I have recently returned from a phenomenal trip to Marrakesh where I was volunteering with children for 10 days with a company called Original Volunteers. I chose Morocco because it’s fairly close yet worlds away in culture. Voluntourism is a growing aspect of the tourism industry and it’s nice to explore a fantastic country whilst giving something back. After spamming my Instagram with all the amazing photo’s I started to get questions about what it was like and whether I would recommend volunteering with Original Volunteers as a company. So, if you’re thinking of going to Marrakesh, volunteering or you just want to know a bit more about my trip please read on…
Important things to know before you go Volunteering
What to pack
For clothing, you will need items that are basic and comfortable for the volunteering projects such as t-shirts, long shorts, leggings and trousers. You are volunteering with children so save the bikini’s and kaftans for around the pool – you would not wear this to work with children in the UK so it shouldn’t be worn in Morocco regardless of the heat. In the evening time, I wore whatever I wanted. Bring at least one pair of comfortable trainers and one pair of comfortable sandals as we did a lot of walking and exploring.
For activities, you can bring items such as colouring books, pens, pencils, paper, craft bags, sequins, nail polish and face paints. The children at the projects will enjoy almost everything! Make sure you don’t take ALL of your items to one project as a lot of the children do expect to take the activities home. You will end up using all of your items and be left without any activities for the later volunteering projects you attend.
The main cost before you travel is the registration fee for Original Volunteers which is £125 but you can go on as many volunteering projects within a year. The flights start at around £60 depending on where you fly from, the accommodation works out around £13 a night. Then there’s a £25 fee for the basic disclosure if you don’t already have a CRB check.
When you are in Marrakesh the main cost is probably water, which is around 3 dirham (25p) for a small or 5 dirhams (41p) for a large. Food can be around 15-20 dirhams (£1.20-£1.60) for a lunch or 50-80 dirhams (£4 – £6.50) if you go to a nice restaurant in the evening time (try Argana in the square). Taxi’s cost around 5-10 dirhams (41p-82p) depending on where you are going. This is an ideal volunteering trip if you’re a student as it’s so affordable.
MY 10 DAYS IN MARRAKESH
I arrived at Marrakesh Menara airport on Monday and was met by the taxi driver with a sign for Original Volunteers upon exiting the airport. We then waited for more volunteers before being taken to the volunteer house where we picked our rooms and unpacked our bags. I stayed in the second volunteer house which was new and being renovated and the bedrooms had 3-5 beds in each along with 3 toilets, 3 showers and 2 kitchens to share. The area in which this house was situated was called Bab Doukkala and was a far cry away from the popular tourist spots as the street where we were situation had market traders sitting on the floor outside selling fruit and fish.
I then met the 16 other volunteers that were going to be in the same house along with our two fantastic volunteering coordinators Omar and Saad. We discussed the volunteering projects and the week ahead before they took us out to explore some of Morocco and have some dinner.
Through the souks near Riad Laarouss and to the main square of Marrakesh which was Plaza Jemaa el-Fnaa which was packed full of people both tourists and traders along with snake charmers, snail stalls and men with monkeys.
We then found a restaurant/cafe on the outskirts of the plaza where we had our first meal as a group. A lot of people tried a traditional Moroccan tagine but myself being a fussy eater, I settled for a sandwich. I did, however, try a menthol drink which Saad frequently ordered although it did taste a bit like Colgate toothpaste!
To end the night Omar and Saad took us on a short walk to view the largest mosque in Marrakesh, the Koutoubia Mosque and we heard the final call to prayer.
The first volunteering project I embarked on was the painting project where two lovely hosts (sorry guys, forgot your names!) took us to a local primary school where we met the head teacher then brightened up some of the walls with pictures and paintings.
