Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I did it for the camels.....I mean the Dromadaires! - Part 2

Continued from Part I - Oct. 16-18, 2009

Although the children did not allow us to take their photo, I was still rather intrigued. After conversing with Hamza and asking many questions, we learned that even though it was Saturday the children were returning home from school. Many of the children from the rural villages travel as long as 2 hours to get to school each day and another 2 hours back home. Because they spend so much time in transit to and from the classroom, school hours are generally 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM Monday thru Saturday. While we were fortunate to be driving through these rural villages on a very warm weekend, the weather conditions do vary throughout the Atlas mountains. These villages experience extremely dry and hot temperatures but also rain and snow with low temperatures. The children make the 2 hour trek to and from school even in the most undesirable conditions. Some of the children only have flip flops but still walk to school in the cold and snowy conditions just to enhance their education for 4 short hours each day. Occasionally we would see a bicycle pass by with 3 children squeezed on to the seat and handle bars. Despite what we may view as an inconvenient method of getting to school, these children seemed oblivious and laughed jovially as they walked home.

After piling back into the van, we traveled further into the Middle Atlas mountains where we approached a large reservoir. Years ago the land flooded killing thousands of Moroccans and destroying their kasbahs. The reservoir was built as flood control so many of the natives could rebuild their ravaged homes.

Just past the reservoir, we stopped to view a gorgeous waterway running through the mid Atlas mountains. The river, which I think was called Wadi Shkel, was distinctly lined with palm trees for miles and miles.
There were 2 young boys selling jewelry and camels made of palm leaves. Michal and I met a 20 year old guy named Siad while viewing the river. Siad spoke some English and was eager to learn more about us so he asked lots of questions. One specific question directed at me that definitely made me smile was, "Are you 22 years old?" I know....I know....I don't actually look 22 but a girl can still grin at the thought.

We arrived in Merzouga, near the Algerian border, around 4:00 PM and quickly got ready for the camel ride to our campsite in the Sahara desert. We were each given a colored head scarf to be tied in the traditional way. While each female received headscarves in vivid colors such as orange, yellow, green, pink, and lime, the traditional and only color available for males is blue.

With our turbans in place (thanks to our guide Hamza), we each mounted a dromadaire and began the 1 hour 20 minute ride in to the sunset. Mohammed was the camel herder and lead us deep in to the vibrant burnt orange dunes of the Sahara. We were probably sitting about 10 feet above the ground as our spitting, burping camels slowly carried us onward. This was my first experience riding a camel so my adrenaline was pumping and my excitement level very high. It was so amazing to be trotting into the desert with only the sounds of the camels clopping in the sand. About half way in to our trek, the sun had set and we were left riding in complete darkness. Even the blackest surroundings were illuminated by the shining stars above, which made it impossible not to fixate on them as they twinkled so brightly in the peaceful night. I quickly realized that I don't spend enough time on a regular basis admiring the stars that glisten every day and light up our nights. It was truly magical!!!

We soon reached our campsite and one by one we dismounted from our camels with the help of Mohammed. First the camel is shushed and calmed by the herder. Next, the camel kneels on his front 2 legs jolting the rider forward. I had been advised to stabilize myself and maintain a firm grip on my saddle during this process so I was prepared. Then the camel squats on his back legs so that he is completely in a sitting position on the ground. I hopped off and started walking towards our campsite. In the sand, it felt as if I was walking on small, hard rounded rocks. I soon realized that these were not rocks but an over abundance of camel poop left behind from previous treks.

Our campsite was rather quaint with several Berber tents set up forming a square with an open area of sand in the middle for the low table and stools that we used for dinner. Mohammed prepared our dinner of chicken and vegetable tagine, soup, bread, fruit, and Moroccan tea, we dined by a small lamp and starlight. After dining on tasty food, conversing about random English slang with Hamza (specifically "Sugar Daddy" thanks to me), and gut laughing until our bellies hurt, Mohammed and a little Berber boy around 10 years old serenaded us with drumming. This was a very authentic experience and the music was really cool. Around 10:30 PM we headed to bed in our camel-haired tent lined with Moroccan Berber rugs and blankets. The 6 of us stayed in the same tent and slept side-by-side.

