Beyond Camels & Deserts: Volunteering Abroad in Rural Morocco

by Alison Elder

What comes to mind when you think of Morocco? Casinos, yachts, and Grace Kelly? No, that’s Monaco. The Middle East? Not quite, but Moroccan Arabic is the primary language, of many spoken languages, in Morocco. Africa? Yes, North Africa. Camels and deserts? Of course, but we’re going to let you in on a little secret: there is so much more to discover beneath the surface of Morocco than sandy dromedaries.

Those who volunteer abroad in Morocco have the opportunity to go on a true adventure, to taste, to experience, and to impact a different side of Morocco. Get out of the grind and growth of the big cities, and take things one step further, by becoming a volunteer in rural Morocco. Just read on to find out what makes volunteering in Morocco, specifically in the off-the-beaten trail locations, extraordinary.









Young Moroccan girl holding a toothbrush

Teaching dental hygiene in Ksar Taous

Take Advantage of Truly Immersive Experiences

The richness and diversity of Morocco has captured the imaginations of travelers for centuries, and despite its modest size (roughly the same as California) it has made a name and reputation for itself in the West. One cannot enter a North American beauty store without finding a smattering of products staking their efficacy on the ancient beauty formulas of Morocco; Argan oil and special concoctions of mint, figs, and pomegranate are among the most popular with Moroccan roots. The geometric patterns of Moroccan architecture and fabric also lend their inspiration and label to foreign fashion and home décor.

Those who volunteer in rural Morocco will have the opportunity to move beyond the shiny, fabricated Moroccan wares and meet the women embroidering the traditional black Berber tahroyt, watch the mule and millstone process of making olive oil and taste its delectable results, and learn the art of Moroccan cooking in their host family’s kitchen. The skill and care invested in mixing and artfully drawing henna, preparing and pouring mint tea, or in creating the perfect tagine can only be understood and appreciated by those living among and with the local people.

Explore Every Side of Morocco

Morocco is fascinating and has something for every taste, from beaches, mountains, deserts, and rolling farms to rivers, oases, gorges, and breathtaking waterfalls to cities, festivals, concerts, and outdoor adventure. Located at a converging point of of three very different regions, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, Morocco melds its rich past and promising future into a fascinating whole.

Opportunities to volunteer abroad in Morocco often include excursions to its many historical sites and natural wonders, but volunteers can also come early or stay late and explore the country on their own or with like-minded individuals. The chance to experience daily life as well as take advantage of crash-course language and culture lessons included in volunteer programs in Morocco provide volunteers with a wider perspective of the country.









View of Boudnib, Morocco

View of Boudnib from the Garra, an old French fort on a mountain

Dig Deeper Than the Average Tourist

The Kingdom of Morocco has come a long way since Independence in 1956. Walking through the tourist-infested streets of some larger, coastal cities, such as Rabat or Casablanca, you can almost forget that you are in Africa at all. However, there are many Moroccos.

Tourists flock to select cities and sites, but few dig deeper or see more than the Morocco stereotype presented in guidebooks and chic magazines.

There is another Morocco, largely untouched by modern industry and in need of basic development assistance through the form of community development projects. Those who choose to volunteer in rural Morocco will travel to where the greatest amount of need resides, and work with local partners to create lasting change in communities not often frequented by foreign visitors. Volunteer opportunities in Morocco in small, non-tourist areas are typically derived from grassroots organizations and connections in sync with community’s needs, which provide culturally appropriate approaches to development.

Go Where the Need is

The Tafilalt region is one of Morocco’s poorest and least-developed areas, which is famous for its date palms, blend of Berber and Arab cultures, and for its people’s generosity and joy in the midst of hardship. A poor, desert region, it is nonetheless incredibly verdant in some areas, with a substantial underground water source and an impressive variety of vegetation.









Volunteering with children in Ksar Taos, Morocco

Games with kids in Ksar Taos - Photo Credit David McDonald

Errachidia. A number of volunteer programs in Morocco are offered in the small city of Errachidia, which is an important center of commerce, travel, and services for the surrounding rural areas. Conveniently located at a transit point for travelers, Errachidia is a quick, easy ride from a number of beautiful sites, such as the famous sand dunes of Merzouga, the lush oases of Aoufous, or the majestic river gorge in Tinghrir. Errachidia itself features the Source Bleu Meski, a large natural pool surrounded by palm trees and ideal picnicking spots. The perfect place to relax and cool down on hot summer days.

Those who volunteer in Errachidia will typically work with local NGOs and schools, including a special needs school, helping with painting projects, and teaching English and French. The unemployment rate for youth is high in Morocco, as it is across the Arabic-speaking world, making English is a valuable and marketable professional skill.

Boudnib. An hour or so east of Errachidia, individuals can find opportunities to volunteer in Boudnib, a small desert town surrounded by even smaller villages (known as ksars or castles from their origin as individual warring tribe strongholds). Nearby rivers, caves, oases, and mountains provide many hiking trails, shady escapes for a Berber nomad picnic, and counting sheep (literally) or the occasional camel. A melting pot for a number of different tribes, traditions, and cultures, Boudnib’s summer wedding season trumpets this plethoric variety of ancient traditions in the streets for all to see.

Many of Boudnib’s ksars have no running water, public services, or waste-disposal system. A recent law in the region resulted in the removal of all trees and greenery planted by private individuals in front of their homes, leaving a sad deficit of air-cleansing plants or shade in the hot summers and a need for better utilization and greening of public spaces. Additionally, recent heavy rains and flooding destroyed many mud homes and buildings in the city and many schools and public buildings are constructed and cut-off from further improvements.









Riding camels in Merzouga, Morocco

Riding camels in Merzouga

Live, Learn, & Share

All of these events and challenges leave many children in Morocco with nowhere to play and, during school holidays, nothing to do. Little knowledge is circulated on basic health issues, such as dental hygiene, and type two diabetes is rampant due to inactive lifestyles. Individuals who volunteer abroad in Morocco will have the opportunity to help address common health issues and do their part in order to make a lasting impact. Other volunteer placements in Morocco include planting trees, community clean-ups, building playgrounds or homes, and even planning and implementing day camps for kids.

Those who volunteer in rural Morocco typically have the opportunity to live with host families, interact with locals daily, eat homemade Moroccan food, practice the local language, and be immersed in day to day life. Moroccans are known for their hospitality, and nowhere is openness and generosity better displayed than in the Berber-Arab region.

Volunteering in Morocco will make an immediate, lasting impact on the community served, while equipping volunteers with valuable leadership and organizational skills throughout the entire experiential learning process.

Morocco is filled with many deserts and camels, BUT if you look beyond there is so much more. Volunteer in rural Morocco, and you will gain new perspectives and experiences while making a REAL difference. 

This article was contributed by Sahara Service Organization, a volunteer organization in Morocco devoted to providing international volunteers with an authentic experience of rural Morocco and the nation's diverse culture.