An ancient crossroads of civilizations, Morocco will offer you a unique blend of cultures, stunning landscapes, and the opportunity to do meaningful volunteer work with a variety of programs. From the more modern and cosmopolitan cities like Rabat, to the storied traditions of Fes and the rugged beauty of Azrou in the Middle Atlas, there’s a place for everyone. While a background in French or Arabic is helpful, Americans will find that their native English skills can be a plus in many volunteer positions.
Although the government provides some free and subsidized healthcare, rural communities often have limited access to medical treatment and trained providers. You can help by assisting doctors or nurses as they provide free check-ups and consultations as part of a medical caravan, or by working at an under-staffed community clinic.
Alternatively, there’s also a demand for health education. Teach basic nutrition and life skills at an elementary school to empower the children to care for their own bodies.
Traditionally, Morocco has had firm gender roles, with men controlling public life and women running, and being largely confined to, the household. Although people’s conceptions are changing, there still exists a large gender divide in terms of education and earnings. Single mothers and divorcees in particular have trouble finding legitimate work outside the home.
You can volunteer with many community centers and women’s groups in a variety of roles. Teach vocational skills to enable them to earn their own income, or teach languages or basic literacy to help them gain more control over their lives. Other activities like exercise or art classes also promote personal growth and development.
The Moroccan government also provides free education to its citizens, but some youth are unable to take advantage of it – many leave school to support their families, or because the distance and travel are prohibitively long. The failure rate amongst students is also high, and successfully obtaining a high school diploma requires mastery of numerous subjects including English and French.
Help by providing extra English lessons to support students. You can also lead the students in numerous extra-curricular activities (like journalism, leadership, and even social service projects) to enrich their educational experience and create more involved citizens.
Disposal of trash and waste is a problem in Morocco, and many public spaces are littered with garbage. Volunteers can help with trash pick-ups, or teach the principles of conservation and recycling to youth.
Rabat is a safe bet because of its international community, and more people will speak English there. Fes, Meknes, and Marrakesh offer a more traditional experience, and many rural areas in the Middle Atlas and High Atlas have a clear need for volunteers as well.
- Chefchaouen: A beautiful mountain get-away, known for its laidback and friendly atmosphere.
- Marrakech: See the Djemaa Lfna, the square which is ‘Kech’s exhilarating cultural heart.
- Merzouga: At the edge of the Sahara desert, you can navigate a camel into an ocean of sand. Camp there to see the crystal-clear stars at night, and the sunrise in the morning.
- Essaouira: This blustery town on the Atlantic coast hosts the annual Gnaoua festival, drawing huge crowds and musicians from around the world.
Planning Your Trip
Volunteer Support: The organization or group you volunteer with should be able to support you, and the community you work with will probably be more than happy to help you get settled. For any serious problems while in the country, you should consult the U.S. Embassy in Morocco. Several websites can also support you as you prepare, including Friends of Morocco or Expat blog.
NGOs/Nonprofit/Volunteer History in Morocco: There are numerous types of NGOs and volunteer groups in Morocco, predominantly French and Spain but with a variety of others as well. One list can be found on the World Association of Non Governmental Organizations. You’ll be able to find any type of development work being carried out somewhere in Morocco.
Know Before You Go: There are no legal barriers to entering and volunteering in Morocco. Linguistically, French or Arabic helps – although it’s worth noting that the Moroccan Arabic dialect differs dramatically from Modern Standard Arabic. Like many developing countries, Americans may be seen as targets by hustlers and faux-guides. It’s a good idea to read up on places you plan to travel to, and even try to have hotels or destinations in mind before you arrive.
How Volunteering in Morocco Will Help Your Future: Beyond just the projects you work on, volunteering in Morocco will be appreciated by future employers or schools for a few reasons. It shows your ability to live and work in a very different culture, and adapt to new and sometimes stressful circumstances. It also means you’re familiar with other languages, and both Arabic and French are increasingly important these days.
How to Save Money While Volunteering: While life in Morocco isn’t expensive for locals, it can quickly become steep if you try to live an American lifestyle. Looking for the best way to save money? Live like a local! Find local alternatives to imported products like Doritos and Snickers. Alcohol and meat are both expensive, so occasionally try a plate of lentils or a salad instead. When you’re buying gifts for home, try to find the original artisans rather than the more common middlemen – many cities have a state-run artisana for this purpose.
If your bank account is still dropping faster than you’d like, your best option may be to fill it back up. English tutoring with a native speaker is in high demand. You can also check local language schools to see if they need part time teachers.
Questions to Ask: Are there language requirements? How conservative is the community, what are gender roles like there? What is the accepted dress? What are the accommodations? What’s the weather like?
Health and Safety of Volunteers in Morocco
Morocco is a relatively safe country, and the authorities take pains to protect tourists’ welfare. However, tourists are tempting targets for desperate people. Watch out for pickpockets, especially in crowded areas or festivals, and be sure to lock up or hide your valuables when leaving them in a hotel room. Verbal harassment of women is common, and foreigners should travel in groups or by taxi after dark. The U.S. Department of State also warns you to avoid the frequent demonstrations and rallies you may encounter.
While no vaccinations are required for Morocco, travelers are recommended to get them for Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, and Measles. If you plan to be outdoors or dealing with animals frequently, a rabies vaccination is also suggested. The most common health complaint is diarrhea, so prepare yourself with a good stock of treatment. More health information can be found at MD Travel Health.
Visas for Volunteering in Morocco
U.S. citizens do not need require a tourist visa for stays of 90 days or less. If you are planning to stay longer than that, you’ll have to obtain a “Carte de Sejour” from the local police office, or from Gendarmes in rural areas.
Contributed by Dan Hudner