Building Our Community’s First Accessible Playground

I don’t think I’ve told this to y’all before — but I have the most incredible sitemate here in Peace Corps Morocco.

Laura lives here in the same southern Moroccan town as me, right upstairs from me to be exact. We both work at the same Dar Chebab in town and collaborate on a lot of our Peace Corps projects. She is one of the most hardworking and selfless Peace Corps Volunteers that I know.

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Over the course of her service Laura has partnered with a local special needs association to serve youth with special needs in our community. On a large scale, youth with special needs in rural Morocco are hindered by an extreme lack of extracurricular and educational opportunities, and Laura has worked to fill this void by providing art and English classes to those in need in our community. This spring, Laura will take her hard work even further by building our community’s first accessible playground!

In April, we will be implementing a service learning “Ability Camp” for 30 at-risk youth with and without special needs in partnership with several associations in our community. Each morning, the campers will participate in a variety of activities that explore themes of inclusion and respect such as art, sports, and theatre. Then in the afternoon, the youth will work together to build their community’s first accessible playground.

The playground will be accessible, safe, and engaging for all youth.  It will feature a variety of activities to incorporate play for children of all abilities, including: a music wall for sensory and creative play; a play kitchen and house for imaginative play, to serve as a quiet space for children who can feel overwhelmed or anxious from sensory overload; a basketball hoop and accessible seesaw for active play; discovery panels and games for sensory and academic play; a small walkway with handle bars for strength and balance training; as well as murals promoting inclusion, education, and diversity!

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We have three main goals for the Ability Camp:

  1. Providing youth with special needs an opportunity to present themselves as contributors to their community, as opposed to mere recipients of care;
  2. Allowing campers to apply the lessons they learned during their morning activities to real life;
  3. Providing a safe, low-maintenance space where everyone, regardless of ability, is welcome to play, make friends, and continue to build a community of inclusion.

In order to make this Ability Camp a possibility we need YOUR help!

Our community has committed to providing for the camp food, staff, transportation, and lodging — which amounts to more than 55% of our budget. However, we still need help raising money to cover the costs of the playground equipment and the morning activities of the camp.

Please consider making a donation to this amazing cause by going to Laura’s Peace Corps fundraising page. Your donation will directly empower youth with special needs, as well as break down the attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder them from achieving their fullest potential.

Thank you for taking the time to read about our project! Please check back in the upcoming months for photos and stories about the progress of our community’s first accessible playground!

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UPDATE: As of December 23, 2014 the project has been FULLY FUNDED! Thank you to everyone who generously contributed to this project!

Supporting People with Special Needs in Morocco

Supporting people with special needs has always been a cause that is close to my family’s heart. When I was a little girl my mom worked as a social worker. I remember visiting her office and her patients. It was my first exposure to the field, and I learned that sometimes people process things or need help in different ways than I do. She even taught me how to say a few words and phrases in American Sign Language that I still remember to this day.

Since those days, I have volunteered my time to assist people with special needs — such as raising money for disabled veterans to purchase iBOT wheelchairs alongside the Wounded Warrior Project in high school and substitute teaching in special needs classrooms last year. Upon arriving in Morocco and learning about the needs of the community here, I knew that I wanted to make this a focal point of my service.

Here in Peace Corps Morocco, we have several committees to which members are elected to serve on the behalf of the rest of the volunteers serving in-country. In June, I was elected to serve on the Serving People with Special Needs Committee along with three other amazing volunteers from my cohort. Our main goals as a committee include: (1) To serve as a liaison and establish relationships between Peace Corps, Moroccan associations, and international organizations serving people with special needs, (2) Integrating people with special needs into our Youth Development framework as Peace Corps Volunteers, (3) Spreading awareness and community health education about people with disabilities in Morocco, and (4) To support Peace Corps Volunteers to best include these goals in their work by providing trainings, support, toolkits, and resources.

In addition to being elected to the committee, I was selected to serve as Vice-Chair for the next year! My duties as the vice chairperson include mainly logistics as well as serving as a liaison between our committee and Peace Corps Staff. I am incredibly honored to serve on this committee!

As a committee we have a lot to look forward to over the next year! In November, my sitemate (and fellow committee member) will be hosting a workshop in our town geared toward assisting parents and caretakers of youth with intellectual disabilities. Several other committee members and I will be assisting her with this fantastic workshop by facilitating sessions and working with the families. Some of the topics we will cover include: communication methods, positive discipline, and the importance of physical and hands-on activities, among many others. I am very excited about this workshop and the benefits it will bring to the special needs community in our town. I am also eager to learn from the expertise of my fellow volunteers as we hope to duplicate this workshop in other Peace Corps sites in the near future.

Over the next year we also will be working closely to plan the Special Olympics in Morocco! I am so thrilled to have this opportunity and can’t wait to see what happens as plans continue to develop.

If you are interested in learning more about our committee please visit our website here: http://www.specialneedsmorocco.blogspot.com/ or contact us at specialneedsmorocco@gmail.com.

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A few of us from the SPSN Committee!