Although some of us weren’t the best at drawing, the hosts were there to help as one of them was particularly good at copying clip art so a lot of people just painted and we found it very therapeutic. We also uncovered that Veronica had a secret occupation as a professional wall painter as well as working in a nursery as her wall painting was brilliant. I attempted the drawing and found out why I was never that good at art in school because I could draw things and copy the clip art fine but then got impatient with the painting and made a bit of a mess…
We then went for lunch and finished at around 3pm before heading back to the volunteer house. We had expressed earlier to the coordinators that we really wanted to watch the England world cup match so this was all arranged for the evening as they had booked a cafe in advance so we could all enjoy the game as a big group!
Wednesday we spent the morning volunteering at one of my favourite projects which was the special needs centre. This seemed a bit daunting to me at first as although I do work with some children with SEN in my school it’s normally the odd one or two whereas this centre was full of children and adults all with different needs.
The man who ran the centre was absolutely fantastic. He introduced us to all of the children/adults there and we were greeted by singing our national anthems which was started by Morocco’s. Then we sang the national anthem for England followed by solo performances by Amro (Yemen) and Veronica (Scotland) before going to tables with small groups and getting the activities ready.
We brought arts, crafts and outdoor play equipment as well as stacks of colouring books and two of the girls I volunteered with had the amazing idea of pass the parcel which was a huge hit (sorry for sharing your idea Demi and Leah!). Some activites we had to improvise, for example, skipping ropes were used as a volleyball net as some of the children/adults couldn’t jump. I also met an amazing girl called Hafza who could draw, colour and write with her feet!
Everyone there was so friendly and they loved taking photos with you and especially snapchat. One little girl actually took it upon herself to send selfies to everyone in my contact list but she was amazing so I didn’t mind! We then ended the morning with some songs, dancing and games before getting a big group photo and saying goodbye.
After a busy morning volunteering, we decided to use our afternoon to relax and swim at a local hotel pool. This cost us 150 dirhams each (£12) and we were there nearly all afternoon before going out for dinner in the afternoon. We had all decided being away from the UK for approximately 1 day that we were craving a Chinese so we had Saad on hand with his local knowledge who directed us to a lovely restaurant.
Now, this was hands down my absolute favourite volunteering project, the baby orphanage. This was situated at a hospital where you could sit, play and cuddle the babies and majority were pre-adopted. Most babies were between 1-3 but a couple of older children were also there along with a couple with SEN. I’ve never considered myself to be a baby person I’ve always swayed towards teaching KS1 . After visiting here I have decided I am a baby person after all as these kids were absolutely ADORABLE. After this gorgeous boy above fell asleep in my arms I spotted another little man sitting in the corner and fell in love with him.
I got so attached to this baby I honestly wanted to take him home with me. I was in utter disbelief that he was up for adoption. His cheeky smile lit up my world and I was devastated we only got a short space of time to spend together because I could have literally sat with him all day.
We then wandered into the square for the evening and discovered the group’s favourite restaurant Argana! The views from the rooftops were spectacular and the food was delicious.
On Friday our volunteering project was feeding the homeless people on the streets of Morocco. We each contributed 20 dirhams (£1.62) and we went shopping for ingredients which were meat, cheese, bread, yoghurt and fruit. Some of us made sandwiches and others packed the lunches. Then we all went out on the streets and gave them to homeless people.
This got quite intimidating as a lot of locals who were not homeless were trying to approach us. Some people wanted a free lunch so we were very appreciative that we had Saad and Omar with us. They helped us by translating and pointing out those who were homeless.
We spent the evening in new town where myself and a few of the girls wandered and went for dinner. We also found a stage playing live Moroccan music and some small shopping stalls with items for sale.
Our favourite was a stall with bracelets which were 5 dirhams (41p!) because the man was so accommodating. Some of the girls wanted different colours and charms so he sat and made the bracelets in front of us! We all got matching ones to remember our trip.
Saturday it was the final day for Carlie, Jade, Hollie, Amro, Lara and Riba (boo). We started the morning by some of the girls going quad biking which was 300 dirham (£25) each. Rajna and I pulled the short straw as her quad had to be jump started and mine had bald tyres. I spent a lot of my time skidding into sand dunes and trying not to fall off. We had a break before leaving where you could buy refreshments and we were offered Moroccan tea. We then headed back to the house to prepare for another England world cup game.