Our wake up call came early and we were up and moving at 5:45 AM before sunrise. I climbed half way up a soaring sand dune to reflect on the experience and watch the sunrise. The sand of the Sahara is the softest most delicate sand that I've ever touched. Of course I had an empty bottle with me to collect a bit of sand to save as memory of the adventure. By 7:00 AM, we were once again trotting across the Sahara on our way back to reality and the van that would shelter us for the next 10 hours. The morning trek during sunrise was the most striking part of the desert ride. We were immersed in a sea of sand for miles and miles as the sun slowly crept upward to ignite a rich vibrant path for our journey back. It was striking to look slightly to the right and see the shadows of 6 camel riders ambling along in the sand.

Back to normal land, we quickly ate breakfast, changed clothes, and were on our way back to Rabat. After driving 6 hours, we stopped in a part of the Middle Atlas mountains to feed the Barbary Apes that run wild through the forests. It was amazing that they would come up and grab the food out of my hand. Let me clarify that food was actually oranges. We tried feeding them bread but they wanted no part of this because they had all eaten. Oranges are considered dessert and dessert is all they wanted. The weekend was unforgettable and an experience that will stay with me forever. The people that surrounded me helped make this an extraordinary adventure. This was my 1st travel weekend in Morocco and I could not have imagined a better way to jumpstart this incredible journey!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I did it for the camels.....I mean the Dromadaires! - Part 1

I did it for the camels.....I mean the Dromadaires! - Part 1
Oct. 16-18, 2009

It's funny how certain people are drawn to each other and how friendships blossom. On Day 1 it was clear that our 1st weekend trip would be the camel trek and camping adventure in the Sahara and that the gang would consist of me, Allison, Jen, Dev, Michal, and Lynne. At 2:30 PM on Oct. 16, we all loaded up in a van to begin our 10 hour ride to Merzouga. Our guide was a charming guy named Hamza...probably in his early 30s. He was from a small rural village near the Sahara. Hamza traveled 11 hours by bus just to greet us at the CCS home-base only to then ride with us in the van back to the Sahara. Our driver and the owner of the van was Siad (pronounced Sayeed) from Sale, which is a town near Rabat. Hamza attended a university in Morocco and studied International Law and Computer Science. In Morocco, studying at a public university is free so many natives pursue additional education after high school. With the unemployment rate at an extreme high, many of the natives cannot find work and are forced to pursue "odd jobs" for income. Hamza is no exception. The village where he lives doesn't really have jobs that would enable him to utilize his education in International Law and Computer Science. Therefore, he provides weekend tours and camel treks a few times per month during the warm season. Hamza speaks English well but of course has trouble at times. He kept a tattered notebook by his side at all times during the trip to reference certain English terms, to draw and spell out pictures and words, and to notate any new words or phrases that we taught him. It was really cool to learn from him and also teach him new things at the same time.

We more than prepared for this trip by making several trips to the Acima and Marjane to buy lots of snacks and water for the road. Siad had a wide selection of CDs with a mix of international music. The first 4 songs played went from "Let It Be" to "Holiday" to "Sexual Healing" to "We Are The World." I was suddenly overwhelmed with an amazing feeling of gratitude and happiness. I couldn't believe that I was finally following the volunteer dream that I had always wanted to pursue and impacting the lives of so many children. When "We Are The World" came on, I absolutely lost it! With tears flowing, I thought about the words to the song and had such a feeling of pride....proud that I have been blessed with so many wonderful people in my life that believed in me and knew that I would come to Morocco and serve as a shining light to the children in need. Also, very proud to have 5 other incredible people surrounding me in that van that made sacrifices to come to Morocco and volunteer to help make this world a better place. That was an unforgettable moment and one to be embraced.

