Once a month Going Forth features a guest blogger from around the world. Someone who has received insight, empowerment and fortitude from going forth and breaking the mold of conventionality and mediocrity.
This month I am proud to feature Nicole Cronin, a Peace Corps member who just finished her two and a half year service in Morocco. Learn more about her journey on her blog.
My desire to serve as a volunteer in the United States Peace Corps began when I was pursuing my undergraduate degree in Social Work. While I considered applying during my senior year in order to leave for service immediately after graduation, my life took another path and I decided to pursue my Masters degree in Social Work (MSW) in Hawaii. Knowing that my MSW would only take me one year to complete since I was on the advanced path, I decided to apply for the Peace Corps in the fall of 2010—shortly after I began my graduate studies. My MSW program in Hawaii focused on advanced practice with international communities including immigrants and refugees. I was blessed to be able to work for two wonderful agencies during my time in Hawaii; one focused on free dental care for underserved immigrant populations from the Pacific Islands and one that focused on international adoptions. Throughout these two experiences, my desire to serve in the Peace Corps was strengthened.
I was accepted to join the Peace Corps in August of 2011. I was told that I was being invited to serve in Morocco, North Africa, a place that I knew absolutely nothing about. After a few weeks of very careful consideration I accepted my invitation to leave the following March. I struggled with the decision to accept my invitation primarily because of my fear that the Peace Corps was placing privileged American volunteers into poor communities in order to “make things better” for the people living in said communities. However, after speaking with former volunteers from all around the World I learned that the Peace Corps does a great job of focusing on community assessments and solutions based on community driven ideas, and not Western driven ones.
I served the good people of Azrou, in the Middle Atlas region of Morocco, for 26 months. My 200-person strong cohort and I were all focusing our services on Youth and Community Development projects, but in such different capacities and in very different places. My personal service was focused on two main ideas: 1. life skills and education for underserved preschool students, and 2. women’s health and wellbeing initiatives. Some of my main projects included fitness classes for women, health workshops for women and girls, and educational activities for preschool aged children at a local women’s center.
Throughout my 26 months as a Peace Corps volunteer, I was blessed to become a part of my community and learn more about Islam and Moroccan culture than I had ever expected. Being that I focused a lot of my time on issues related to women and girls, I was also very interested in learning about how culture and religion interact to affect the way that women and girls are treated in Moroccan society.
The issue is complicated. I am not an expert on the issue by any means, but living here for almost 3 years now has given me some personal insight and connection to the issue of gender in regards to religion and culture.
I do not want to make this long winded, biased, generalized, or false. I would, however, like to make a few key points:
- Islam does not inherently oppress women.
-There are many, many versus included in the Qur’an that demand respect toward and fair treatment of women. A few examples: Surat An-Nisa 4:19, “O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion. And live with them in kindness. For if you dislike them - perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good,” and Surat An-Nur 24:30, “Tell the believing men to reduce their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is acquainted with what they do.”
-Muslim men are called to protect and cherish their mothers, sisters, and wives.
-In my personal experience, most men here in Morocco are kind, respectful, and polite when addressing me. I have had many conversations about the responsibility men have to lower their gaze as to not look at women inappropriately.
2. Women in the Middle East or North Africa do not need to be saved.
-Western standards of freedom are not universal. It is not up to you or I
to tell a woman that she is being oppressed while wearing the Hijab. This is
her choice. This is one way of expressing her devotion to God.
-I have been privileged to meet some of the most radical women to ever walk
this planet. These women I call my family and friends are independent, free
thinking, strong, brave, and hard working individuals. Some of these women
wear Hijab, some wear Niqab, and some have chosen to not cover at all. They
are doctors, lawyers, activists, homemakers, widows, scientists, and
- Culture and religion are two different things.
-All Arabs are not Muslim and all Muslims are not Arabs. We have to remember to not generalize the Middle East and North Africa as purely a Muslim region, because it isn’t.
Living in Morocco has been the greatest struggle I have ever faced. It has also been the biggest blessing. I have had desperate lows, but also amazing highs. Although my contract with the Peace Corps ended in May of 2014, I am still in Morocco working on and a variety of issues including education, women’s rights, and international adoptions. I am going forth with my continued dedication and desire to serve the Moroccan people.
Photos and story courtesy of Nicole Cronin.