Give to a Good Cause
The villages that make up my site are mostly isolated from emergency health care. There is a small health care center in my village, but it is not equipped to handle an emergency; in fact it’s only open a few hours every day. Thus, most women in my site give birth in their homes, with only the help of other women. My site is not unique in this respect – most rural villages in Morocco lack access to a birthing center. The World Health Organization writes that the lack of midwives and access to support during birth is one of the greatest and most easily remedied causes of death in the developing world.
For this reason, a nearby volunteer has organized a training for traditional birthing attendants (midwives). I have been able to recruit a number of women (11) from my village and other villages nearby to come to the training. The women will be paid a small sum of 40 dirhams (about 6 dollars) per day for the week of training.
I believe this training will be very beneficial for my village. Currently, maternal and child mortality is a problem. By learning the basics of caring for a woman during birth, hopefully the midwives will be able to alleviate the problem death during childbirth. Additionally, having a formal training for midwives and paying them for their time legitimizes and gives value to the thankless work that they currently do.
Unfortunately, despite being a development organization, Peace Corps does not have much money available for projects like these. Therefore, volunteers must ask their family and friends to give to support their projects. So I am asking for your money. If you’d like to give, go to www.peacecorps.gov Click on “donate now.” Then click on “give to volunteer projects". Then search for projects by country (Morocco) volunteer name (Hansen) or project description (safe birthing workshop). The donation is tax deductible, so you’re essentially giving your tax money to save little children and their mothers in Morocco.
A shameless attempt to pull at your heartstrings: sitting in my health care center one day an older women came in crying. Her daughter had died the night before during childbirth. The woman had died because she hemorrhaged and bled to death. There are plenty of different reasons that this woman died. She was young (17) when she was giving birth. She was poor and undernourished. She did not receive any prenatal care. She did not have access to a doctor or modern technologies to assist with the birth. Some of these causes of death are not going to change here in my site for a long time – poverty is here to stay for the foreseeable future. But by empowering some of the women in my site to better care for their fellow community members, we can hopefully reverse the most immediate of these causes and prevent unnecessary deaths and improve the quality of life in rural Morocco.
If you want to give, act quick; there are other volunteers whose families are giving as well. If we receive our requested amount, the site will close to donations. Not to worry, I promise there will be future opportunities to give if you miss out on this one. Also, I don’t want to mean to discourage donations, but don’t feel like you need to break the bank on this. The budget for the training is modest. A little bit really will make a difference. Thank you very much.
My plane touched down in Casablanca on the morning of March 4th. It’s hard for me to believe, but that means that I’ve been in Morocco for just over six months now. I got to my site on May 21st, so about 3 and half months in my site. 21 months remain. So far, it’s been an amazing experience and I’m learning a lot. So how has the time met the expectations that I had for it?
One pleasant surprise is that I have more work than I thought I would this early on. Not that I’m working a lot – I’m not. But I thought I wouldn’t be doing any work at all in the first few months in my site. In addition to the midwife training, there are a number of projects that are in the beginning stages that hopefully will come to fruition.
One disappointing thing is my friendships here: my best ones are with other Peace Corps volunteers. I value their friendships very much and I’m glad to have them. But I was kind of hoping that my best friendships would be with people in my village. I would call a number of people in my site my friends, but there are a number of barriers that make it hard to have a completely open relationship.
While I’m on the topic of hardships, there are four things that make the Peace Corps hard. The first is being away from family and friends. Sometimes I think I’m crazy for traveling so far away from everyone I know. The second is the lack of consistent work. Even though I’m working more than I thought I would, it’s still not very much. I have a lot of free time. That aspect is already improving and hopefully it will continue to do so. A third thing is the constant attempts to convert me to Islam. And by constant I mean it comes up in the majority of conversations I have, especially during Ramadan. It’s a sign that people like me and they want me to join their community in a spiritual way as well, but it doesn’t feel like that. It’s tiring and frustrating. And finally is being sick a lot of the time. I get mildly sick about once a week and pretty sick about once a month. It sucks my energy and it’s unpleasant. Hopefully, now that I’m living in my own house and cooking my own food, that will change.
A big reason that I wanted to join the Peace Corps was to experience another culture. That’s a pretty trite way of saying what I’m trying to express; culture doesn’t really capture what I mean. I’ve always been amazed at the different way that people look at the world. People’s experiences shape their minds and their outlook on life. Even in America the differences are vast. Sometimes people’s behavior is completely inexplicable when you look at it from your perspective. I think once you understand where someone is coming from, his or her behavior can start to make some sense.
And so in Morocco, I’m learning about another way to look at the world. It’s really different here and sometime I’ll do some a bigger entry and expand on the thoughts I have. The most obvious difference is the pervasiveness of religion in life and in particular the fatalistic approach that people take. There are a number of phrases that release the speaker from responsibility and exemplify this fatalistic attitude, but my favorite is “annay ishtaben” (whatever is written [by God]). There are plenty of other differences too: ideas about family and community, ideas about money and wealth, ideas about work, ideas about relationships with the opposite sex, ideas about health and health care, etc. And it all adds up to a very different way of looking at the world that can sometimes appear totally bizarre to an outside observer.
One great success I’ve had so far has been with my language. Now, I’m far from fluent and I still struggle in conversations a lot of the time. But for the most part I’m doing pretty well. Tamazight is a really hard language to learn, but I’m progressing. I’m already better than some volunteers who have been here for a year or more and I’m definitely one of the best in my volunteer class. I attribute my success to having studied languages in the past, studying a lot now, and having lots and lots of conversations with people. My French, on the other hand, has plateaued. I have just a couple conversations in French a week and so it’s hard to progress. I might start reading some French books in order to boost my vocabulary. Also, I’m going to start working on Arabic pretty soon; I just received the textbook from the Peace Corps library.
All in all, it’s been a good six months. Like I said, there are definitely some parts that make the experience difficult. But overriding those things that make me doubt my decision are some very positive aspects. I feel like I will make a positive difference in my community. I am learning so much and expanding the way that I think about the world. The volunteer community is very supportive and makes the hard times easier. And it’s a great challenge that gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I also want to say that the support I get from home in the form of letters, emails, phone calls, comments on my blog, packages, etc. means a great deal to me and that I couldn’t be here without that support.
As I wrote above, I’ve moved into my own house. I’ve included a picture of my bed/living room. The house is small, but fulfills my needs. Plus, its size will be a huge advantage in the winter when I have to heat it. Having moved out of my host family’s house, I do miss them, but I’m welcome there whenever I want. It’s Ramadan now, which is whole new experience. I’ll be doing a whole post on Ramadan sometime soon. A local association and I just finished writing an application to the Foundation of France asking for money to improve the trash collection and disposal system in my site. And as soon as school starts in my site, I’ll be doing dental hygiene lessons there. Hope all is well at home.