Sunday we visited a town called Ait Ourir which was outside of Marrakesh where we were volunteering with children. These were absolutely amazing children and although poor they were beaming with confidence. I loved how the older boys were singing and dancing and getting the other children (and volunteers) involved with them.
We brought along arts, crafts and floor games such as puzzles and the children were really well mannered and grateful. A lot of them would ask to keep things and then kiss you on the cheek when you let them have something.
What really hit home at this project was how poor these children were. One of the little girls was wearing pj’s with a Christmas tree on in the middle of July at daytime. The children were crawling around the floor looking for pom poms to take home. It really made me think about the children I teach and how privileged they are compared to these children. However, watching how much they really took care of one another made this experience an enjoyable one.
After leaving the project Omar and Saad decided to take us to the Ourika Valley. This is a beautiful place outside of Marrakesh leading up to the Atlas mountains. The Ourika valley has a river running through it where people swim and paddle in the water. This place was breathtaking, I am so sad I wasn’t feeling well so didn’t get many photos.
On Monday we revisited our friends at the special needs centre again during the morning time. A lot of the volunteers had left so we had fewer activities and it was more difficult than the first time! However nevertheless still another amazing morning of volunteering.
In the afternoon we went to the waterpark which was 250 dirhams (£20) or 200 dirhams (£16) after 2pm. It was an amazing experience as it was almost empty so no ques for the rides which was a bonus. Handy tip: bring flip flops as the floor is absolutely boiling and burns your feet. We went on nearly all of the slides but our favourite part was the rafting river! Huge waves pushed you around and the lifeguards also came out to tip your boat over.
Tuesday was my last day of volunteering and I was lucky enough to go back and see my little angel. I kept this baby for the full duration of my time there and was so upset to leave him. I actually started crying when taking him back to his crib. This little guy deserves the world so I hope the family that has adopted him treats him like a prince.
On the afternoon we also visited another project called Street Kids which I didn’t get to do the first week. We were volunteering with children who didn’t attend school and sold items on the square which is heartbreaking.
They attend this community centre where they are taught things but also get to take part in arts, crafts and games so the same activities used for the Ait Ourir village were also useful here. Again expect to leave activities for the kids as they are very poor and want to take the items home with them.
On the evening time, we decided to visit the Menara mall which is one of the biggest shopping centres in Marrakesh. This had a fountain and light show outside along with lots of amazing restaurants and shops and the view from the top of the mall was insane!
This was my final day and night so Gemma and I decided to do a camel trek. This was 200 dirhams (£16). We trekked around the desert for over an hour with a guide I was quizzing for camel facts. I found that these camels are called Dromedary’s (Arabic camel) which only have one hump.
After hearing stories about how awful camels are, these two Morgana (my camel) and Sabrina (Gemma’s) restored my faith. They were so sweet and had a lovely nature.
After the trek we had another chilled afternoon at the pool before preparing for my last night. We watched the England match and celebrated Leah’s birthday. We got a cake brought out for Leah and sang Happy Birthday.
I had an absolutely phenomenal time volunteering in Marrakesh, and the projects were brilliant. I met amazing people but I owe most of the credit to our coordinators who looked after.
From day 1 they were by our side keeping us safe, offering local knowledge, haggling, translating, making sure venues can accommodate us for matches and generally making our time enjoyable and I don’t know what we would have done without them. They not only helped us but they were fantastic at the actual volunteering projects. Saad was constantly darting around making sure any games we wanted to play were well explained. Omar was an absolute credit to the children at the projects always getting everyone involved and having fun.
I’d love to go back, but I would only use Original Volunteers if I had the same coordinators. Nobody else would be able to live up to them! I also don’t think any coordinators will have a better set of catchphrases than Omar’s selection.
If you have any specific questions please feel free to contact me @caratigerlilli