After a 3 1/2 hour drive, we stopped in a town called Azrou to stay the night at a place called Auberge Du Dernier Lion De L'Atlas....very much like a Bed & Breakfast. The inn is actually the temporary training site and home-base for the Peace Corps group from Morocco. There was a room dedicated to training and many of the Peace Corps volunteers were staying in the inn that weekend. The inn had traditional Moroccan decor with beautifully tiled walls in a variety of colors. The salon was decorated with Berber rugs, ornate mirrors, and low seating. A perfect gathering place for friends and strangers to converse. We were served a traditional Moroccan meal around 8:00 PM and everyone soon faded into their rooms for an early bedtime. We all gathered for breakfast around 7:00 AM and then headed out to the van to continue our drive to the Sahara. Just before leaving, a rather humorous man came trotting by on a donkey. Michal grabbed her camera to snap a photo and the man became a bit disgruntled. Once she offered him a Dirham, he was all hers and even posed for the photo. Taking pictures of Moroccans is not usually accepted unless you request permission. In many cases, you are expected to pay something to the person once the photo has been taken. Generally 1 or 2 Dirham....around .15 to .30 cents in US currency. Many of the Moroccans feel that tourists will exploit them and abuse their culture through media and photography. Others just want the opportunity to gain a Dirham or two.

We stopped in the Middle Atlas Mountains to visit a nomad tent. There we met a little girl named Ghizlan....probably around 7 years old. I found myself searching for the parents of this beautiful little girl....they were no where to be found. The little girl still welcomed us with a look of uncertainty and as voyeuristic tourists we barged on to her land. Her home was a woven tent called a khaima, which is a tent made of woven goat-hair or camel-hair used by the nomads of the Sahara and semi-nomadic people of the Atlas. I was rather amazed at this abode....approximately 600 square feet in size and fully stocked with food, blankets, pots, bottles and more. Animals ran freely around the tent....cats, dogs, turkeys, and 4 tiny baby goats.

With Hamza by my side to interpret, I asked Ghizlan if I could have my picture taken with her. She mumbled, "no problem" in Arabic. Several of us offered to compensate her for allowing us to invade her home but Hamza insisted that he would take care of the monetary gift on our behalf. We waved goodbye to Ghizlan and thanked her.

We soon approached a small village town where we stopped for water and a WC break. Connected to the gas station was a decent looking restaurant. I noticed some smoke coming from an open kitchen attached to the front of the restaurant and immediately engulfed a very fragrant scent. Of course I was curious and peaked my head inside to find a man cooking lamb and chicken tagines. A tagine is a type of dish found in North African cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, which is named after the special pot in which it is cooked. The traditional tagine pot is formed entirely of heavy clay which consists of 2 parts: a base unit which is flat and circular with low sides, and a cone or dome-shaped cover that rests inside the base during cooking. Tagines in Moroccan cuisine are slow-cooked stews braised at low temps, resulting in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce. The man saw me and motioned for me to come in to the kitchen but I said, "La Shukran," (No Thanks) and darted away. As I was walking off, I heard the man yell, "Hshuma!" In English this means shame on you. Moroccans love to share their food and tea so it's considered rude to turn down an invite. After hearing him say that, I decided to go back and the man was very generous. He lifted the top of each tagine so I could see what was cooking while mumbling something in Arabic that I couldn't understand. I'm sure he was describing each dish and the ingredients. I asked the man if I could take a photo and offered him 1 Dirham. He smiled kindly and said, "Free for you." So in his best stance, he posed for the photo. I thanked the man, shook his hand and he leaned in to kiss me on each cheek (standard in Moroccan culture). As I walked away, he patted me on the behind. I couldn't help but laugh and simply walked away shaking my head and climbed back in the van.

