UFS volunteers recollect their memorable service experiences abroad…
Giiti Wassie, Morocco Program 2015
It is a hard task indeed to put into words how transformative my experience with UFS in Morocco has been. The country of Morocco is like a feast for the senses; the smells, sights, people, landscapes, cityscapes, medinas, and architecture stay with you long past your departure. The people are warm, generous, and extremely hospitable. Yes the country may be poor; some of the roads need paving, the pollution is sometimes intolerable, the homeless and panhandlers are ubiquitous, but there is a greater sense of community and contentment here than I have seen in the Western world. The nation’s motto: “God, country, king,” is etched across the physical and emotional spaces of Morocco, and in this simple phrase lies the great sense of camaraderie between Moroccans that is palpable even to an American tourist briefly passing through.
The greatest experience in Morocco for me was the time I spent in the villages. The villages of Ighil and Tadaf and the people that live there (some of the kindest, hardworking, positive, and grateful people I have yet to meet) will stay with me forever. I will never forget the children of those villages, and how happy they seemed to be, despite lacking the material things we have now come to regard as basic: running water, electricity, education, and technology. I never felt the sense that the villagers were unhappy or pessimistic. In fact, I felt the contrary: the villagers exuded gratitude, independence, and a deep sense of spiritual connection, not just with God but also with nature, animals, and each other. This experience has made me question whether I need all the things I think I need, and what true contentment really means.
The greatest thing about UFS is that you are traveling with fellow Muslims. I underestimated how important a factor this is. Being with other Muslims on this journey through Morocco imbued my experience with a deep sense of spiritual connectedness and contemplation. During our reflection sessions, I was struck with how much more special these experiences became given that we were all making connections with service and God. I feel that this program has elements that are deeply spiritual, and this has created very strong bonds between the volunteers, and has personally made me stronger spiritually and more connected to my faith. I would highly recommend this program to fellow Muslims interested in service and developing nations. Going to Morocco has been one of the best decisions I have ever made and the impact of this trip will reverberate for years to come.
Afreen Ahmed, Mexico Program 2014
Something about Tashirat is so different, and I felt it the moment we walked in. Part of it is the physical atmosphere itself–a 2 hour drive up the mountains, the air is clear and the view phenomenal, electricity is solar-powered, and greenhouses line the pathways. But more than that, everyone here has a warmth in their eyes and in their voices, a way of carrying themselves that characterizes the purity of the lives they live. I’d thought at first that it would be hard to adjust to an environment so vastly different than what I’d been used to, but oddly enough, at the Christmas dinner our first night, I felt more at home than I’d ever been, surrounded by a language I didn’t speak, food I’d never heard of, and people I’d just met. It wasn’t always easy–there were cold, rainy days where we worked in the greenhouses or painted walls all day without interacting with the kids, and I had to reaffirm my intentions and remind myself that I was here to serve Allah, not myself. But then there were beautiful days where we’d play soccer with the kids for hours, or read them bedtime stories, or learn about their siblings and hobbies and dreams for the future, and I’d realize that I’d never met people with the depth of sincerity and love that the kids at Tashirat had. They come into the orphanage with difficult pasts and a lot of them retain their developmental disabilities, but the staff has raised them to be educated and happy, with a very strong sense of family and selflessness. As a UFS team, we discovered new things about the world and about ourselves on the trip, and I would love to be able to go back there someday.
Sulaiman Shansab, Mexico Program 2013
As a sociologist, activist for human rights and education I felt privileged to volunteer in Mexico helping orphan children and learning about their living situation. Instead of learning about poverty through a book, I gained first hand experience on, at the front lines. I learned about their touching stories, what brought them to the orphange, the education they receive, the relationship they build and the love they acquire at Tashirat. I was astonished by the orphanage; how it ran on rain water, and how they used half of its energy source by way of solar energy. The children here at the orphanage were well taken care of with food, medical/dental, clothes, love, and care. For children who come in here (sometimes with real siblings) with very little, Tashirat is all they have. I thank UFS for giving me the opportunity by going to this orphanage and helping the less fortunate out with the best of my abilities. Moreover, I like to thank Tashirat for welcoming us in with open arms and taking good care of us. I created a bond with the children there that will last a lifetime, and an endless memory. Giving charity is an act of generosity, but I wanted to do more than that by donating my time to Tashirat and helping the orphanage. That was truly a present for me itself. The friendliness and helpful staff at Tashirat and UFS gives me the confidence to return. I’m pleased to say that this was not my last time visiting Tashirat. They have gained a new lifetime committed partner.
Sidrah Shaikh, Morocco Program 2013
The simple meaning of happiness. That is what I realized on this trip, to have fun and live life no matter my situation. While at Ighil and the orphanage, I think most of us focused on how much these kids lack in their life: clothes, water, education, or a family. However, when playing with the kids I saw just how happy they were. It was as if they did not realize they were lacking what we in the states deem necessities. These kids were just happy and playful, not focusing on any of their shortcomings. It was humbling to learn that lesson from people a fraction of my age, to be happy with and grateful for what you do have instead of wishing for things you don’t. I remember some of the boys trying to make fun of me in Ighil while I tried to teach them English. There was a girl named Zara. We couldn’t communicate at all but she was always smiling and looking at me, happy just to hold my hand. There was also this boy at the orphanage. He asked me to flex my arm muscles, I knew exactly where this was leading but I did it just to humor him. He grabbed a hold of my sad little biceps and said shuiya (a little). Anyone within earshot of us started laughing, including myself. Those kids were inspiring. I learned more from them then they from me.
Maria Tariq, Mexico Program 2013
My UFS volunteer experience in Tashirat in Mexico was a refreshing, eye opening experience from day one. My role was student as well as volunteer. The staff was very welcoming and eager to explain how the unique community they had built for children with special needs works. As UFS volunteers, we were given precious opportunities to interact and play with the children, who are taught the importance of a healthy lifestyle. We were given a window into the lives of those fully committed to providing children their best lives as well as rehabilitating many who suffer from severe physical and mental trauma. The children’s attitudes of selflessness and joy were humbling reminders of our many blessings and the importance of serving humanity. It was a privilege to be welcomed into Tashirat with the warmth of genuine Mexican hospitality. The trip to Tashirat gave us back tenfold what we contributed through our volunteer efforts. Most of all, the welcoming spirit of the staff and children at Tashirat has inspired me to visit again and do all I can for the organization.
Fatema Nourzaie, Morocco Program 2012
My experiences as a volunteer abroad to Morocco in United for Service’s medical relief trip certainly gave me a huge perspective on life and what it means to be practicing in the health field, and what health is at a global level. I was exposed to all different kinds of settings and places that enabled me to become a more conscious individual on what it’s like to be providing medical or any other kind of aid relief. Our first experiences with the aid relief was working with rural populations. As a group we also stayed at a home in the village of Riad and had a small dose of what it was like to live in the rural areas. It was extremely beautiful. Something serene that permeated through everything we did. I was washing myself with buckets of water because there was no running water, I hiked 3 miles a day and back to where we were doing the service work, and I was in a place that I had never in my life even been close to being. Except. I just fell into the movement of things, and nothing ever felt so fluid. The unique experiences being outside of familiarity enabled to become a more self aware and globally conscious individual.