Michael Kaplin reports on a new student initiative that allows American Language Center and ALIF students to get involved in activities that help the local Fez community.
|Community Service Club President, Sohaima Lahmine, with residents from the Girls' Centre|
Since its inception in March, the Community Service Club (CSC) members have organized weekly volunteer and cultural exchange opportunities for ALIF and ALC students living in Fez.
Angela Bryant, an American who has lived in Fez for the past 13 years, felt that bringing International and local students together through community service would provide an excellent cultural exchange opportunity, while also benefiting the local community. “We exist to serve our community,” she explained. “This is not just a Moroccan or International thing. We’re all in this together, and it’s really the students that run this.”
|Angela Bryant chats to one of the residents at the Girls Centre|
The CSC regularly visits a centre for people living with with physical disabilities, and a boys’ and girls’ center for orphans as well as the Centre for the Protection of Girls at Ziat. The students involved believe that their work has had a strong impact on the people they serve.
At the Centre for the Protection of Girls, Club member Yassine Rais explains, “These girls (at the Centre for the Protection of Girls) have been through a lot and life has been unfair to them. What we’re trying to do is talk to them and help them express themselves without shame or fear.”
Sohaima Lahmine, the Club’s President, thinks that part of the goal is to look beyond the faults of others by practising compassion towards those who are often judged harshly.
Another Moroccan student who has been involved with the CSC since its beginning, Youssef Roundi, believes that the group’s involvement in the centres has helped children create a sense of community. “We help them find out who they really are… We help them form a small community within the center, because many of them do not have a family.”
Last Ramadan, students helped several children in need of medical attention reach doctors, shared sunset meals with the girls, and joined them to celebrate a number of holidays traditionally spent with one’s family.
Naomi Munro-Lott, a student from Leeds University, shared her first experience volunteering, “Community service has provided me with a great opportunity to interact with Moroccan people – both the students we work with and the children we help.” Lauren Kalish, a student from St. Olaf College in Minnesota, echoed Naomi’s opinion, and admits that at first she felt a little uncomfortable. “However, I was quickly put at ease when the girls welcomed me with open arms.”
At recent meetings, members spoke about the possibility of starting more language and life-skills classes since many of the children are unable to attend school. “We teach them languages like English and Arabic, and other things that might help them in their future,” explained Radouan Rais, one of the founding members of the CSC.
|ALIF and ALC students conduct English language classes at the Girls' Centre|
On a recent Saturday, more than 40 students showed up to volunteer at the girls’ centre; about half of the students were Arabic-language students, many of whom had never volunteered with CSC before. Angela Bryant stated that those wishing to become involved are easily welcomed into the community. “It’s just a group of students – friends – that meet together, and we want everyone to get involved,” Angela said. There are now more than 400 followers on the club’s Facebook group.
In addition to community service projects, the CSC also has a number of cultural exchange initiatives, such as a book reading club and a language-exchange partnership, where an English-language student is paired with an Arabic-language student in order to help one another improve their communication skills. There are additional ideas in the making. “We’re trying to start out small now,” she explains. “We want to establish our initiatives well before we branch out and do more.”
Angela, like other members of the CSC, emphasizes the importance of more students getting involved. If you would like to participate, feel free to join the club’s Facebook page by searching for “Community Service Club – Operation Reach Out” or contact Angela Bryant at firstname.lastname@example.org