‘When I arrived at Marrakech, I was met promptly by a member of staff from the Kasbah Toubkal who was very welcoming – he even stopped to buy bananas as I was hungry and tired! At the Riad Vallee Verte, the owner, Driss was waiting to meet me and a meal had been prepared even though it was 10.30 in the evening.
I met Latifa, the senior housemother the next day, and she showed me around Asni.
I chose to wear scarves, outdoors, to cover my hair in the style of the hijab. I did this to be respectful in a traditional Muslim society. The housemothers (and their friends) loved this. I found that it helped me to blend in more. Whenever the local people discovered that I was volunteering with EfA, they expressed huge gratitude. Everyone was very welcoming.
I worked in Dar Asni 2 with the girls who were attending the lycee. The house mother Aicha and the cook, Fatima and the cleaning lady, Khadija were all very welcoming. The girls were delightful and very keen to learn. In the first couple of days, I worked with whoever was available. I wanted to gauge the level of English and how much we would need to use French. I decided to make a large chart of when the girls were not in school and establish smaller groups to be more effective. I eventually created a programme to see each girl 3 times in the week for 30 minutes or so in a group of around 4. This worked well and also helped with the integration of some new girls.
Looking at the English textbooks, the first years were learning family words so we started each book with a copy of the girl’s family tree. I did this with the older girls as a useful introduction for their book. All the work I did generated conversations between the girls and with me. We also covered the visit of Prince Harry and Meghan to EfA in February 2019. Many of the girls had been involved with that and had met them. My teaching resource was a treasured copy of Hello magazine that the girls had in the library.
I took games to play such as Yahtzee which I left behind. I always take a set of Rory’s Story Cubes (you can find them online) with me to generate imaginative story telling and some of the older girls had the vocabulary to be able to create some wonderful stories.
Over the years, the house had received donations of books for the library. Aicha knew that many of these were too difficult for the girls to read and enjoy so she asked me to sort them. Together with the girls, I did this. The house library had useful reference books and dictionaries that I encouraged the girls to use. We often needed a 3 way translation – Arabic to French to English.
The school timetables are very fractured. There were times when there no girls in the house. Then, I worked with the house mother or the other staff. The cook and the cleaner did not speak French or English so at times mime skills were required! I chose to eat lunch in the kitchen with the staff in order to get to know them more. The food was simple but delicious and totally prepared from scratch for every meal. The girls were involved in serving and clearing and some preparation. On Wednesday, after the fish man had been, everybody available went up to the roof to clean fish.
I feel that my whole placement was a success. I had no disappointments. The highlight with the girls was their leaving party for me with speeches and Berber dancing accompanied by washing up bowl drumming. Other highlights with EfA staff were my housemother taking me to the local hammam and washing my back and my hair for me. One Saturday, I went with her to the market to buy the vegetables and fruit for the week. We also had a wonderful day in Marrakech.’
‘I worked with small groups of girls in Dar Asni 1, taking between 4 and 6 classes each day. I always spoke French with the girls; only the oldest had just started learning English in the 3rd year of the collège and they told me wanted to practise their French with me, not their English. I went through various topics, asking the girls to write a little in their exercise books, or complete a French worksheet (which they folded and stuck in their exercise books) most days, followed by playing games, again using French.
We looked at basic topics, such as numbers, use of capital letters, colours, telling the time, the family, describing people, the weather, a bit of geography etc. This was all revision for them, but I felt this was needed. The girls varied in their ability to communicate in French and all had some problems with writing accurately in French. The girls enjoyed making folded paper ‘fortune tellers’ with me, also using cardboard and stickers, which I supplied, to write out and decorate a proverb in French, or a phrase such ‘J’aime ma famille.’
At Latifa’s request, two full days were spent helping all the girls to write / decorate letters in French to send to an English primary school. Letters were then received back, written in French by the pupils of the English school, which I went through with the girls. The UK children all asked about pets and where the girls had been during the long summer holidays, listing the foreign countries they had visited, which made very clear the differences in life experiences and culture between these UK pupils and the Dar Asni girls. The girls had little or no understanding of where different countries were and I frequently used the atlases available in the boarding house to help them locate the UK, France and other places on a world map.
The girls were mostly really keen to come to the classes; I felt they liked having someone new to talk to and to play games with and often wanted to stay on beyond their allotted 45 minutes, having noted from the timetable that there was a 15 minute break before the next group arrived.
Latifa, her deputy and the two cooking / cleaning staff all made me feel very welcome and I much enjoyed the month I spent in Asni. The food at Dar Asni 1 was very good; I had a delicious vegetarian lunch each day and the food served to the girls was also excellent. Perhaps the highlight was the little farewell party the girls arranged for me at the end of my last day of work. They decorated my hand with henna, dressed me in three different borrowed djellabas, sang and chanted for me, and persuaded me to join them in a bit of Berber dancing on the roof terrace of Dar Asni 1.’
To find out more about volunteering in Morocco follow this link https://travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk/projects/257/Education-Support-for-Girls-in-Morocco-(ED)