As we journeyed deeper in to the mountains, it became very obvious that we were far from urban living. There were lots of donkeys and mules pulling carts and carrying people thru the dusty roads. It was amusing to come to a stop sign because you would not only see cars stopped but sometimes the donkeys and their drivers would be stopped beside or behind the cars. A funny sight and one that you don't see every day. We passed people scattered along the side of the road with big jugs sitting on top of a pile of rocks. None of us were really sure what was in these jugs and Hamza informed us that it was honey. A pile of rocks stacked very close to the road meant that someone had already claimed the space for their honey business. Even the most rural communities can't escape competitive business.

Soon we reached the High Atlas mountains....soaring approximately 10,000+ feet high. Further along we came to a piece of the mountains covered with blankets of green bushes. Surprisingly we learned that these were tiny little rosemary bushes. Of course the culinary side of me became overly thrilled at the thought of miles and miles of free rosemary for all to grab. We parked to take some photos of the rosemary and Hamza took off down the slippery slope of dirt and gravel to gather rosemary for all of us.....the smell was so fresh!

After loading back in to the van and driving a bit further, we stopped to view a kasbah. A kasbah is a fortified house with a single crenellated tower, or sometimes 4 crenellated towers with one at each corner of the walls. Hamza lead us in and as soon as we flung open the door to the deserted kasbah, we saw a donkey standing there. The 1st level of a kasbah is generally used for the animals with the 2nd level used for the family. This was an abandoned kasbah but was being used to store a single donkey. Outside the kasbah near the country road, a group of children came walking by. Probably in the age range of 8-13 and both boys and girls. They stopped and just stood there to stare at us. We said hello and asked Hamza if we could take their picture. He spoke in Arabic to the children to ask them if we could take their photo and they all said no and walked away. Just another example of the privacy within the Moroccan culture and in this case practiced at a very young age.

To Be Continued......

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It's A Small World After All

The childhood favorite "It's A Small World After All" sang it best,

"It's a world of laughter
A world of tears
It's a world of hopes
And a world of fears
There's so much that we share
That it's time we're aware
It's a small world after all!"

I can't even begin to express what a wonderful experience I have had working with the 4 and 5 year olds at the IBNY school. When I leave the school each day, I can't get their little faces out of my mind. It is such a refreshing way to start the day and I thank God every day that he has given me this opportunity. Since the 1st day, I have seen laughter, tears, and even some hope and fear. I have seen a few kids come and go leaving me to wonder about each and every story. It's hard to imagine the type of environment these children come from and what their home life is like. Many of them wear the same clothes several days in a row.....their faces, hands, and feet a bit soiled. Regardless, every little face is smiling when my fellow volunteer, Kay, and I walk in to the room each day. The students always stand to eagerly welcome us with a jolly "Bon Jour!"

On October 12, I woke up anxious to meet the unfamiliar faces that I would be teaching for 6 weeks. First was the 4 year old class. Initially most were timid but quickly warmed up to me and Kay. We started out with some of the standard children's sing-a-long songs such as "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." Not knowing the skill levels at IBNY, we decided on a very simple project for Day 1. We cut out large circles using white paper and traced each child's hand on the circle. The activity was not only to teach them the shape of a circle, but to also provide an interactive way for us to work with each child and start developing a relationship. The surprising part came when it was time for the children to color the hand and circle. I was shocked to find that some of the children could not even hold a crayon. Many haven't developed muscle coordination in their hands so we worked to teach them how to grip the crayon and stroke the page. These children are no doubt starving for love and praise. With every crayon stroke, a child will call out to us while pointing to his/her paper for approval. The Arabic term "myzan" means good job. I probably use the word more than 50 times a day in class. Just as "myzan" rolls off my tongue, you can see a smile come over each child's face. Many of the little girls love to share kisses so they will motion for you to come to them and then kiss you on the cheek. At the end of the class we sang the "Goodbye" song......"Goodbye Goodbye we had a happy day, Goodbye Goodbye we'll see you on Tuesday!" We sing this at the end of class everyday of course inserting the appropriate day of the week.

