This genesis of Feeding Walid is not like the origin story of a superhero. There was never a single moment when it “all changed,” a singular origin story. This project, like many decisions in life, came about as a result of several watershed moments that culminated in the idea for Feeding Walid. Feeding Walid doesn’t have a singular beginning, it has three; the reasoning and eventual decision for me to go to Morocco, meeting Walid, and then the decision to actually help him. Detailing these moments proved to be rather lengthy so I decided to split these moments into three separate posts.
For a blog meant more about Walid and our relationship, I feel that I have been talking a good deal about myself in my first post, and I must admit that in order for me to detail the entirety of Feeding Walid’s beginnings, I must continue to talk exclusively about myself in this post as well. Please indulge me for just a little bit longer.
The decision to study abroad was an easy one. I think if college students were given the opportunity, and the means, to study abroad all of them would do it. I am one of the fortunate ones that was given the opportunity, and worked to have the means, to be able to participate in one.
I knew that I would never be satisfied if I went to the more popular European countries or anywhere else considered “developed”. I was also pretty determined to travel to an ethnically Arab country. These choices were made two years ago when I attempted, for the summer following my Freshman year, to travel to either Turkey or Egypt (in hindsight it is probably fortunate I could not travel that summer due to the turmoil both countries experienced during that summer, and of course the fact that I probably would have never met Walid).
The reason behind this is all rather simple. I felt that I had become to “used to” my life. I have still yet to find an exact word for my sentiment, but it lies somewhere between complacency and stagnation. I wasn’t stagnating per se, in fact I was doing more, better, than I had ever done in my entire life. I was learning an incredible amount of information, maintaining good grades, running longer distances, reading more books, lifting weights heavier, and generally just being a more sociable and active person. I also wasn’t quite complacent, but I feared that I would be. I felt as if I was on the precipice of a rut, and I wanted to do something about it now before it became too late. It might just be easier to call it what it was, an existential crisis.
I had been grappling with these feelings for a while, and decided that what I truly needed was to be taken completely out of my element, a defibrillator to my aspirations. I think what had been truly motivating me was a sense of aimlessness. I felt that I was doing a million things at college, being pulled in a million directions, but to what end? What was I working toward? Somehow this drew me to visiting, and studying in a developing Arab country. The specificity of this desire still remains inexplicable to me.
The next year, my sophomore year, my determination had not been deterred and that autumn my thorough, and generally amazing, study abroad adviser, Thomas, informed me about the 9 week ELAP/ISA program in Meknes, Morocco. The program seemed like a perfect fit. At the time, I feared that I would only have one opportunity to study abroad. I was set on graduating a year early, despite having a scholarship for tuition, and the following summer I felt that it would be a good idea to take on some sort of internship in Washington (I believed that I wanted to work for the government at the time). I also thought, since I was going to be paying for the trip myself, that I would only have one opportunity to study abroad. A program for nine weeks that offered both an internship and classes seemed like the ideal method to make the most of my opportunity.
As the year went on though, my career goals subtly changed. Less and less did I have the desire to work within the US bureaucracy as I once thought, and more and more I was drawn to academia. Academia itself did not inherently attract me though. The thought of researching highly specific topics applicable only to other academics in the field is still highly unappealing to me. Rather, I was inspired by books like Poor Economics, which applied research conducted in the field to make actual, applicable, policy recommendations. Essentially, the work of Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo made a difference, and that was the type of research I decided I wanted to conduct.
This was the mindset I was in as I departed for Morocco. I was ready to be taken out of my element, I was looking for some sort of change, and I wanted to make a difference. What I expected to happen was that I would fall in love with my ELAP placement at the Center for the Protection of Children, which I did, and that I would come back to America, inspired to volunteer more in the States and to maybe even conduct a research project based off of my experiences. The reality; meeting Walid, our friendship, and the determination he inspires in me; has been so much more beautiful and more meaningful of an experience. The work I did there, and even writing this blog as a means to start this project, has filled me with a stronger purpose then anything I thought possible. I still hope to one day be able to conduct large scale beneficial research in the vein of Poor Economics, but for now my focus, and my efforts, and narrowed on Walid. Someone who needs help now. Someone whose own dreams our quickly evaporating as I close in on my own.