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.
The first “moment.”
As expected, the first full day at the Center for the Protection of Children (described a bit more in detail in my first post) was a bit overwhelming. Myself and my two other ELAPer compatriots, Ian and Curtis, were, despite steeling ourselves, somewhat shocked by what we experienced. It was nothing overt, but we were thrust in a situation where communication was extremely difficult at best, and this made performing the even simplest tasks a good deal slower. Thus, we attempted to take as much in as we possible could without stepping over any boundaries in the process (much to our fortune, we quickly realized that what ISA dubbed the “Youth Detention Center” was a more relaxed place then the name implies). It was definitely straight to the deep end for us, but we quickly learned how to doggie paddle, and make the most of nonverbal communication.
As was generally outlined by the Meknes ELAP director, Mouhsine, our days would be split among a few duties. The first part of our day, starting at around 9, would be spent in the kitchen helping to prepare lunch with the chef, Ali, and his assistant (and resident of the Center), Ahmed. We serve lunch at around one to the kids, clean-up a bit, and then eat lunch ourselves with the staff at the Center. After lunch, we would continue to help clean-up the kitchen, or occasionally I would tutor Ahmed in English. At three, we began the second part of our day, teaching English.
This is when I first met Walid. There a three classes set in a small building a couple hundred feet from the main building where the children lived. When three o’clock hit, Ian, Curtis, and I stood at the locked entrance waiting for something… the language barrier kept us a bit clueless that first day. Eventually, what seemed like a flood of faces came through the door and a crowd of children were laughing and smiling at us, leading us by the hand in our confusion to the classrooms.
The children themselves unlocked the classrooms and one of the older kids took the keys back to one of the administrators who were sitting outside enjoying the pleasant late spring afternoon. The kids raucously made their way inside. Things never quite settled down as around thirty or more children settled into a low hum as I began to write the alphabet on the blackboard a few of the other older kids rolled in from the classroom next door.
One thing none of us were expecting, or prepared for, was the difficulty of reigning in and teaching a multi-level classroom in a language that none of the students had a firm grasp on. Obviously this is a hard task, we just were unprepared for how monumentally hard it was. As we made our way laboriously through the alphabet some of the students, young and older alike, remained completely silent. Others were eagerly following along with me. And one in student was loudly shouting the whole thing way ahead of me, showing off.
Eventually, we made our way through the alphabet, and it seemed like we were at a bit of a crossroads. There were some children who had no clue at all what we were doing, to them we were more of the afternoon’s entertainment versus actual teachers. Some obviously were at the level we were trying to teach, and wanted to practice again. And apparently there were some that already had a basis for English. Fortunately, arriving at a singular solution was quickly abandoned as the children, themselves, decided to reign in the classroom flow and steer it into chaos.
Yes, I do mean fortunately. Instead of trying to teach one class a lesson that would only benefit a few. The class itself broke up into smaller groups and started shouting and beckoning to Ian, Curtis, and myself. A group of older and younger kids alike approached me. I recognized some of them as the ones who were excelling at the alphabet exercise, and among them was the boy who was showing off his alphabet recital skills.
“Alright,” I said to myself. “I have the advanced kids. Let’s see what they know.” I don’t quite remember exactly all that I ran through with them. I was up at the blackboard as Ian and Curtis sat at tables with other groups of kids. I just started writing things down on the board and seeing if the kids I had knew what I was talking about. I did this for about half an hour until it seemed like everyone was getting a bit burnt out. “Do you all want to go play football?” I asked. Most everyone looked at me in confusion. The exceptional alphabet reciter managed to translate for me: “Corra.” The kids eagerly nodded and swarmed out of the room.
I turned away from the door to pick-up my stuff and noticed that my impromptu translator was still in the room standing next to the blackboard. The first thing I noticed about him was the large pink scar running across his neck, stark against his dark skin. The second thing I noticed were the two large dark divots on his forehead, more scars. The third thing I noticed were his large, brown, and exceptionally curious eyes.
“Do you not want to play football?” I asked. He shook his head no.
“Do you want me to keep going?” I asked, motioning to the blackboard. He nodded.
“Yeah,” he said
“What’s your name?”
Writing on the blackboard with white chalk makes my skin crawl. Walid noticed this almost immediately and ran to the chalk bag, pulling out a piece of red chalk. The improvement was almost immediate and I was grateful. For another fifteen minutes or so, we ran through some basic English exercises. I didn’t have a specific plan, I wanted to see what he knew, so I threw everything I could think of that I considered “simple English.” I wore out first though.
“That’s all I have,” I said.
“Ok,” he said, nonchalantly shrugging his shoulder.
I was just trying to rack my brain for something else, but he exhausted my unprepared mind.
“How did you learn English?”
“I watch movies in English and listen to music,” he said.
“Tomorrow, I will prepare more for you.”
“Ok, thank you.”
By that time, it was five o’clock and it was time for Ian, Curtis, and I to leave. I was determined from that moment to provide more for Walid. He stayed behind when everyone else had long since been burnt out for the day. After I sought the help of the ISA and ELAP staff’s help when we returned from the Center, I started preparing separate lesson plans for Walid, and would continue to do so for the remainder of my time in Morocco.