Rollins Students Tackle Poverty in Morocco

August 18, 2011

Students Listening to Talk on Moroccan Maymester

While traveling from Sidi Ifni to Fez, students stop at the King Hassan II mosque in Casablanca and participate in a group discussion.

Through the Office of Community Engagement, Rollins provides students and faculty with opportunities to connect with the local community while also learning about fundamental issues affecting society. But for a group of students who went to Morocco over the summer to study development-based approaches to poverty, the definition of local has now been stretched to include the global.

While there are many opportunities to dive more deeply into the causes of these issues, many people only experience temporary solutions. Known as the charity-based approach, these solutions often neglect causes and solutions. For example, in the case of poverty, they focus on individual donations or handouts. The development-based approach, however, focuses on long-term goals to solve problems permanently for entire groups of people. While charity-based aid may cause temporary relief, developmental-based service aims to change the lives of both present and future generations.

Fourteen students traveled halfway around the world and immersed themselves in a different culture to witness the difference development-based service makes. Led by Associate Professor of Anthropology Rachel Newcomb, Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies Margaret McLare, and Multimedia Programmer and Moroccan native Nour Bennani, students participated in a field study to colonial Sidi Ifni and the city of Fes in Morocco. The field study focused on globalization and development, causing students to draw connections between charity work and the system-altering work completed by the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in another country.

Students holding Helath Posters at Health Clinic

While visiting a rural community in Sidi Ifni, students raised money raised money for a mobile medical clinic, designed healthcare posters based on the stated needs of the clinic, met the doctors and nurses who work there, and got a sense of how rural healthcare is practiced.

While charity is widely practiced in Morocco, according to Newcomb, “charity alone will not necessarily improve people's overall economic standing or position in society. What is exciting is the rise of more development-based approaches that work with local partners to determine people’s needs, and we really saw this in action with Dar Si Hmad in Sidi Ifni.”

Rather than just providing short-term solutions, Dar Si Hmad exposed the Rollins students to people who are creating systems that will ensure their survival for decades to come. While visiting the culture and education nonprofit, students were surrounded by countless projects and efforts to improve and develop rural Morocco. One such effort included teaching rural women to harvest fog in the mountains, so they did not have to spend hours each day traveling to a water source to provide water for their families.

Carlee Hoffman (Class of 2012) felt that her experience at Dar Si Hmad forced her to more closely examine the inherent causes of poverty. “We all learned that the causes of poverty are widespread and interconnected. Globalization has many effects; one that we experienced in Morocco was how ‘modernization’ has resulted in many discrepancies in Moroccan life. It was eye-opening to witness how vastly different rural and urban life is in Morocco,” reflected Hoffman.

While one single solution did not seem to stand out, she realized that everyone needs to play a part in working to solve these large-scale problems. “It is hard to say how to ‘solve’ these issues because they are on such a large and complicated scale. I think the best thing anyone can do is to learn about other cultures and peoples and help on a local scale.”

The students had a different experience while visiting Tafyoucht, an argan cooperative in Mesti, where students witnessed a development-based program in action. Argan oil is prized as a delicacy by chefs in the United States and Europe, and is also an ingredient in beauty products. While seated on the floor, over sixty veiled women cracked nuts from the trees. As part of the local heritage, argan trees (tafyoucht in Berber) once flourished in parts of Morocco, where they provided nourishment for the people and animals. Drawing on that heritage, Tafyoucht encourages rural women to use oil from the tree’s nuts to establish a sustainable economic income while insuring the plants continue to flourish in the region.

For Summer Braun (Class of 2014), Tafyoucht showed how NGOs are working to provide sustainable solutions to poverty. “The women at the cooperative worked, cracking almond-sized nuts with a stone, for hours at a time.” Though they were completing manual labor, the women understood that it was allowing them to improve their own economic standing. This realization took Hoffman out of her comfort zone, but helped her realize that, “no matter the situation, people are always looking for ways to better their lives and support themselves. The women at Tafyoucht did not seem ‘impoverished’ per se, but rather happy to have the opportunity given to them through the cooperative.”

Hofmann felt that the focus on sustainable development and their experiences at both Dar Si Hmad and the argan cooperative made the outcome of the trip monumental. Witnessing poverty first-hand in Morocco opened her eyes to the impact of giving back to the community. She is looking forward to getting more involved in the local community when she returns to campus. “What I learned in Morocco simply reaffirmed my belief that if we have the ability and means, we should always help anyone in need.”

By Annamarie Carlson (Class of 2014)

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