Where is Morocco?
Morocco, officially the Kingdom of Morocco, is a country in the Maghrib region of North Africa. It’s geographically characterized by a mountainous interior and large regions of desert. Along with Spain and France, Morocco is bordered by both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It has a population of around 34 million; Rabat is its capital city, and Casablanca is its largest city.
Morocco’s official languages are Tamazight and Arabic, with approximately 90% of the population speaking Moroccan Arabic (also called Darija). The Tamazight language exists in three dialects (Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Central Atlas Tamazight), with about 28% of Morocco’s population speaking Tamazight. French is widely spoken in government institutions, media, companies, and in international diplomacy. It’s taught as an obligatory language at all schools, and some 32% of the population speaks the language. As a remnant of Morocco’s colonial history, French is the predominant second language, and Spanish is widely spoken in northern Morocco.
Culture and People
Morocco is an ethnically diverse country with a rich culture and civilization. It has hosted a number of people from the East (Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Jews, and Arabs), the South (Sub-Saharan Africans), and the North (Romans, Vandals, Andalusians, and Moors). Each of these civilizations have impacted Morocco’s religiosity, bringing paganism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to the region. More than 99% of Moroccans are Sunni Muslims of Arab, Amazigh, or mixed Arab-Amazigh ancestry. The country’s Jewish minority numbers range from 3,000 – 5,000. Since the country’s independence, an art culture of painting/sculpture, amateur theatre, and filmmaking has blossomed. The Moroccan National Theatre offers regular productions of Moroccan and French dramatic works. Plus, art and music festivals take place throughout the country during the summer, one of them being the World Sacred Music Festival in Fes. Each region in Morocco possesses its own specificities, and it has always been successful at combining its Amazigh, Jewish, and Arabic cultural heritage with French and Spanish influences.
History and Government
Morocco’s original inhabitants were the Amazigh, followed by the Carthaginians, and the Romans. Arabs conquered Morocco in 683, bringing with them Islam. By the 11th century, an Amazigh empire ruled over all of northwest Africa, including Morocco and most of Spain. Until the 20th century, a succession of dynasties ruled what is now Morocco. In 1904, French and Spanish colonists occupied parts of Morocco, establishing protectorates in 1912. It became a sovereign nation in 1956 when France and Spain recognized its independence. It was ruled by King Mohammed V until his death on February 26, 1961. His son, Hassan II, was the second Arab leader to meet with an Israeli leader in order to promote peace in the Middle East. Hassan II died in 1999, and was succeeded by his son, Mohammed VI, the current king. He has taken progressive measures to improve the political, economic, and social conditions of the country. Fondly called “King of the Poor” by the French and local press, Mohammed VI is keen on improving the quality of life in rural areas, raising the social and legal status of women, and alleviating poverty. These reforms have gained him great popularity among the people and made the country attractive to foreign investment. In April 2002, the king married Salma Bennati, a computer engineer, who is perceived as a force for the promotion of women’s issues.
The country’s Mediterranean climate is similar to that of southern California, with lush forests in the northern and central mountain ranges of the country, giving way to dryer conditions and inland deserts further southeast. The coastal plains experience remarkably moderate temperatures. In the Rif, Middle, and High Atlas Mountains, there exist several conifer trees endemic to Morocco. The valleys, fertile soil, and high precipitation allow for the growth of forests. Cloud forests can be found to the west of the Rif Mountains and Middle Atlas Mountains. At higher elevations, the climate becomes Alpine and can sustain ski resorts. Southeast of the Atlas Mountains, near the Algerian border, the climate becomes very dry, with long, hot summers. The southeastern-most portion of Morocco is very hot, and contains sections of the Sahara Desert, where vast swathes of sand dunes and rocky plains are dotted with lush oases. The southern, coastal plains comprise the backbone of the country’s agriculture. Direct exposure to the North Atlantic Ocean, the proximity to mainland Europe, and the Rif and Atlas mountains contribute to European-like climates in the northern half of the country. Morocco truly is a country of contrasts.
Morocco is known for its biodiversity–especially for its bird species–with some 454 known species. The Barbary lion was hunted to extinction in the wild, and is the country’s national emblem. The last Barbary lion in the wild was shot in the Atlas Mountains in 1922. The two other primary predators in North Africa, the Atlas bear and Barbary leopard, are now extinct and critically endangered, respectively. Populations of the West African crocodile persisted in the Draa River until the 20th century. The Barbary macaque, a primate endemic to Morocco and Algeria, is also facing extinction due to human interruption, urbanization, and real estate mafias diminishing its habitat.
Peace Corps in Morocco
Morocco was one of the first countries to invite the Peace Corps to assist in its development process. A group of 53 surveyors, English teachers, and irrigation supervisors arrived in Morocco in 1963 at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since then, more than 5,000 Volunteers have served in Morocco in areas such as technology, urban development, home economics, commercial development, education of the blind and deaf, rural water supply, vocational education, maternal child health, natural resources management, youth development, marine and inland fisheries, small business development, sports, beekeeping, architecture, and English language training.
Recently, in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Peace Corps Morocco has focused its primary work in the area of Youth Development (YD). The Ministry’s vision for YD includes developing leadership, life skills, employability, healthy lifestyles, and community service. In 1995, Education Volunteers began teaching English in community youth centers, enabling youth to practice the English they learned in school. Now, the program focuses on youth leadership, strengthening youth networks, building capacity of professionals who work with youth, and promotion of girls’ education. Volunteers work with local professionals and youth to promote volunteerism and youth leadership through activities such as sports, study of world geography, libraries, exercise classes, environmental projects, project management training, thematic English teaching, and self-esteem activities for girls. In the future, this program with increase its efforts to integrate gender activities, and will improve its effectiveness through closer integration and training.
Youth Development Volunteers
Youth Development (YD) Volunteers are assigned to youth centers (“Dar Chebabs,” or, “Houses of Youth” in Arabic) or women’s centers (“Nedi Neswis”). YD Volunteers work under the Ministry of Youth and Sports under the supervision of a Mudir or Mudira (youth center director). Most Volunteers hold at least one English class per week for their community during their first few months of service, and depending on the community and interest level, some hold English classes for various groups of people and proficiency levels. Many Volunteers also tutor English either one-on-one, or in small groups.
- Available Resources: Most youth centers have basic furniture like chairs, tables, whiteboards, and at least one classroom. Some of the centers have computers, musical instruments, sports equipments, and libraries.
- Location of Job: Volunteers are assigned to either a Dar Chebab or a Nedi Neswi at the request of the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Volunteer sites range widely geographically, from smaller towns to larger cities.
- Working Hours: Youth centers are generally open for a short time in the morning and longer in the evening. Volunteers conduct classes, run clubs, activities, and programs for youth from 5 – 8 PM, Tuesday through Saturday. Nedi Neswis may be utilized during the day, but are generally open in the evenings.