The waiting is the hardest part of the Peace Corp application process. After two years of working on my application, after several visits with doctors and dentists to obtain medical clearance, I am told to wait. To wait and to be patient. "It takes time to process applications and ensure we have a good fit for each volunteer." Understandable, but I want an answer. I want to know where I will be spending two years of my life.
It was the urgent and overwhelming need to know that pulled me to the telephone, that inspired me to call my Placement Office (PO) and "check-in" on the placement process. For those of us in the application process, "check-in" becomes the polite term for harassing placement officers for any information, any hints what-so-ever, about the future.
The phone call could not have been more satisfying. I was asked "What do you think about Morocco?"
My first through: Are you serious? My actual response to the PO: "Of course I'll go to Morocco. Send me the details". Two years ago, when I was responding to application questions, I indicated Morocco as my number one country choice. Over the phone, my PO was giving me not just a glimmer of hope that I'd spend two years in a phenominal country, but actually telling me I'd be going exactly where I wanted to. What a relief. No Mongolia for me!
My job will be Small Business Development with Artists. I will be working with artists in a beautiful country. Who wants to come visit?
The details I was sent about Morocco follow:
HISTORY OF THE PROGRAM
You are invited to join one of the oldest, most established programs in the Peace Corps world! Since 1963, over 3,600 Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) have served in Morocco. Today, Volunteers are serving in the areas of environment, health, small business development (SBD), and youth development. In late 1998, Peace Corps/Morocco (PC/M) received resources to initiate a new program in the small business sector. In December 1998, Peace Corps staff met with government of Morocco officials from the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and the Artisanat (handicraft sector) and its division called the "Secretariat d'Etat Charge de l'Artisanat (SECA)," which agreed to become the Moroccan government's counterpart for the SBD program. In September 1999, nine small business Volunteers began their service in seven sites. Today, nearly 50 Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), working in close collaboration with their counterparts from the same ministry, now known as the Ministry of Tourism, Artisanat and Social Economy, assist rural handicraft associations to improve quality, profitability and marketing of their products.
The creation of new economic opportunities and assistance to existing small businesses is absolutely essential to determining Morocco's ability to absorb growing numbers of unemployed and under-employed people. In addition, small and informal sector enterprises are often the only income-generating option for women. Peace Corps Volunteers working in the small business sector can play an important role assisting in the support and creation of these initiatives.
The needs of the local artisan communities are tremendous and artisans have identified the following needs for the development of enterprise:
a) access to new markets
b) identification of product
c) product quality control
d) training in basic business and financial management including
inventory control, product pricing, credit and marketing plans
e) access to new information and technologies
The majority of these activities will be conducted on a small scale with local community members.
YOUR PRIMARY DUTIES
The purpose of the Small Business Development Project (SBD) is to assist motivated artisans, artisan groups, individuals and women's organizations located in small, rural towns and working, mainly, in the handicraft sector, to gain greater economic opportunity and success as entrepreneurs, small businesses and/or cooperatives by acquiring and improving basic skills and practices that assure product quality, marketability, profitability and sales and efficient, effective and profitable enterprise/orgnizational management.
The program goals are as follows:
GOAL 1: Business Skills Enhancement/Acquisition - Motivated artisans, artisan groups, individuals and women's organizations will gain access to economic opportunities by learning, improving and practicing appropriate small business skills.
GOAL 2: Organizational Skills Enhancement/Acquisition - Associations, cooperatives and women's organizations will be more effective in delivering services to their members by improving their organizational and management skills.
GOAL 3: Life Skills Development/Empowerment - Motivated individuals, artisans and members of artisan groups and women's organizations will become "empowered" citizens, serving their respective community as effective teachers, mentors and "role models," by increasing their capacity to live and sustain a healthy and productive lifestyle and by sharing their knowledge, skills and attitudes with other interested community members.
VOLUNTEER TASKS AND RESPONSIBILITIES:
SBD Volunteers may work in the following areas:
1. Working with artisans to conduct feasibility studies and create business and marketing plans.
2. Designing adult learning opportunities in the areas of costing and pricing, marketing, accounting, micro-finance, human resource and business management, information technology (computer/Internet) and organizational techniques.
3. Training Moroccans to train their peers in their area of expertise.
4. Identifying and promoting information-sharing of legal and fiscal aspects related to local and international business opportunities.
5. Helping to restructure and organize artisans' cooperatives or associations at your site.
6. Working with your counterpart on project initiatives, identifying available resources and providing documentation for all of your activities.
