Kathy Wallace is a remarkable woman from Minneapolis. She has devoted her life’s work to the most important occupation any person can undertake – raising her children. In April 2014, at 60 years old, Kathy traveled outside the United States for the first time. With her eldest daughter, Jayna, she joined a volunteer trip to Morocco.
Kathy worked on the caregiving team, which volunteered in a Moroccan organization that helps children with Down’s syndrome lead dignified and fulfilling lives.
We now proudly bring you Kathy’s interview:
Why did you join this volunteer trip to Morocco?
I joined the trip for many reasons. First, I have always wanted to participate in a service trip abroad that involved children. When my daughter, Jayna, first told me the Prouty Project’s 2014 STRETCH was going to Morocco and an element of the trip would be service involving children I was very intrigued. At the time I was very involved with the caregiving of my elderly mother and a trip to Morocco seemed impossible. However my mother passed away in November and at that point I felt it was now or never!
I also wanted to join the trip as I knew the Prouty Project trips were always amazing. As I have gotten older, I feel it is necessary to keep challenging myself in as many different ways as possible. I believe it keeps one young at heart. I felt this trip would stretch me spiritually and physically, and would be the experience of a lifetime. Finally, I joined the trip because I knew Jayna was going. Jayna loves to challenge me to try new things. I knew with her support, this trip would be possible.
What was your impact on the volunteer projects?
I was part of the team that worked with children with Down’s Syndrome. I am not sure what my impact may have been on them, other than to show that a crazy, American grandma can play soccer, help them trim bushes, help them make paper and cook a meal from start to finish, all with a smile and lots of laughter. The children and the AMSAT school were wonderful. I know the impact this experience had on me was profound and I hope our team left them with the impression that a group of American adults spent a week with them and loved every minute of it.
The impact our team made at the medical facility in Sale was evident immediately. Our enthusiasm and hard work made a physical difference in the appearance of the clinic. The fresh paint and cleanup efforts looked beautiful. Our work also made a huge difference to the staff of the clinic as was evidenced by the appreciation they expressed.
How did you grow from the volunteer trip?
My younger daughter Kerry, who also encouraged me to take this trip, told me I would never be the same after this journey. She was correct! It was empowering for so many reasons neither she nor I could have imagined. September 11, 2001, is a day in history not many people will ever forget. To me and my family, it has a very personal meaning. My husband, Scott, was in the North Tower of the World Trade Center that morning. He was there for an early morning meeting. It was his first time in the World Trade Center and he was very excited. Needless to say, that all changed very quickly as the tower was struck by an airplane 45 minutes after his arrival. For me, watching the scene play out on television in my family room in Minnesota, knowing exactly where he was and not hearing from him for several hours, has had a deep impact.
As a result of this tragedy, much has been brought to the forefront in the media concerning the Arab world and the Muslim faith. I can honestly say I had not formed a negative opinion about the Arab world or the Muslim faith as I had no experience with either. However, I can say I was uncomfortable with the idea of visiting Morocco knowing it was an Arab country and we would be doing a home stay with a Muslim family. I felt that Americans were generally disliked by the Arab world and had many people tell me I was “crazy” to go to Morocco.
Upon arriving in Rabat, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We were immediately immersed in the Arab/Muslim world of Morocco. Within a couple of hours of arriving, Jayna and I were sitting in the living room of our host family. The joy and affection the family had for us was immediate. They welcomed us into their home and were proud to share a meal with us.
My fear of this world lessened each day. At first, seeing the Arabic writing everywhere and waking to the 5:00 A.M. call to prayer was unsettling. As Jayna and I made our way out of the Medina each day, we were surrounded by this new and very different world. Everywhere we went, we were welcomed with open arms and treated with love and respect. It was not difficult to let go of my fears and apprehension.
The trip and most importantly the home stay has indeed changed me forever. I feel so fortunate to have learned a little about the Arab world and the Muslim faith from my experience. Our host family shared not only their home with us but also their family, friends and lives. They had very open discussions with us regarding their culture and their faith; I learned that we are not that different. I plan to share my new-found understanding back here in Minnesota and hopefully dispel some of the negative impressions people may have.
What will you never forget about this volunteer trip to Morocco?
I will never forget our host family and the love and affection we had for each other. The tears we shared on our last day will never be forgotten. Also, I will never forget the experience of sharing this trip with Jayna; I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity and so happy she encouraged me to participate. Lastly, I cannot talk about this trip and not mention the Hamam. For several reasons, I will never forget the details of our experience. What happens at the Hamam stays at the Hamam!