Curtis Charles Johnson - 2015 Program Participant

Tourists visiting the desert in Morocco

With the gang while on a camel safari in Morocco

Why did you decide to apply for an international volunteer program?

I wanted to breathe in the culture of a new place. To hear unfamiliar languages and find a path in a different country. I wanted to be uncomfortable and have to deal with it.

Why did you choose Sahara Service Organization?

I chose the Sahara Service Organization because it is an excellent opportunity to explore the varied cultures of Morocco while completing two weeks of remarkable community service projects. Making a positive impact on the children of the Sahara is a major focus of the organization, and this was my driving factor also.

What was your favorite part about Morocco?

Morocco has countless amazing views and the major cities are shockingly vibrant. The majority of my trip took place in a small town, called Boudnib, where everyone made you feel like you grew up there. The community was very close knit and loving. Many of the locals came out to help us with our various projects around town making the experience even better.

Volunteer painting a mural with children in Morocco

Helping children paint a wall at their school in Morocco

What made your program experience unique?

The program is unique because of the amount of activity planned throughout your stay. My group's journey began in Marrakech; we spent two nights exploring the city, practicing our haggling, and trying out the tea before the program began. After an eventful and mountainous 10 hour bus ride, we made it to our site. The town has new experiences around every corner, as well as more smiling faces. In two weeks, we built a tire playground for the children, helped on the farms, resurfaced houses, cleaned the local waterways, went on a camel trek, spent a night in the dunes of the Sahara, and even found time to have a two day fair with the local kids.

The program allows you to see many different sides of Morocco, and I personally enjoyed every second.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff was helpful in every way possible. They secure your housing, meals, and plan the activities throughout the program. They were all very excited to join us on our mini adventure. Alison and Driss are amazing hosts and are always there to help. They also provided basic Moroccan Arabic classes for those interested in learning a few new phrases to use at the bizarres.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

The program is a whirlwind in two weeks; given another opportunity, I would fly in a few days before just to get a little more comfortable and accustomed to the surroundings.

A group of volunteers in a Moroccan village

During our visit to a nearby village in Morocco

Describe a day in the life of your program.

A typical day in the program started early in the morning around 9 a m. All of us volunteers ate breakfast with our host families before walking to the nearby villages to take on the day's tasks. We would spend the morning working on a variety of projects, such as building the tire playground, while the heat was minimal. Midday we would relax back in our houses, eat lunch, and practice the local dialects.

Later in the evening, we would have different cultural events scheduled, such as traditional Berber cooking lessons or observing a local wedding. Each day was unique and the advisors make sure that you are comfortable throughout, while also embracing the difference.

What is something you enjoyed doing outside of your volunteer work?

Outside of our normal volunteer work, I really enjoyed our trip to Merzouga. After a camel trek we spent the night in the dunes of the Sahara. The experience was exciting and a lot different than your normal weekend plans. We met people from all over the world while gaining personal experience and cultural growth.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I lived with a host family; they were extremely nice and treated us just like family. Everyone was quick to help us with any issue we faced and made sure we felt welcome. I loved the close family networks and the sense of community.
Tourists taking a break during a camel ride in Morocco

During a camel safari in the desert in Morocco

How has volunteering in Morocco impacted your life back at home?

The Sahara Service Organization has changed my life in numerous positive ways. Firstly, I made incredible friends from around the world that I am proud to stay in contact with for the inspiration they provide.

Being able to see the impact a few simple actions could make has really motivated me to do more in the world.
I find myself thinking, "If i could paint a school and build a playground in two weeks, what could I do in a year, or in a decade." The program inspired me to work harder to realize change in the world. It provided me with immense motivation and I cannot wait to return to this program and try out other like it.