Next was the 5 year old class. Most of these students have worked with former CCS volunteers so they understand some basic English and they were very eager to let us know what they already knew. One little boy, whose name I now know is Aymane, ran up to me as I entered the class and started counting to ten in English. Just like many of his classmates, he was so proud to share his English knowledge. "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" was taught by former volunteers and the children absolutely LOVE to sing these songs everyday. While Kay and I traced the hands of the 4 year old class, the 5 year old class wanted complete control. Most wanted to trace his/her own hand and grabbed the crayon from us. It was so amazing to meet each child and felt even more incredible to see how excited they were for us to be in their class.

We are dropped off each day at an entrance to the medina in Rabat. Once we cross through the medina wall, the door to the IBNY property is on the left. In case you aren't familiar with the term medina, it is an old Arab quarter in most North African cities. The layout of a medina can be very intricate with winding corridors throughout which provide labyrinth feel. The big metal door is locked and someone must come to open it for us each morning and walk us out as we leave. We walk a minute or so once inside and we come to the playground. This is certainly not a playground like most of us are accustomed to having back home. The IBNY playground is simply a concrete slab....no swings, no slides, no monkey bars...only open space for the the children to sing and play games with each other.

Just off of the playground are the restroom facilities. There are several lines of stalls with doors. However, there are no toilets. There is a small hole in the center of the ground and 2 places for your feet so that a child can position himself/herself to use the restroom while squatting. No flushing required and no toilet paper available. Each child is escorted to the restroom and given a small piece of toilet paper. I learned recently that toilet paper is new for Morocco. Most natives use their left hand and water to rinse. Therefore, it is considered unclean to use your left hand while eating and customary for Moroccans to only eat with their right hand, even if someone is a left-handed person. Yes, I know how reading this makes you feel but this is part of the culture so I felt the need to share the info.

You could say my 1st day at IBNY was a mix of emotions. When I first entered the class, tears filled my eyes and immediately provoked a mix of sadness, happiness, and extreme gratitude. I found myself wanting to give big hugs and kisses during the entire class. While I was overcome with joy to be there, I still felt the immediate tug at my heart knowing that the children all come from a life without privilege. Many of them are so jovial and full of life while others have an expressionless, lackluster disposition. Each child is so brilliant and unique in his or her own way but still exudes uncertainty. I may only have 6 weeks to directly engage with these children but I will go above and beyond to make each child feel special and significant while I am here. What these children don't realize is that I'm not just here to teach them, but I am also here to learn from them. I am honored to have these 58 new faces in my life and can't imagine what it will be like when it's time to leave them. I can only hope that our paths will cross again so that I see how the children evolve and develop.....if it's God's will, I shall!

Or as the Moroccans would say....Insha'Allah!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Orientation Day in Morocco!

Sunday was orientation day for the new group of volunteers. We were introduced to the staff, learned about the CCS program policies, rules and expectations of the house, and the organizations we would each be working with. There are 9 CCS staff members that direct us, feed us, and keep us safe. Mohamed is the Country Director for Morocco, Abdellah is the Program Officer, and Khadija is the Office/House Manager. All 3 formerly worked for the Peace Corps in Morocco and are such wonderful people! Abdelouahed is responsible for transporting us to/from our partner programs each day. Aicha is the primary cook and prepares 3 full meals each day. Laila and Fatiha are in charge of certain housekeeping duties and assists with the food preparations. To keep us safe and secure, we have a Day Guard, Mohamed, and a Night Guard, Hamid. I couldn't imagine a more hospitable staff and we are so blessed to have such intelligent individuals watching over us during our stay.