7. Diagnosing problem areas where professional intervention is necessary to create more efficient business activities.
Two examples of activities implemented by previous SBD Volunteers:
-Development of a new or existing "web page" for a start-up artisan enterprise interested in exporting their product.
-Transcribing certain oral traditions in handicraft or artisan product design into written/electronic form to help preserve the intricate, fascinating and ancient traditional designs.
The solution to the vast majority of challenges to development identified by Volunteers in their communities lies with a recognition and understanding at the community level and the power of local initiatives to change conditions. Volunteers bring the enthusiasm and experiences that can be the catalyst for encouraging individuals to work together for the benefit of the community.
Throughout your service, you will maintain regular contact with your Peace Corps Program Manager and your Ministry-level counterpart to ensure that you have the materials, resources, and support necessary for effective project implementation.
You will also have the opportunity to participate in more "generic" community-based development projects. For example, many Volunteers are involved in gender and development activities and/or initiatives where Volunteers from the different sectors benefit from the expertise found within the greater PCV community.
Work-related resources available at your work site will be limited. Volunteers use local "cybercafes" for E-mail and Internet access, although this resource is rarely available at their site. The Peace Corps Information Resource Center (IRC) in Rabat has a vast collection of reference materials available to Volunteers.
Location of Job
SBD Volunteers work primarily in rural locations, some sites more rural than others, in small villages and small and medium-sized towns. Your project supervisor, with whom you will have limited monthly contact, could be based in a provincial delegation of your host-Ministry or at your actual site. Some Volunteers will be assigned to a local "artisanat" (Ministry-run handicraft training center) while others will work directly with artisans in their site or in nearby villages.
Volunteers adjust their daily work schedules to meet the needs of the community in which they work.
Cultural Attitudes and Customs in the Workplace
In Morocco, respect tends to come with age and experience. Because this is reflected in a society that favors older employees, younger Volunteers sometimes experience initial difficulties in gaining respect from their supervisors and community partners.
Your professional experience and work habits will depend on the culture of the local community. The deference you demonstrate for your Moroccan counterpart's background experience and culture will go a long way toward gaining respect in the workplace.
Morocco is a study in contrasts. Western-dressed people walk next to those dressed in traditional clothing. Generally, great importance is attached to neatness and proper dress, which should be comfortable, conservative and respectful of local customs. American professional attire will be too formal for most activities. Volunteers should dress suitably both on and off the job and respect host country attitudes towards personal appearance.
Summers, especially in the South, can be extremely hot, so light cotton clothes are advisable, while winters, especially in the higher elevations, can be very cold, so layers of warm clothing are important!
TRAINING FOR YOUR JOB
You will receive 11 weeks of Pre-Service Training (PST) in Morocco. For the duration of PST, your time will be highly structured and very focused on getting you ready for a successful 2-year Peace Corps experience in Morocco. Plan to be very busy, expect a full schedule each day with very limited "down-time," and plan to absorb all you can. Your training will orient you to local resources and institutions and introduce you to the cultural and social context within which you will apply your skills. You will be trained in how to reorient your skills for the Moroccan culture. You will be expected to acquire a basic functional knowledge of spoken colloquial Moroccan Arabic or one of the Berber dialects. You will also receive some instruction in Arabic script. French experience will be very useful. Language learning will continue with the help of a local tutor once you arrive at your final site.
Peace Corps Morocco uses the Community Based Training (CBT) model for PST. This means that only a small part of your training takes place with all of your fellow trainees at a common "Seminar" training site. For the majority of PST, each Trainee will live with a Moroccan family and work in a small town or village as part of a team of 4-6 trainees. A Language Culture Facilitator (LCF) will be assigned to each CBT team to provide on-going language instruction and help facilitate technical activities. This model of training will give you realistic experience as to what to expect from your future site and lifestyle. For the first week and for 2-3 days at various times during the 11 weeks, you will meet up with your entire group of trainees back at your Seminar site to present and discuss the results of your various CBT assignments, to participate in more general training sessions and so that your individual progress can be assessed and discussed with you.
As part of PST, you will receive an orientation as to the nature of your professional obligations in Morocco and an introduction to the people and the institutions with whom you will work. You will receive instruction and review about the theory and practice of non-financial assistance to small business, and appropriate and participatory project design, implementation, management and assessment methodologies. Training will also include techniques in adult-training methodology, community needs assessment and instruction in how to assist others in managing small businesses and other income-generating activities.