Bayard Gennert is a young professional now living in Minneapolis and an outdoor runner at heart. He joined his first UBELONG volunteer trip in 2012 to the Galapagos with his wife, Melissa. It was part of the annual Prouty Project STRETCH – Prouty Project is a leading consulting firm in Minneapolis that invites key employees, clients and friends on international service trips every other year. They joined this year’s volunteer trip to Morocco.
This year’s service trip was only three weeks before his 24-hour race, which means that he was running around the medinas in Rabat and Marrakesh every day. A great way to make sure he stayed in shape and acquire top-notch navigating skills!
The team was made up of twenty members, who were led by UBELONG Founder Cedric Hodgeman. The team volunteered across three areas: caregiving, education and women’s empowerment. Bayard joined the education team and also participated in the team’s volunteering to renovate a local clinic, as well as in numerous reflections, excursions, and talks with local experts.
And now, Bayard’s words:
Why did you join the volunteer trip to Morocco?
Signing up for my second UBELONG trip, I knew that I would be joining other like-minded travelers in experiencing a different part of the world and making a positive impact. Two years ago, I joined a UBELONG volunteer trip to the Galapagos Islands to restore native flora, and this year, I came to Rabat, Morocco to teach English to young schoolchildren. Being part of these trips, I realized that while our time on the ground is relatively short, it is the sustained involvement of all those coming before and after that achieves meaningful change.
I knew that coming to Morocco would be an immersion into new languages, traditions, people, and food – and that was a big reason I chose to go. Breaking away from the patterns of home, I wanted to be something other than a tourist. As a volunteer, you get hands-on and go behind the scenes, experiencing much the same but at a deeper level. With UBELONG, we would develop close relationships with people who are leading the way and making a difference for their communities, and helping these leaders achieve their goals is one of the best feelings.
What surprised you the most?
We volunteered with a center for primary school aged children from disadvantaged backgrounds. I was blown away at how well the children from ages 3-5 were learning multiple languages. Arabic and French were switched between with fluency depending on the portion of the day, and we added lessons English. It made me think of my 3 year-old at home and how much the young can do when given the right opportunity.
I was impressed with the teaching staff and how they engaged their classrooms of 30-40 small children. They kept lessons interesting and maintained order, and that is no easy task with so many small kids. One of my favorites was how they integrated song, music, and rhythm to teach. I found myself thinking how much I’d be learning if I could stay in the classes longer. Outside of class at night, thinking about what our lesson plans should be for the next day, our group of volunteers revisited childhood to brainstorm songs to use. “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes” was a great pick for our final day.
Looking at the entrance to the school from the outside, you wouldn’t picture such a bright spot of education inside. There are very real challenges economically, evidenced at the student level by how not all kids could bring or afford simple chalk pads for writing. Yet, the mission was clear that economics should not stop education, so that these children may have a brighter future.
In a sentence or less, what will you remember most from your volunteer trip with UBELONG?
The wonderful food and friendliness of the people.
Mint tea being poured at meals (hope you like sugar!), and eating freshly made tajines (the traditional Moroccan dish) with our host family in Rabat. Couscous Friday was a special treat.