During the morning, we were divided in to 3 teams for a Rabat scavenger hunt. Each team was responsible for exploring a specific part of Rabat and returning to the home-base with info about what we found. My team consisted of me, Dev, Michal, and Erica. We discovered an internet cafe, post office, grocery store, secondary school, the treasury where locals pay taxes, Western Union, and the spa. After lunch, we were given a short class on Arabic words and phrases that would be helpful during our stay. Mohamed and Abdellah elaborated on my placement in the Ibny Street Children's Center. Ibny means "My Son" and has around 200 kids ages 3-9. There are only 8 teachers currently employed by the school, which means the classrooms can be very large. The children were found begging on the streets while their parents worked in the Medinas during the day. Begging can be more profitable than an actual job for families and most parents exploit their children and force them to beg on the streets of the medinas. The beggars average between 100-200 Dirham per day compared to the 60 Dirham an actual job may bring each day. To help you understand what the conversion would be in USD, 60 Dirham is around $7.80.

We wrapped orientation just in time for the daily tea time....always with the traditional hot mint tea and sweet delectable treat. A group of us decided to walk around and explore the neighborhood to find the park nearby. During our walk we approached a street lined with guards in uniform. Of course we were uneasy at first but we learned that they were only there to guard and protect the property of the various Moroccan ambassadors. The so called park is really not a park at all in terms of how Americans view a park. The land is around 2 miles in circumference, all dirt and trees with no grass....more like a forest you could say. Supposedly the police patrol the park in search of Moroccan couples that aren't married. It is illegal for unmarried Moroccan couples to be in public and they can be arrested. We returned to the house for dinner at 7:00 PM, which is the standard time each night. The food is so incredible! It's difficult not to worry that the food is going to run out before all 26 volunteers have their bellies full. However, there always seems to be enough. After every meal, the volunteers must line up in the kitchen to wash his/her own dishes. It's actually not a bad concept and keeps our already busy house ladies free to focus on the many other responsibilities they have.

There is so much more to add about this week but it's just too late to keep writing and I need to crawl in my bunk bed right now.

Ahlam Saida!!! (Sweet Dreams)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Wedges or Strappy Heels...Leave or Take?

Procrastination has always been a weakness of mine. That was clear at 10:00 PM Thursday when I still had not started packing for my 6 week Moroccan adventure that departed on Friday. First came the huge "Maybe" stack that finally dwindled to the most basic ensemble at 2:30 AM. Thanks of course to my Mom for helping me reason through the Yes, No, Maybe piles. After an early morning of shuffling and shifting, I was off for the Atlanta airport.

With a Delta flight at capacity and no individual TVs at our seats (Yes, I am a very spoiled Economy Class flier with high expectations...especially traveling internationally) I was off to Morocco. I had a quick layover in Paris and fortunately no embarrassing mishap on the airport bus shuttle between terminals (Connie, Molly, and Jennet should know exactly what I'm referring to from our Paris connection in route to Barcelona in 2004) I made it just in time for my flight to Rabat. Flying from 12 different destinations, 10 new volunteers met at the gate in Paris with 4 other new volunteers meeting up at the Cross Cultural Solutions Home-Base.

At 1:30 PM, Mohammed and Abdou from CCS greeted us at the very small Rabat-Sale airport and transported us by van to our home in the Hay Riad neighborhood. We immediately settled in to our shared living quarters before a 4:00 PM tea time with handmade pastries and warm mint tea. Our group is refreshingly dynamic and incredibly intelligent with ages ranging from 18 to 78. In addition to myself, the following volunteers will be here from 2 to 12 weeks:

Lynn D. from Arlington, VA
Erica O. from Omaha, Nebraska
David S. from Los Angeles (Originally from India)
Dev G. from Chicago, IL
Jean & Kirk A. from Louisville, Kentucky
Jen B. from Philadelphia, PA
Michal C. from Tampa, FL
Joyce C. from London
Terri & Polly from Stamford, CT
Allison W. from D.C.
Kay H. from Washington

We also have 12 additional volunteers currently living in the Home-Base that came on a previous start date with CCS. They have been very helpful with our transition in to the house and have shared a wealth of knowledge about Morocco and the volunteer work assignments that we'll be involved in. There are 5 men and 21 women....the men have rooms in the very dark basement and the women are spread throughout the ground level and 2nd level...thank goodness I have windows in my room!!!

