A Leader's Perspective: Volunteering in Morocco with Baraka

Baraka is a registered charity partner that Exodus have been running trips with for many years now. It's founder, Andy McKee, is one of Exodus' longest serving leaders.

Emily Chrystie, one of Exodus’ newest leaders, joined Andy for a volunteering trip last month in Morocco, getting hands on with the project work there - especially in Tijhza village, which was devastated by a violent storm and extensive flooding last November. Emily will be leading our next departure in October 2015.

Over to Emily...

Combining a holiday with volunteering is becoming increasingly popular in the travel industry, and last week I was lucky enough to give it a go in the idyllic setting of Tijhza, Morocco. On our first day, having climbed to a viewpoint high on the mountain above the village, the remote Tijhza valley below us appeared improbable, as if someone had defied the arid landscape by painting the valley floor with lush terraces of fruit trees and small, irrigated wheat fields. But even from here, damage was visible. The small clusters of houses below were dotted with collapsed and crumbling buildings, and the mountains were scarred by rockfalls. This is the story left behind by last November's devastating storms, little reported in the UK, which caused widespread damage and from which many isolated communities are still struggling to recover.

34458 Tijhza Valley

When news of the storms reached the UK, an emergency fundraising operation was launched by Exodus in order to rush food, blankets and shelter to those affected. The long term effects of this aid can be seen in the numerous repairs in progress throughout the village. Bags of cement were donated to 23 families in the village, and are being put to good use. The following day as we made our way to 'work', we met Muhammed, head of a family of 7, who had finished repairs on his family home and was proud to show us the freshly cemented outer walls.

Bricks being delivered in the aftermath of the floods Bricks being delivered in the aftermath of the floods

Our focus for the week was to work on an irrigation channel which had been washed away in the storms. We were joined by a crowd of locals, and by midmorning had formed an eclectic but efficient work force. Two small boys rode a donkey down to the river where a team of shovellers loaded its saddlebags with sand. The boys clambered back on top and guided the donkey back to the channel, where the sand was mixed with cement. A chain of volunteers transporting rocks from the river bed to line the channel were briefly joined by some local children, who quickly found paddling to be more entertaining and deteriorated into a riotous soundtrack. Meanwhile a mixed team of locals and Exodus/ Baraka volunteers dug, laid stones and cemented along the length of the channel.

The nearly finished irrigation channel The nearly finished irrigation channel

By midday, we welcomed the sight of a group of ladies carrying trays and teapots. Our refreshments seemed to have sprung from the very ground around us: fresh olive oil, warm bread carrying the smoke of the woodfire, and that elixir of Moroccan life, sweet tea brewed with fresh cut mint leaves. Enjoying our respite in the shade of the almond trees, we soon discovered other aspects to Baraka's work in the village. An elderly gentleman, Abdelkarim, approached to request funding from Baraka for an operation. He is blind in one eye, and requires a cataract operation which costs £200. Baraka has funded around 30 such operations in and around the village, many of them life saving. Volunteering here is not about short term, photo friendly projects or, as is sadly the case in many examples of 'voluntourism', imposing westernised ideals of progress onto fragile communities. It is about becoming part of a long term relationship with a small community and contributing to projects which originate from the stated needs of local people, and are both life changing and sustainable.

Abdelkarim, who has now had the operation. Abdelkarim, who has now had the operation.

When it came to leave the village, we had completed 50m of irrigation channel. We had been inundated by hospitality from our new friends in the village, eaten more than we thought physically possible, and yet felt proud in the knowledge that we departed having repaid some of that generosity through our own efforts.

Andy getting stuck in. Andy getting stuck in.

We said our farewells to our new friends and headed to Marrakech, which was thrumming with life and overflowing with sounds and smells. Snake charmers, heady spices and hagglers competed with the evocative call to prayer and intoxicating aromas from the many restaurants. It felt like the antithesis of Tijhza's serenity, but the Berber culture forms a strong undercurrent, and the few Berber words we had picked up were met with surprise and delight as we explored the rich, colourful souks and spice markets.

At the end of the trip, were treated to a day of relaxation in the beautiful seaside town of Essouira, and between chocolate icecreams and argan oil massages had time to reflect on our experiences. Getting immersed in local life and culture gave us an insight into Morocco that is not easy to come by, and we felt we had connected with this beautiful country in a way the average tourist cannot. Combined with well earned rest days in Marakesh and Essouira, it was an adventure not to be missed!

Thank you to Exodus leader Emily Chrystie for taking the time to write this for us.

Inspired by Emily's account? Find out for yourself  - Emily will be returning to Tijhza in October and you can join her. 

 

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