Thursday, October 13, 2011


In my last post I promised to tell you about my work, and I will, but first a comment about the meaning of “work.”

At the top of the column on the left are Peace Corps’ three goals. None is more important than the other. So when I’m doing something that furthers global understanding (Goals 2 or 3), I’m working. When I’m having tea at someone’s house, I’m working. When I go to the hanut to buy bread, I’m working. When I joke around with some of the neighborhood kids, I’m working. When I go for a run, I’m working. What a job!
What I said about Goals 2 and 3 notwithstanding, like most Americans I tend to think of work as something I can see or can count. So, to answer the whispered question - “But what does he actually do?” - here’s my Goal 1 work:
Primary Project
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, we’re assigned a specific kind of work, which is called our Primary Project. I have an official connection to the local clinic and the nurse there is my “counterpart” – not a supervisor exactly, but a host country national to whom I’m somewhat accountable. We ‘re encouraged to seek out any appropriate ways to pursue our assignment. This is what I’m doing right now to pursue my primary project as a Rural Health Educator:

The equip-mobile in front of the sbitar.

·         Sbitar: I go to the sbitar (clinic) every Wednesday morning. That is well-baby day, so there’s lots of traffic. Probably about 50 women came through yesterday with their infants and toddlers to get shots, etc. Since I cannot give shots, I sit in the waiting room and talk to the women and children. I bring crayons and coloring pages with health themes to entertain the kids and do some stealth education. I hope to use the familiarity and trust I gain to engage in more formalized health education at the sbitar in the future.
·         Equipe-mobile: Last Monday, I went with the equipe-mobile, a mobile clinic, that goes to outlying douars (villages). We made three stops - at a mosque and two elementary schools. The nurse gave shots and other medication. We also recorded the weight and height of the first graders and gave them a very basic vision test. The equipe-mobile goes out every three months.

The middle school where I will work with the Health Club

·         Elementary schools: Beginning next week, I will be teaching in the three local madrassas (elementary schools) three days a week, six classes each day, 515 students. My lessons will be short – 15 to 20 minutes.
·         Lesson plans: The first week, I will tell them about myself and the Peace Corps. The second week, we (the teacher and I) will administer a survey on handwashing and toothbrushing habits. The third week, I will begin a unit on handwashing. Handwashing and Toothbrushing will make up the units for the fall semester.
·         Health Club: A health club is mandated for all middle schools and high schools in Morocco. Every other Tuesday, I will work with the health club at the local middle school. The science teacher is the advisor and the English teacher is also involved. My first units with the middle schools will be on handwashing and toothbrushing, too.
My office. That's a Morocco map on the wall. I've started
marking my travels on it.
·         Handwashing and Toothbrushing: Changes in handwashing and toothbrushing behaviors would provide the most significant improvement of overall health of anything else that could be done in this country. There is no culture of toothbrushing, which is apparent immediately, especially in small towns. People do wash their hands, but not always at the right time, and seldom with soap. There is no clear understanding of germs and the vectors of disease transmission. In this culture where people eat with their hands and do a lot of handshaking, that’s especially significant.
·         Teach. Did I Say Teach? Anyone who’s ever spoken in front of a group for 15-20 minutes knows how long that can be. And to do it in a foreign language? No matter that they’re between six and 12 years old. The big problem is that I can prepare what I want to say, but I can’t really prepare for what they’re going to say. And then when I go to the middle school and face those teenagers…that’s stress of a whole ‘nother order.
In addition to our Primary Projects, we PCVs are encouraged to do secondary projects as well. We’re supposed to discover these out of our experience in and knowledge of the community.
Secondary Projects
A topographical map of the Kalaa area.
I use it to learn more about where I live. It's
also helpful with the Road Association.
The green areas are where you'd see greenery
in the countryside. All the rest is red rock
and stony soil.
·         I’ve met with six different associations and may eventually do work with all of them. At the moment, work is continuing with two – a Road Association and a new Women’s Association.
·         Road Association: this is a group made up of 32 local communities that want to improve the road on our side of the river and the connecting link to Kalaa. My role is to help them find an ear in the royal government and to prepare their proposal. We’ve met 4 times.
·         Women’s Association: This project occupies a lot of my time and energy and it's very rewarding. It is a start-up that grew out of a comment a woman made to us PCVs way back in my pre-service training. Once I was assigned here permanently in June, I went back to her and asked her if she was serious. She said, yes, and we’ve gone on from there. Though still not formally organized, it has taken a number of significant steps already, including electing an interim board, conducting a survey of skills and interests to which 118 women have so far responded, holding several general meetings attended by from 60 to 125 women, and organizing literacy classes. The survey revealed great interest in literacy and in work other than the field and housework that forms the bulk of their days. My job is to teach them how to run and be members of an organization (they’ve never done this kind of thing before), to help them get legally organized, and to help them find resources for their training and other needs.
·         The Battle Against Illiteracy: Of the women in the Women’s Association, a majority have never attended even a year of school. 75% of them are illiterate, even though many speak three languages – Tamazight, Arabic, and French. We’ve had 85 women sign up for literacy classes and just this week got funding for them, so they’ll begin in about two weeks!
·         Handicraft Skills: The Women’s Association will also be providing classes in various handicrafts and try to develop a way to sell them, too, perhaps by forming a co-op. I’ve been making connections with PCVs who work with artisans coops to see about arranging workshops and meetings where our women can learn organizing and marketing information.

I bought a white board to use with my own classes and to
practice writing Arabic script on. It's a phonetic script and
what you see there was my attempt to write the names
 of the officers of the Women's Association. I didn't get a
single one of them exactly right. Very humbling.

·         Before Ramadan I taught English to a small group of women. We met three times a week for an hour. I also tutored a few middle school school students during the month of July. Both groups were suspended during Ramadan.
·         Now, especially with the progress the women’s association has made, two different groups are asking me to teach English – a group of men and a group of women. The men have a business motivation for wanting to learn, since, as dagger-makers, a lot of their customers are tourists. The women just seem to want to know English. These classes will begin in a few weeks, after I’ve gotten started with my elementary and middle school teaching.
So that’s my work for now. It’s more than I feel comfortable with, but Peace Corps tells us to line up lots of work because not everything planned actually pans out. If it’s too much, I’ll make a change. I’ll update you on it as the year progresses. And maybe cry for help.


  1. sounds like you are doing very good work, no matter how you define it. I'm off to GLiBA tomorrow morning, probably the last time as Cary no longer wants to go and isn't going tomorrow. sigh...

  2. It's Sunday as I write this, so GLiBA is winding down. I actually feel a little nostalgic about it. I can completely understand your sigh, Charlie. Take care.