Morocco has long been one of the most popular spots in Africa for intrepid backpackers and posh travelers alike, fueling the economy in bigger cities and tourist destinations. Well kept Medinas' abundance of goods and food give an impression of high affluence compared to its Sub-Saharan neighbors. But despite all the good Morocco has done to develop, nearly 4 million Moroccans still live below the poverty line, the great majority of whom (an estimated 3 million) are in rural areas. It's a problem that numerous NGOs and volunteers are working to alleviate, and an issue that you too can involve yourself in.
Read on for ways that you can volunteer abroad in Morocco, and lend a hand in relieving poverty in North Africa. If you're really interested in volunteering in Morocco, take the time beforehand to really understand the issues that plague this country. Then, you'll be well-prepared to make a big difference.
Quick Tips to Get Involved
- Decide if you'd prefer to be in a rural or urban area - poverty is largely a rural phenomenon in Morocco, but is definitely not absent from cities either. Volunteer opportunities helping with poverty in Morocco exist both in and outside of the cities.
- Hone in on your interests and skills - volunteering with poverty is a multi-faceted issue and whether you are interested in education, health, food security, agriculture, or woman's rights, there is sure to be a program that matches your interests.
- Work on your language skills before you leave - even if some knowledge of French or Arabic is not required for your volunteer program, it will certainly be useful. Your language proficiency may also be a factor in the program you choose - some programs include language instruction for their volunteers.
- How much of a commitment can you make? For some projects, staying for longer really does improve your chances of making a difference in the lives of the people you are helping, whereas others are better suited to volunteers who can only stay for a week or two.
The Effects of Poverty in Morocco
Although a heavy tourism economy has helped with development, and Morocco is generally better off than some of its Sub-Saharan neighbors, 36% of Morocco's rural population and 24% of urban dwellers still live in poverty. Unfortunately, the effects of tourism haven't reached rural areas to the same extent - there, agriculture is the predominate mode of income, and populations are more likely to lack basic amenities such as clean water, food, and clothing.
This, combined with a long decline in social services, particularly in health and education, have created lower standards of living, inspired rural poor to move to cities (where they aren't always better off), and fueled illegal immigration across the Strait of Gibraltar into Spain. Children under 15 are the most heavily impacted by poverty and the government's decline in social services, and as such tend to be one of the most focused-on groups with development agencies.
Your Responsibilities as a Volunteer
Alleviating poverty in any country generally means improving the quality of life of at-risk groups by providing health and education programs that otherwise don't exist and creating sustainable opportunities for these populations to gain a viable income. In agriculture heavy areas, this may translate to improving agriculture techniques and teaching farmers how to optimize their crop production. In urban centers, you may assist with vocational training to help unskilled laborers gain the skills they need to become more employable. Even assisting with women's groups working towards gender equality contributes to the eradication of poverty.
Keep in mind that there are many factors that contribute to poverty, and volunteering to alleviate poverty doesn't strictly mean professional development or helping people generate income. Proper health care and nutrition, for example, are necessary to give people the quality of life they need before they begin thinking about job prospects.
Popular Types of Volunteer Opportunities
Poverty is a multi-faceted and complicated issue to solve, and therefore so are the volunteer opportunities available to those interested in helping solve the issue in Morocco. These are some of the most popular types of volunteer programs in Morocco.
- Childcare and youth development: Since children under the age of 15 feel the affects of poverty the most, programs working with childcare and youth development are both highly relevant and necessary in the overall cause to eradicate poverty. Volunteers in this field work with kids to give them the sort of life skills we take for granted - like math, critical thinking and creative problem solving, or using a computer - and being a mentor for them. Alternatively, volunteers are needed to work as a caregiver in over-crowded orphanages or for disabled children with families who cannot afford to give them the sort of care they need to lead a normal life.
- Education: Volunteers are needed to teach both adults and children. Depending on the program, volunteers teach students how to read, languages like French, Spanish, or English, and basic information technology skills. For adults, this education provides them with the job skills to help them be a more marketable employee. For children, it encourages them to stay in school and improves their chances of getting a good job later in life.
- Health: It's hard for anyone to think about professional development or learning if they are plagued with chronic diarrhea, malnutrition, or other easily preventable health problems. Volunteers are needed to assist with providing basic health care in understaffed clinics, provide companionship to patients, and educate at-risk populations about health, nutrition, and sanitation.
- Women's Empowerment: Working with women's rights can greatly improve the quality of life of underprivileged families by creating a social environment where people are more open to letting women work, teaching them basic job skills (like reading - women are far more likely to be illiterate than men), and creating a comfortable support network in a traditionally male oriented culture.
- Orphanages: In urban centers, poverty has created a problem with street children, and in turn a need for volunteers to plan recreational activities and serve as a companion for at-risk youth. Keep in mind that orphanages don't necessarily mean a place for children without families, but also children whose parents can't afford to properly take care of them.
- Agriculture: Improving farming techniques and optimizing crop yields requires volunteers to have some expertise in the field (otherwise, a volunteership with agriculture would more likely mean that the farmers teach the volunteers about farming, rather than the volunteers working towards improving quality of life for the farmers) and positions like these are more likely found by committing to a longer stint abroad with organizations such as the Peace Corps or UN Volunteers.
Suggested Volunteer Programs in Morocco
- Rustic Pathways
- Projects Abroad
- Cross-Cultural Solutions
- Love Volunteers
- Volunteers for Peace
- Moroccan Children's Trust
- International Partnership
Although some 15% of Morocco's population lives below the poverty line, NGOs and caring volunteers are working hard to get the numbers down. However, poverty is only a small aspect of the bigger picture of life in Morocco. Beyond the hardships lies a beautiful country full of history and colorful traditions, a unique blend of ancient and modern, and jawdropping landscapes. This Mediterranean gem makes it a truly incredible country to volunteer and live in. It's hard to come away from Morocco unaffected, and hopefully by volunteering with underprivileged Moroccans, you too will make your mark on Morocco.Photo Credits: gnosne, YoTuT, and JalilArfaoui.