Accessing a community, language is a key
May 27, 2010 at 5:15 pm
On our way to climb mount Toubkal, in the Atlas (Morocco), we met Nicola, a young 23 year old Australian volunteering in Asni, a small yet concurred village at the feet of the Atlas. Nicola volunteers for an NGO called “Education for All”
. The idea of the NGO is the following:
“Very few girls from the rural communities of the High Atlas Mountains get the opportunity of continuing their education beyond primary school. Colleges, mostly several kilometers away in larger towns, are not accessible to them for two main reasons:
- Their parents cannot afford to pay for lodgings near colleges.
- Their parents do not have the confidence in existing facilities near colleges to entrust their daughters to be away from home.
Education for All has been established to help provide the opportunity of a college education for girls from rural Moroccan communities. Its first project, opened in 2007, has been to facilitate access to secondary education for up to 36 girls from the remote villages of the High Atlas Mountains by building a boarding house for them in the town of Asni”. [Read More about the NGO]
Picture 2: Nicola Johnson and me (in Imlil)
It was clear to me that Nicola had broken the barrier of being an outsider as we saw her interacting with the Berber in their local language. It seemed interesting to interview her to understand some of the tactics or actions she takes in order to “break the ice” between her, a very blond and white-looking “tourist”; and the community. Breaking the ice is essential to achieve good empathic relations which provide a base for creating appropriate solutions hand in hand with the local people. I will make a short summary of the interview, maintaining it as a “blog-size” post.
1-WORK WITH A KEY PERSON
The NGO recruits girls from the rural communities in the Atlas for going to the Boarding School in Asni, so How do they achieve the recruitment? How do the parents trust the NGO to “take away” their girls? She mentions that they work with a HAJJ, which means a person that is very respected in the community; and happens to work in the NGO. “He is very respected in the area, he goes to the families and invites them for the recruitment”. At the beginning it wasn’t easy to gain the people’s trust, but now, with the success of the first generation of girls, parents “make line” for the recruitment.
2-LEARN THE LANGUAGE, THE HABITS AND DON’T FORGET YOU’RE AN OUTSIDER
How do you break the barrier between the local Berber and you? “Maybe I don’t, I’m still a tourist. But as I speak some of the language I can break the ice“. This is true, in my case I can babble just a few words in Berber, and the rest of the interaction with the Berber is done in French, which puts me necessarily in a condition of “the tourist”; condition that I obviusly dislike; and which I could just break the mold when I can make people understand that I’m Latin American and that I come from the country just on the side of Argentina (they do know Messi, Argentinean football player, but about Chile, not that much). Nicola puts a lot of effort in learning to interact in the local language: “I can do it because I’ve learnt a bit of Arabic and Berber, I can go for a simple conversation”. This doesn’t stop people that don’t know her to first treat her as a tourist, yet this treatment is over once she starts responding the greetings in the language. On the other hand, she highlights the idea of adopting the customs and habits: “…I’ve adopted the customs and habits of people (dressing properly, talking; saluting and interacting)”. Nicola is making her way in the community by trying to, in a humble way, to become part of them.
3-IMMERSION: A TWO-WAY LEARNING DIALOGUE
So there is a two-way learning dialogue, which lasts during the extended relation. On one hand; there is a learning stage for the outsider that learns and is taught by the locals about the habits and way of living; and one from the community, which learns some of the skills this outsider brings.
HINTS FROM THIS POST
01. Learn the local language, or at least try to
02. Be conscious you are an outsider, don’t fool yourself; acknowledge the way people see you to know what they expect from you.
03. Immersion is a two-way learning process, where the local community and the individual engage in a learning dialogue.
04. Be humble, and try to adopt the customs and habits.
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