By MARK MINTON
SIT journalism students in Morocco have returned safely from their week-long village stay, in which students are immersed in the culture of a rural Moroccan village where they live and work with a local family, participating in the rituals of rustic Moroccan life.
Students lived for one week in Birta Village, part of Sbaa Rouadi Commune in the Boulmane region near Fez. While there, students participated in group activities, visited local NGOs, and navigated the lifestyles of their individual host families, intimating themselves with the routines, joys and travails of village life in Morocco.
The Sbaa Rouadi Commune is maintained by the local Association for Solidarity and Development, an NGO that provides easier access to education, job training, playground facilities and resources for underprivileged Moroccans.
The commune accommodates 23,000 people in total throughout 23 neighboring districts, with approximately 3,000 people in the local vicinity.
SIT students worked with members of the association in a reciprocal arrangement. Students refurbished the outdoor area at the association, planting trees and painting murals, and ASD assisted students with story opportunities.
Students were paired in single-sex housing arrangements with local families and covered topics including education, sports, agriculture, land rights, cuisine, women’s rights, culture and economics.
Village residents reacted enthusiastically to SIT presence, especially children, who flocked in droves to interact regardless of linguistic and cultural barriers. There was virtually never a moment when SIT students were unaccompanied by a homestay sibling or neighbor.
The weekly schedule functioned intermittently, and students participated in scheduled activities every other day while blending into the home stay routine during unscheduled periods.
While at home, students helped with various household chores including feeding farm animals, milking cows, shoveling rocks, planting crops and pulling weeds.
While students worked in the fields, local children warbled songs with English verses, singing, “Oh baby, I love you, oh baby…”.
Most fathers in the village households are farmers while women spend most of their time at home, maintaining the household, caring for numerous children and preparing food and tea throughout the day.
Students visited the Bisma Center for Human Development, a facility for mentally disabled boys established as part of King Mohammed VI’s 2011 human development initiative. While there, students toured the center’s facilities and engaged with disabled students through games and exercise.
SIT students played soccer against local Moroccans, one game for boys and one for girls. The Moroccan girls’ team didn’t make it in time and the SIT boys’ team lost against the Moroccans. All SIT students received a trophy and individual medals as consolation.
Students were confronted directly with numerous cultural obstacles. Mobility for girls in rural areas is difficult because women spend most of their time in and around the home. Conversely, boys spend much of their time working at the farm after a certain age.
Some adjustments were as simple as drinking milk straight from the cow’s udder.
“[It] tasted like a fresh vanilla steamer from Starbucks,” said Sutton Rafael, a videographer in the group.