By: Abigail DaBoll-Lavoie, Jacquelyn Fanning, Fernando Galvez and Richard Thyden
Children need role models – such as parents or older siblings – to develop the life skills to become successful, independent adults. There are currently an estimated 153 million children worldwide who have lost one or both parents and have fractured familial support systems. Without mentors, these youth face considerably more hardships and obstacles, placing their well-being at risk.
We are four American students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts who have traveled to Ifrane, Morocco to develop a mentorship program between students from Al Akhawayn University (AUI) and youth at the Rita Zniber Foundation Orphanage.
The Zniber Foundation is located in Meknes, Morocco and it cares for more than 240 young people between the ages of six and twenty-four, providing housing, food, clothes, education and all other necessities.
Our group visited the orphanage several times to learn about the organization. During our interviews with the director, Madame Ouafae Mhawash, we began to understand that the youth need emotional support in addition to the necessities of daily life. While here they are fortunate enough to have access to classrooms, a music room, an art room, and a play yard, however, they are missing one critically important element – a positive role model to inspire them to excel in school and stay out of trouble.
Madame Mhawash explained that one of her main goals for the youngsters in her care is to see them more motivated in school so they may have better opportunities and go on to obtain successful employment upon graduation. She also noted that they tend to blame their failures – such as rebelling or not doing their homework – on their orphaned status, which prevents them from realizing their potential for success.
We gathered additional information by asking the youngsters questions about their interests, future plans, and areas where they thought they needed help. We were excited to learn that they all have career paths they want to pursue – ranging from police officers to engineers. We also discovered that the older they get, the more help they want with their academic studies.
All AUI students are required to provide community service so involving them with a volunteer program for the orphanage provided a perfect opportunity for both sets of students, with those from the orphanage gaining mentors, tutors, role models, developing friendships and acquiring many of the social skills needed for future success.
During our seven week stay at AUI, we created an outreach program that connects student volunteers to the young people at the Zniber Foundation. This involved promoting the program to the AUI student body and throughout the college campus, engaging directly with AUI students and informing them of the benefits of the mentorship program and volunteering. We presented information at club meetings, displayed promotional posters, worked through the AUI Community Involvement Program by emailing the entire campus, created an AUI television ad and used crowdfunding to raise funds for the program. In addition – and in many ways the ‘icing on the cake’ – we organized a visit for AUI volunteers to the orphanage and introduced them to the staff and youngsters – an amazing experience for all those involved.
We are hopeful that our efforts at AUI and Meknes will create a sustainable mentorship program that will add value to the lives and educational experience of all youth and volunteers involved. The success and sustainability of this initiative is greatly dependent on student volunteers and financial resources to implement this vision.
The WPI Morocco project center was created ten years ago as part of an exchange program with AUI. Students from WPI attend AUI for a period of two months and complete an Interactive Qualifying Project that addresses problems that can be solved by fusing science and technology with community-based and societal needs.
WPI students have completed a range of projects in Morocco, such as working with ADER Fes in the renovation of the Fes Medina, developing a composting program in Ifrane, working with a women’s carpet cooperative in Ain Luhh and addressing water issues with farming communities in the Atlas region.
The authors – Abigail DaBoll-Lavoie, Jacquelyn Fanning, Fernando Galvez and Richard Thyden – are undergraduate students at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco.