||Junior volunteers at orphanage in Morocco
RELEASED: September 17, 2009
By Leigh Ivey
DANVILLE, KY—Centre College junior Thomas Richards was tired of spending his summers in his hometown of Lexington, Ky. So this August, he traveled to Rabat, Morocco, where he volunteered at an orphanage as a participant in Cross Cultural Solutions.
Richards stumbled upon Cross Cultural Solutions, an organization that facilitates trips abroad for people of any age, while doing research on international volunteering opportunities.
"I didn't want to simply go to a different country and travel for the summer," he says. "I wanted to do something constructive while I was abroad."
With operations in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, the organization offers both volunteer and internship opportunities. Participants choose to stay for as little as one week or for as long as 12 weeks.
"I chose the program in Morocco mainly because I wanted to use my French," Richards says, "and I thought going to Africa would be an opportunity that might not present itself again."
Although Cross Cultural Solutions offered several volunteer placement opportunities in Morocco, Richards opted to work at an orphanage, believing that this experience would be the most rewarding.
Once he arrived in Africa, he quickly discovered that "many of the children had simply been abandoned after they were born. Because infidelity and premarital sex are such social taboos, many children from illegitimate unions are abandoned."
From the moment the children woke up each morning, Richards and the other volunteers stayed busy. From supervising meals and preventing fights to playing catch and swinging to singing songs at naptime, the volunteers had their hands full. And their hard work didn't go unappreciated.
"Seeing how everyone really appreciated even the smallest amount of attention was very eye-opening, and it felt good to be able to offer them that," Richards says.
Though he worked most closely with the five- and six-year-old children, Richards was also able to interact with the newborns each day. Feeding them, he says, was "by far one of the neatest things I did while on my trip. I'd never spent much time with babies, so holding them and burping them afterwards was a completely new experience for me."
In Rabat, the capital, Richards lived with 15 other volunteers at the CCS's "home base." Because he and the other volunteers worked only until early afternoon each weekday, he was able to see much of the city and surrounding areas.
Weekends were filled with site-seeing, as well. Traveling with a group around Morocco, Richards spent one weekend visiting Fes, a city famous for its leather and outdoor market, and another in Merzouga, a small town in the Sahara.
"Merzouga was really amazing," he says, "because we rode camels about five miles into the desert and camped under the stars."
Although he was only in Morocco for 16 days, the experience—from working with the children to traveling around the country—opened Richards's eyes to the wider world.
"I realized that there really are some universal aspects of human nature and culture," he says. "I had never observed people from a different culture in the act of raising a child. Although there were some major differences in how a child is raised in Moroccan culture than in America—such as the use of corporal punishment—there are also many commonalities, like children's songs and the interaction between children. For some reason, I had expected everything about the culture to be different, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was some common ground.”
Having fulfilled his goal of doing "something constructive" while abroad, Richards returned home convinced that "it's extremely rewarding to go and do tangible work for children in a part of the world where they really need help."
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