came America and began sharing advice on changes they would make, would we as American accept their help? The likely response is no. So again, I feel a little stuck in making an opinion about how view the service I did on this trip and if my contribution was meaningful. One of my goals was to find sustainability within the context of a global experience, and I may not know how to establish that yet, but I do know that this is an experience I would not want to take back. I know that through the reflections, the cohort experience, and my time with my host family, that I have gained so much knowledge and grown much more in my ability to recognize social issues, think critically, and decide my role in society. I know that I have gained the cultural competency that I hoped to gain to help me in my journey into the medical profession. And I know that I have a book full of memories and experience that I can share with others.