This past Sunday, an association called Bahri organized its third annual beach cleanup in Ain Diab.
I met up with some friends, grabbed some gloves and garbage bags, and roamed the beach for a couple of hours. I’m not saying the beaches are the cleanest places I’ve ever seen, but it’s amazing how little trash we picked up. As I understand it, the city does send out sanitation workers to pick up the trash, and in fact a few of them worked side by side with the volunteers.
It was a good reason to get some sun and ocean air on a Sunday morning, but also part of my excitement leading up to this event has to do with the notion of volunteerism. I’ve heard in several conversations with Moroccan friends that there isn’t a culture of community service here, the subtext being that there is one in the United States.
Or so they’ve heard. I’m not prepared to argue that we have identical ideas on civic engagement, but the “culture of community service” thing strikes me as one of those positive stereotypes that you don’t want to quite refute, but that doesn’t exactly ring true, either. Let’s say that the idea of donating your time and energy to a cause has been normalized in the US and even institutionalized—across the country high school students have to log a certain number of community service hours in order to graduate. I’m just not prepared to confirm that Americans are more devoted to “the community” or feel a stronger sense of civic responsibility.
For starters, a lot of what I do in Morocco revolves around the Rotary, Rotaract, and an association fueled largely by volunteers. Between those three centers of activity, I’ve seen no shortage of a desire to, you know, “make a difference.”
I was intrigued by the idea of a beach cleanup in Casablanca billed as a “family event” and open to all. As opposed to, say, a project organized by my Rotaract friends to benefit members of a community. There’s a subtle difference. A cleanup may seem basic but it gives people the chance to see small, positive actions as part of a larger project. It’s also reasonably apolitical, and casts no one as a charity case.
It might also discourage people from ever tossing their lollipop sticks in the sand. Boy do Aib Diab beach-goers consume a lot of lollipops…
With my friends Sophia and fellow Ambassadorial Scholar Jacob.