The school was enormously proud when day student, Alice Robinson, was awarded Mid Sussex Young Volunteer of the Year in 2014 – particularly so as Alice is very modest about the staggering amount of voluntary work she tackles on a regular basis. During Autumn half term Alice went out to Morocco with the organisation Original Volunteers. Alice was so enthusiastic about her 16-day trip that she plans to go back! Extracts from Alice’s diary (below) describe how the trip was structured and shed light on some of the voluntary work opportunities out there. Reading her diary entries for the first six days, you can’t help but admire Alice’s ability to make friends in any situation and resilience, as well as her dedication to helping others.
When I arrived after the three and half hour flight to Marrakech, I was greeted by Adil, one of the volunteer staff who drove me to by the volunteer riad (accommodation). The riad was down a smelly alleyway full of stray cats. Inside, I was greeted by the four other volunteers, all in their mid-twenties. We chatted away until about 1am when we went to bed – on the roof terrace. As I lay under the night sky, I couldn’t quite believe that I was in Morocco, or that I had been at school less than 13 hours previously!
This was my first day of volunteering; I had been woken up at 5am after hearing the prayer call from the local mosque. My first project was painting at the big orphanage. When we arrived, I was shocked by the enormity of the orphanage and the fact that only some of the orphaned children stayed there, while others lived at other orphanages, or even on the streets of Marrakech. After drawing the templates on the walls, the painting commenced! Two young boys came to watch and (try to) talk to us; they were very friendly and happy, yet we found out from Rachid, our coordinator, that both of them had lost their parents. We later had lunch at the orphanage before completing the painting and returning to the riad to rest as the temperature had risen to 36⁰C. Two of the volunteers left to catch their flight home and then I went for a wander to the Souks and to explore Marrakech itself. Later on, four volunteers who had taken a day off to go on a trip, returned, so we all went out for dinner in a very posh restaurant.
After a very late night, we all woke up early to bid farewell to Sam, a volunteer, before embarking on our first project of the day; feeding the homeless. We went to the shops and markets to buy food to prepare lunch for 60 homeless people. We then gave the food out to some very hungry and grateful people in the streets of Medina. After this we caught the bus to a place where single mums meet with their children. There were two tiny rooms where about 30 children gathered to do some arts and crafts before a good old game of football, or ‘كرة قدم, with the boys. By the time we got back to the riad, it was about 5pm so I and two others went for a wander through the Souks before returning to the riad to greet two new, older volunteers. After dinner, we sat on the roof terrace and played cards to unwind.
This morning five of us went to a local school to work with some young students until they went home for their lunch. After a bite to eat, we painted the play area to brighten it up, which the students loved! Later on, we went back to the house belonging to Fatima, one of the coordinators. This was a real treat as she rarely invites volunteers over, but she made us very welcome and her mum had prepared us a mid-afternoon feast of fried fish, salsa, chips and bread – it was delicious and extremely filling! After a very sugary mint tea, we left Fatima’s house and returned to the volunteer riad. By this time it was almost 6pm so cooling down to about 30⁰C!
I went for a wander alone which was very relaxing, until, at 7.30pm walking around in the dark, I found myself totally and utterly disorientated. I forgot the name of the area I was staying in so my best bet was to aim for the hyper Marché as I believed that people would know where that was. My lack of French and Arabic language skills – and the fact that I was unsure of the area name – did not help me at all, instead worried me more and caused me to receive conflicting instructions from different people. I was lost somewhere, hopefully in Marrakech, but I had no clue where to go. I didn’t contact fellow volunteers for fear of worrying them, but eventually, there was a spark of hope; I found a boy, who, although I had been told not to trust strangers, I had to trust.
We walked for a while but I still felt very lost until we found a computer in an internet café where he showed me a map of Marrakech. This triggered my memory a bit and I found where I wanted to go. However, we had been walking in the wrong direction for 20 minutes. We got back on track, (I hoped) and, 40 minutes later, after walking alongside a motorway with my heart racing, we arrived at familiar territory. I was so relieved, unexplainably so; I ran into my riad to find something to say thanks – my best bet was a double pack of English custard creams. Perfect, well near enough! I went back out to thank him and explained they were for ‘energy’ for his, now only 10-minute, walk home. By that time it was 9pm, so I relaxed on the roof with some of the other volunteers before getting some well-needed rest after my adventure!
This was our first day off as some of the others hadn’t had a break for over a week. I and two others had planned to go on an overnight trip to a Berber house in the countryside. After a 90-minute taxi ride, we arrived at the beautiful house and sat in the courtyard to learn how to make Moroccan tea. We then went into the kitchen to make a traditional Moroccan lunch. Jan made the tagine while Eve and I made the bread. We then cooked the bread in a mud hut fire before sitting down to enjoy some well-earned lunch. After lunch we had some free time to relax before a short walk down to the river. Once we were back, a tea-making competition was held, which I lost! The forfeit was to sing a song – which I did with great zest! We then had dinner before relaxing on the roof and watching the (shooting) stars.
Jan and I were up at 6am to climb one of the Atlas Mountains. It was really fun and built up our appetite for a freshly cooked breakfast of pancakes and bread. Before long it was time to say farewell to the host family and visit the local town for a spot of tagine pot shopping! We then jumped in a taxi for a very adrenaline-pumping, taxi ride back. We were able to join the project, which was a school for people with Down’s syndrome, after lunch. We split into small groups to run activities with a few of the children. This required a huge amount of patience and resilience, not only because the people had learning difficulties, but also because of the language barrier.
The last 10 days of my visit were just as varied and included daffodil planting at a girls’ centre, a trip to the Sahara and an hour and half long camel ride at sunset, and a stop off at the film set for Indiana Jones and Gladiator! To sum, I loved the whole trip, loved the Berber house, loved the Sahara, am planning to return and would definitely recommend going out there on a trip like this.