Name: Andre Hessini
Hometown: St. Paul, Minnesota
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, French (fluent)
University: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Volunteer Abroad: Strengthening NGO Capacity in Rabat, Morocco
Duration: 5 weeks
Start month: May 2018
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I decided to pursue the UBELONG program in Rabat because of a variety of personal connections and professional aspirations. First and foremost, I knew that I wanted to pursue an economic development program in North Africa because of my familial connections in the region. My grandpa was born in Algeria and I still have multiple members of my family who live in Algiers. After talking with of few of these family members who found work in Canada, I began to understand the severe lack of opportunity for those around my age still living not just in Algiers, but across the Maghreb region. Given the relative political stability in Morocco, I knew that Rabat would be an ideal choice if I was interested in working somewhere in the Maghreb where I could make a tangible impact.
Professionally speaking, I became passionate about working with an economic development NGO from both my studies in development economics at UW-Madison and my public sector work in both Madison and Washington D.C.. In a country where the monarchy is so dominant in policy making and enforcement, the development work that NGOs do is crucial, providing representation for communities and regions who often do not receive adequate representation. This opportunity of NGO support work in Rabat was a perfect combination of my professional interests concerning urban economic development in an environment that is close to my heart.
What impact did you make on your volunteer project?
Functionally speaking, I was the international correspondent for my project, an economic development NGO that establishes development camps for adolescents in underprivileged regions across Morocco. The activities and goals of these camps are to instill the importance of subjects inherent to economic development in these students, notably financial literacy, linguistic development, environmental preservation, and civil and women’s rights. As an international correspondent, this meant I collaborated with various volunteer and development organizations across anglophone and francophone countries, notably the United States and France, to establish funding and volunteer pipelines to our camps. This would often involve Skype interviews with potential partners, submitting applications to join the volunteer pipelines of reputable organizations such as USAID, and researching the operations of regional networks to discover potential partnerships.
There was also an administrative side to this position, where I was responsible for updating our website and social media pages to reflect the status of our camps and volunteer need, as well as translating the sites into both French and English. A couple times throughout my volunteer term, I also went and conducted survey field work out at some of our camps, trying to best understand the need of both our camps and the environments in which they were situated. Overall, I tried to establish a more effective administrative and operational framework to utilize going into the future. Historically, the organization has had a considerable domestic presence with next to no international connections. Now, they are integrated into multiple international development networks and volunteer pipelines, enabling them to expand their camp locations as well as work with international experts to determine the most effective ways to improve these underrepresented regions and communities. In essence, I believe the impact that my work yielded will last well into the coming years.
How did you grow personally during your volunteer trip?
I think the primary way in which I grew throughout my time in Morocco was largely realizing how similar our two societies are. I think it is very easy for Americans to get the impression that Moroccan culture is so vastly different from what we consider “normal”. Of course I encountered various differences between our two cultures, many of them rooted in sociopolitical and cultural applications of religious practice, which plays a pretty dominant role in daily life. This includes public expectations of gender roles as well as more political matters such as freedom of speech and expression. However, I was amazed at how similar many facets of our societies are. Many of the things my host family did in their spare time, bought at the market, watched on television, and listened to on the radio, I too do back in the United States. One example is that my host brother would often watch Cyberchase, a television show that I absolutely loved growing up. At the end of the day, everyone who works in international development wants to make the world a better place.
The reality is that we are all products of diverse environments that shape how we believe it is best to go about accomplishing these development goals. During these past five weeks, I truly believe that I gained a better understanding of how to work effectively with others given this environmental diversity. Morocco humbled me in both my work and personal life, and for that I am incredibly thankful. Now that I am at the end of my volunteer term, I was increasingly convinced that international economic development is the career path I want to pursue, whatever route I may take to get there.
In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your volunteer experience?
Oftentimes, the best way to actively engage in international development is by listening.