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This is the first part of a two-part blog series about Erin Stephens’ fellowship in Morocco.
By Erin Stephens
In June, I had the opportunity to be part of a fellowship that took me to Morocco for two weeks. While overseas, I learned about Morocco’s culture and current political, social, and economic issues. My journey to Morocco began months ago in Chicago.
Back in March, I received a phone call from Heartland International. They facilitate professional exchanges and had recently been awarded a grant through the US State Department called Legislative Fellows: Emerging Leaders from Morocco, Egypt, and the US. This fellowship involved not only going to Morocco, but also having a young Moroccan come work here at the Pantry for three weeks.
In April, Mohamed Rahmo came to Chicago and volunteered at Lakeview Pantry for three weeks. He and I collaborated on several projects regarding online communications tools that I could use to more effectively manage the volunteer program and encourage future growth. It was a great partnership, and I was positively bursting with excitement to travel to Morocco and continue working with my new friend, Mohamed.
In June, I set off for Morocco with three other fellows from Chicago. Our group consisted of: Demetrio Maguigad, New Media Manager at Community Media Workshop, Whitney Woodward, Policy Associate at the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, and Lawrence Benito, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. We were led by Julie Stagliano, President of Heartland International, and our wonderful Moroccan host, Boubker Mazoz.
We arrived in Casablanca on Sunday, June 17. Our first week was a tour de force of meeting people in Casablanca, Rabat, Tangier, and making our way to a mountainside paradise called Chefchaouen. The first day was filled with small lectures given to us by professors and journalists on Moroccan identity and culture, the role of Islam in their country, the recent Arab Spring and subsequent issues surrounding that movement, and the role of civil societies and associations in their reform process.
Later that week, we went to Rabat where I met Mr. Mustpha El Khalfi, the Moroccan Minister of Communications. I felt very humbled and privileged to have an audience of the government’s spokesman and also one of the youngest government officials. In all our conversations with people, the words “democratization,” “anti-corruption,” “education,” “encouraging the youth and women,” and “human rights” kept coming up.
All of our meetings were interspersed with absolutely delicious meals and the ever present Moroccan tea. I’ve been in complete withdrawal since leaving, particularly the tea. I even learned how to properly make it – be liberal with the mint – but it just doesn’t taste the same.
Before I left Morocco and returned home to Chicago, our journey would take me to Tangier and Chefchaouen and back to Rabat and Casablanca. Stay tuned for Part Two!