The bell rang for our 1st dinner at 7:00 PM sharp. While gathering around low tables in our brightly decorated common area, we feasted on lentil stew, pasta with beef, salad, bread, and carefully filtered water. As I'm sure you guessed, I went back for seconds and even considered thirds but decided not to be too gluttonous on night one. After stuffing our bellies and engaging in friendly conversation, one by one we fell prey to the jet lag and carried our weary eyes to our bunk beds. As visions of Moroccon medinas danced in our heads, we couldn't help but dream about what was in store for our next full day.

Oh and if you're wondering if the wedges or heels made the trek, 1 shiny pair of strappy heels found themselves stuffed between a pair of Vasque hiking boots and a pair of Teva outdoor sandals in the suitcase. Afterall, a girl never knows when she'll need a stylish shoe :-)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Volunteer Placement in Morocco Announced!

I am so thrilled to share my volunteer assignment in Morocco. The Partner Program that I will be working with is the Ibny Street Children Association assisting teachers and teaching young children.

General Information Mission and Needs of the Partner Program
The association’s goal is to improve the lives of underprivileged children. Many of the children at Ibny are often found begging on the streets of the medina of Rabat. The Ibny Association seeks to create a social and educational structure for these children, by providing clothing, medical care, classes, books, extra-curricular activities (drawing, songs, painting, and sports) and meals to the children.

Volunteer Activities / Duties Include:
• Organize activities, including games, songs and arts & crafts.
• Assist the teachers with providing lessons in Basic English and arts and crafts, including singing and playing.
• Provide individual attention to the children.
• Be a role model. Encourage and praise the children while also enforcing rules of good behavior.

The association was created in March 2006 and consists of 20 members who are driven by a passion to help children. Funding is provided by other NGOs, some governmental assistance and private donors.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Mission, Vision, and Values of Cross Cultural Solutions

Cross-Cultural Solutions is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1995. Each year, over 4,000 people participate in our volunteer programs in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. CCS has a worldwide staff of over 300 people in 12 countries, with administrative offices also located in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Steven Rosenthal founded CCS in 1995 and serves as its Executive Director.

CCS has been profiled in more than 500 news outlets, including: CNN, The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Time, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, The Toronto Star, The Today Show, USA Today, National Geographic Traveler, and the ABC Nightly News.

CCS is widely recognized as an expert in its field, committed to ensuring the safety, flexibility, professionalism, transparency, and excellence of our programs. Ensuring the highest quality of programming is an ongoing process, which is why all CCS program sites undergo a comprehensive review process each year to assess their performance in the following areas: program quality, overall volunteer satisfaction, adherence to staff policies, medical procedure training, and security guidelines. We are dedicated to monitoring and continuously improving the volunteer experience on a daily basis. In 2008, overall program satisfaction was 99%.

Behind our commitment to international volunteer work is a philosophy that provides the focus for our organization. This philosophy consists of a vision, a mission by which we can achieve that vision, and a set of core values that define how we approach everything we do:

Our Vision is of a world where people value cultures different from their own, are aware of global issues, and are empowered to effect positive change.

Our Mission is to operate volunteer programs around the world in partnership with sustainable community initiatives, bringing people together to work side-by-side while sharing perspectives and fostering cultural understanding. We are an international not-for-profit organization with no political or religious affiliations.

Our Values are:

  • Shared Humanity
    When people of different cultures have an opportunity to connect, there comes an understanding of our shared humanity.
  • Respect
    We accept, appreciate and respect that people know and understand what is appropriate for their own communities.
  • Integrity
    We commit to ensuring the safety, flexibility, professionalism, transparency and excellence of our programs.