Connecting with Locals about Making the World a Better Place
Updated: Sep 12, 2019
I spent two days in Marrakech on ImprintEd Abroad’s Go Local Marrakech program, which was offered to students of Semester at Sea in early April. I am immensely grateful for the impressive hospitality and willingness for intellectual stimulation that was exhibited by the Moroccans that I met. Additionally, I can confirm that Moroccan cuisine is one of the top 5 cuisines of the world. I would go back just for the food, and the opportunity for more great conversations will be a bonus.
A moment that stood out to me was talking to Youssef, my program leader, a young Moroccan man of 25 years who owns a marketing start-up. I shared with Youssef that I saw very little sexual objectification of men and women in advertisements in old Marrakech near the Jemaa El Fnaa Square. He spoke very eloquently about ideas of beauty and sex and the distinction between the two.
I was also pleasantly surprised to learn about Youssef’s life goals; he wants to target the school dropout rate of girls in Morocco. He advised me that if we speak about issues in a broad philosophical sense, then we may feel helpless when it comes to doing anything about it. Thus, he decided that he wanted to address the issue of bathrooms in rural schools, which are often the reason that girls in Morocco drop out of public school. To that end, he built some toilets in schools and the result was that the next year the number of graduating girls went from 60 to 120 because the new facilities (with separate gender toilets) allowed many girls to return to school. It really impressed me to see a young man working towards gender equality because I had assumed that growing up in a patriarchal society would groom men to adopt such an attitude as well; this experience has challenged my overgeneralization.
This discussion was also the turning point in my own life. I shared with him my dreams, ambitions, and plans for changing the world. I have always wanted to make a positive impact, but have never known how to execute this. My plan was to become a lawyer and to offer legal aid. I wanted to support poor people who lack access to legal aid and who are often disenfranchised in justice systems. I never had a blueprint or clear idea of how I could tackle such a large problem. Youssef introduced me to the Global Shapers program and encouraged me to find one problem or project as a starting point. It is okay to start with a small project because gaining momentum is important when tackling daunting issues. This prompted me to change my direction of thinking and searching for ideas, rather than just issues. Toward the end of my Semester at Sea journey, I discovered a Moroccan bank that funds local entrepreneurship projects that have social impacts across Africa, and aids them in pitching their ideas and product development. Projects range from environmentally sustainable and highly needed cloth pads for Kenyan women to baby warmers invented by a doctor in a very remote mountainous village in Ethiopia to prevent babies from dying in winter. I now want to bring this project to Singapore, using Singapore as a springboard and touching on resources and tools that Youssef made me aware of. What I liked most about the ImprintEd program was the ability to interaction with locals and realize we are all more similar than we are different.