Students shoot for the stars, land on camels in Morocco

Students worked alongside their African peers this summer to benefit a Moroccan community and its children during a service learning trip May 17-26.

The trip was coordinated by the Association Min Ajlik.

“I wanted to do something extraordinary and different from the usual trips we’ve gone on,” said Kim Algeo, Rider’s study abroad assistant director.

According to Algeo, this trip possessed characteristics unlike any other organized by Rider’s study abroad program.

“For the first time, we worked side by side with Moroccan University students, which helped to build long-lasting relationships between our Rider students and the Moroccan students,” she said.

For junior elementary education major Delia Barrientos, traveling to Morocco was something she couldn’t pass up.

“As soon as I saw ‘Africa,’ I couldn’t say no,” she said. “I really enjoy doing service and thought it would be awesome to continue to do so abroad. Everything about the trip seemed so incredible.”

Throughout the trip, students participated in activities including the renovation of a boys’ detention center and visiting the Rita Zniber Foundation Orphanage.

The orphanage, according to junior elementary education major Patrick Brennan, was where the students bonded the most with the Moroccan youth, ages 6 to 18.

“We spent many afternoons there hanging and playing with the kids, learning from them about their culture and teaching them about ours,” he said.

In addition to connecting with the Moroccan children at the orphanage, Rider’s students assisted them in gardening as well as painting a mural.

Among the many activities that took place in Morocco, a two-day camping excursion in the Sahara desert proved to be a highlight of the trip.

“Students rode camels to our camp setup, had a breathtaking view of the stars and slept in tents after eating traditional Moroccan food that was cooked for them by a local village,” Algeo said.

Between giving back to the Moroccan community and exploring the land, it’s clear that this experience allowed the students to put things into perspective.

“I was taken aback by the kindness and generosity of the people of Morocco, mainly the children we came to serve,” Barrientos said. “All of them were willing to help out and though their situations were not ideal, they always greeted you with a smile and made you feel welcome.”

Brennan said he made more memories on this trip than he can count, and they will stay with him for years to come.

“Whenever I serve, I keep a journal about my experiences,” he said. “But unlike regular memories, these experiences are impressed onto the heart and can only be shared by those you served with.”

Algeo stressed the importance of attending Rider’s service learning trips for the cultural experiences.

“[Students] get to volunteer in another country, which will boost their resume, all while partaking in a completely different culture than their own and doing activities that they couldn’t do here in New Jersey,” she said.

Barrientos also encouraged students to embrace their spontaneity and desire to travel, both of which this trip allowed her to do.

“Though [the trip] was only 10 days, the group experienced so much and was able to truly see the culture of Morocco,” she said. “Any chance you get to explore, go for it.”

For Brennan, building friendships through service has proven to be the most rewarding aspect of service learning trips.

“You get to have one-of-a-kind experiences and meet people you never thought existed,” he said.

Rider’s Study Abroad program will have a Study Abroad fair on Sept. 10 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the SRC, where interested students can talk to those who have attended international service learning trips in the past.

Algeo has confirmed that in May 2016, the Study Abroad program will be returning to Morocco and the Rita Zniber Foundation Orphanage to continue their service.

Anyone interested in attending next year’s service learning trip can email Kim Algeo at kalgeo@rider.edu.

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