Lindsay Brenner - 2015 Program Participant

Volunteers at a rural village in Morocco

An excursion to a nearby village to view a palm tree forest and mud-walled casbas

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad?

I decided to participate in an international program because I wanted to expand my global perspective and learn about my world. I was interested in getting out of my comfort zone and doing something different, searching to learn about a different culture from my own. I wanted to meet new people, other Americans as well as people of differing nationalities. I wanted to experience a new place with a different language, culture, and food from what I had been accustomed to, while also helping people and volunteering my energies to make the world a better place. I wanted to grow personally and gain understanding with a more global perspective. I wanted to go on an adventure and open myself to new opportunities and experiences.

I believe it is valuable to see how other people live on this planet. I read this quote from the book Half the Sky and I found it very valuable and inspirational: "One of the great failings of the American education system, in our view, is that young people can graduate from university without any understanding of poverty at home or abroad. Study-abroad programs tend to consist of herds of students visiting Oxford or Florence or Paris. We believe that universities should make it a requirement that all graduates spend at least some time in the developing world, either by taking a ‘gap year’ or by studying abroad. If more Americans worked for a summer teaching English at a school like Mukhtar’s in Pakistan or working at a hospital like HEAL Africa in Congo our entire society would have a richer understanding of the world around us. And the rest of the world might also hold a more positive view of Americans."

Why did you choose Sahara Service Organization?

My friend invited me to participate and I was excited to help and have a positive experience while volunteering in a new place.

Volunteer with children in Morocco playing a game

Playing games with local children during camp

What was your favorite part about Boudnib?

The location of Boudnib, Morocco is a very unique place to visit. There are few, if any, other tourists there and the local community is very warm and welcoming. It is a place that most people would not have the opportunity to see if they did not go out of their way to get there. Also, the location was extremely beautiful with barren desert terrain surrounded by mountains. The town and local village were also visually interesting with historical mud architecture. I really appreciated visiting the nearby villages and seeing the beautiful mud homes and cassbas that are still inhabited by the people (many of whom invited is for tea while we were walking through the mud walled corridors).

By going to a place that is not on the average tourist's path, we were able to connect more with the Moroccan community and experience the true and authentic culture there.

What makes volunteering with Sahara Service Organization unique?

By working with local Peace Corps volunteers and local families within the community, we were able to make a real impact with our volunteer projects. By working together with local people, our projects are more sustainable in the long term. Also, by going to a place that is not frequented by tourists, we were able to have a more authentic experience and really get a feel for authentic Moroccan culture, especially the culture of southern Morocco, which is very distinct. It was a really special experience to be infused with the local community and to live with Boudnibi families in their homes.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff consisted of local families, community members, and Peace Corps volunteers who were serving in Morocco. The staff were very welcoming and helpful. The families were very loving, opening up their homes and lives and displaying real hospitality that is part of the traditional Moroccan culture. The families provided each participant with a comfortable space in their home to live while visiting Boudnib. The host families also cooked local delicious food for every meal, which was also served in the authentic Moroccan style with one large plate to share communally with bread. Some of the family members spoke English and helped with translation of Moroccan Arabic as well as other local dialects. The Peace Corps volunteers also assisted with translation and helped relay cultural nuances encountered during our experiences.

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

I wish I had captured each part of my experience with more pictures!
Children painting a wall outside

Local Moroccan children working together to paint a mural at their school

Describe a day in the life of your program.

Each day was planned with new and exciting activities centered around interaction with the local community. Every day we participated in a different service project, such as building a recycled tire playground, assisting a local farmer with farm chores, painting murals, helping a local family make home repairs or painting, and creating an engaging camp (consisting of games and fun activities, and then donating books at the end of the camp) for the children in a local village. 

Every meal was also an integral part of the day involving real Moroccan cuisine cooked by local people and families. We also would have lessons relating to the language and culture of Morocco throughout our stay there. We visited local people in the community, such as a local woman who was a carpet weaver who let us each try to weave a little of her carpet, and also saw a woman cook traditional Moroccan bread in her clay oven.

We would also take day trips to surrounding villages and local places of interest, such as a nearby dam which created a large reservoir, and hiking at a nearby mountain. For a few days in the middle of the program, we took a tourist excursion to the dunes of Erg Chebbi in Merzouga, Morocco, to go on a camel trek and overnight camping trip surrounded by the enormous sand dunes in the heart of the desert.

What did you enjoy doing on your free time? 

I very much enjoyed exploring some local nomad homes located near Erg Chebbi and also in Boudnib. The nomad people created their homes from repurposed fabric and garments they were able to find as well as any other scraps of materials they happened to come across. When the group visited the nomad home in Boudnib we donated some clothing and shoes to the family, which they seemed very appreciative of. The nomad families invited our group to drink tea while we visited their tent (the obligatory Moroccan custom). The nomad family in Boudnib had several baby goats living in and around their tent structure, that were born within the past few days of when we visited. It was extremely interesting and eye opening to see these beautiful tents that the nomads created for their homes out in the middle of the desert. They had so little, but they appeared to be happy and welcoming to us. There would not have been another opportunity to have this kind of interesting and eye opening experience outside of this program.

Girls walking toward a tent in the desert outside of Boudnib, Morocco

Visiting a nomadic residence in the outskirts of Bounded

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

Everyone in our group stayed with local host families who were very welcoming and loving. They graciously opened up their homes and lives for each person in our group. They also cooked authentic food for each meal and provided clean and safe living areas.

One night, all of the participants of the program got together and cooked an American meal for our host families with hamburgers and french fries. It was nice to have a cultural exchange going in both directions! The last day, we had a big party with all the Moroccan families and volunteers together. We ate a lot of delicious food, dressed up in Moroccan wedding outfits and other local garb for photo shoots, and some of the host family women decorated our hands with henna.

Now that you're home, how has volunteering abroad impacted your life? 

I have gained a broader outlook and wisdom about the world that I did not have before. In the future, I would like to help educate other Americans about other people in the world and advocate for other people to travel and learn about other cultures. I would like to continue to promote volunteerism and study abroad programs because these kinds of experiences are essential to creating an understanding between cultures and promoting peace and positive cultural exchanges in our world. Especially now, It is imperative to bring people of differing cultures together in peaceful circumstances.

Having this kind of experience has made me appreciate the simplicity of life, and to live in the now and keep an open heart and mind.
I also think that volunteering is just as beneficial for the volunteers as it is for the people being helped. I found this quote by St. Francis of Assisi that I think is very relevant to volunteer service: "Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received...but only what you have given; a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.”