In this very special post, guest blogger, student and Changing Lives Programme participant Jade Bambi reflects on her time in Sefrou, Morocco:
I, along with 10 others, were chosen to participate in a community regeneration project, which would assist with building effective Eastern and Western partnerships. Considering the area of focus for my research is the contemporary Middle East, I must admit I was arrogant, and assumed I already knew much about the faith, culture and customs, as well as what the community would need from this project. I didn’t feel like my perceptions could be challenged, or that I could make real human connections in less than two weeks, especially with people who did not speak the same language as me! I think all of us, before leaving for Sefrou had preconceived notions of what to expect, how we would engage with the locals and what we were going to achieve.
We had been informed we would facilitate a process of community engagement, which would hopefully lead to community wellbeing. Community engagement, defined simply, is a process where members of the community collectively come together to resolve issues within their environment. This, in turn, should (hopefully) lead to community wellbeing, working together at a ‘grassroots’ level to achieve their common goals.
Sefrou is not a town that can be summed up with a few descriptive words, nor photographic evidence. For you cannot capture the atmosphere of the markets, the smell of street food cooking, or the hospitality and thoughtfulness of the locals. Sefrou captures you in a way that can only be experienced, not explained.
When we arrived in Sefrou, it was very dark and we were very tired, so we did not get to witness the raw beauty of the town. However, at around 5/6am I was awoken by the sound of the prayer calls vibrating across the city, and I ran to the rooftop immediately wondering if something was wrong! As I stepped onto the terrace, my breath was snatched from me, as I was exposed to a vibrant city – the birds singing almost in harmony with the prayer calls, and I knew then that my heart had been stolen! The spirituality of the town engulfs you, as you realise there is a strong connection to religion in every aspect of life. I expected to discover the communities’ complex links with one another and the connection with the land, but I did not expect to learn more about Islam. This reminded me of why it is important to immerse yourself in another culture, as everyday there is something new to learn.
As you step out and head towards the markets, you enter a kind of ‘arena of chaos’! Whether the sellers are a part of the formal or informal economy, various traders look to sell their produce to generate their daily income. However, if you look beyond the beautiful woven fabrics and fresh fruit and vegetables, you realise the town is slowly but surely becoming dilapidated.
Walking through the streets of Sefrou not only humbled me, it also reminded me that we are very disconnected from the Earth – we need it to survive, yet we treat it as a second thought. I feel by collecting rubbish around Sefrou, I gained a spiritual bond with the land, and recognised the importance of looking after it. Culture Vultures not only pushed me out of my comfort zone to get involved, but also through their use of the arts in every aspect of their work, and it showed me how important creativity is to every aspect of our life. It is a fantastic way of facilitating cross-cultural dialogue, and I truly admire the work that Jessica, Fatima and Brahim undertake each day to fight for a better Sefrou.
The greatest lesson to take from Sefrou is that we all have wisdom, knowledge, and personal strengths, and it’s about working alongside the community towards their shared goal for a better future. People have answers to their own problems and the only way to ensure the work we undertake remains sustainable, is to engage with the community. This is not “goodbye” Sefrou, it’s only the beginning of a new chapter!