To Preserve and to Learn

Meet M'Hamed El Kadi
An interview by John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962–64)

    M’HAMED EL KADI IS THE Peace Corps Resource Center Manager (IRCM) of Peace Corps/Morocco. A long time host country national employee of the Peace Corps, I first heard from M’hamed about a dozen years ago when he sent me PeaceWork, the PCV newsletter published in-country. Recently I asked M’hamed to tell us about his life and his work for the Peace Corps, and to tell us about some of the Volunteers he has worked with over the years. The Resource Center in Morocco is an example of what can be done in- country to help PCVs do their jobs. And M’hamed El Kadi in Rabat has set a high standard for other programs to follow.

    Mhamed, how long have you worked for the Peace Corps?
    I have worked for the Peace Corps for over 14 years. I actually started in 1987 with some summer jobs, and then officially joined in 1989. I had to quit for a couple years to teach English in a small town in southern Morocco, and came back in 1991.

    Tell us about your job and duties.
    Well, as the Resource Center Manager, I run and manage the Resource Center. My primary duty is to support PCVs and our staff with updated information resources for their primary assignment and also for secondary activities. The Resource Center has built a good reputation in-country among development workers, counterparts and United States students who are here for a semester. Also, Fulbright researchers find that it is a good source of English technical resources and country specific publications that are scarce in Morocco. Among my multiple duties are: I am the contact person for Information Collection and Exchange (ICE), the US Fellows Program, Friends of Morocco, and the coordinator for PeaceWorks, the Peace Corps/Morocco Volunteers’ newsletter.

    How long has the Peace Corps been in your country?
    The Peace Corps has been in Morocco since 1963. The project was temporarily suspended in Morocco twice, in 1991 and 2003 because of the Gulf wars.

    Where is your Peace Corps office?
    The office in Rabat moved in February 2005 to a new larger location close to some official building and ministries. We had had our renowned office on 1 Rue Benzerte downtown for over 30 years. It was quite a place and has many wonderful memories for all of us who worked there over the years. For many Volunteers that office was their home away from home.

    How many Peace Corps/Morocco Directors have you worked for?
    I’ve worked for five: David Frederick, Darcy Neil, Ellen Paquette, Barbara Neil, and our current CD, Bruce Cohen.

    Have you read any books written by RPCVs about their Peace Corps experience?
    I’ve read, of course, Culture Shock: Morocco by Orin Hargraves (Morocco 1980–82). I also read Living Poor by Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador 1965–67) which is a wonderful book, and is still a true experience for many Volunteers today. I would recommend Living Poor for all PCVs no matter what their country of assignment is. I continuously read articles by RPCVs, particularly those related to Morocco. I actually forward them to Tim Resch, Friends of Morocco President, to have him put them up on the Friends of Morocco web site. And I reprint most of them in PeaceWorks for current PCVs to draw some lessons from. And, I might add, I get many good essays from your website, PeaceCorpsWriters.org.

    What books over the years have you noticed that Volunteers read?
    Peace Corps service is the best time for Volunteers to read all the books that wish they had read in college. Their list gets longer once they get in their sites as they discover new reading tastes and interests, particularly Berber culture. They naturally are eager to read more about the country. Some PCVs think in long term objectives and start thinking about life after Peace Corps (is there one?) and their graduate school projects, especially if they want to focus on international politics or the foreign service. They start preparing by reading non-fiction, sociological and anthropological studies of the region.
         Some of the high demand books here among Volunteers are classics, popular fiction and non-fiction books, and books by popular authors like Thomas Friedman, Albert Hourani, and Karen Armstrong. Most Volunteers surprise me with their fast reading abilities and continuous interest in reading materials.

    In terms of Morocco, what value do you think Peace Corps Volunteers have had for your country?
    The Volunteers have brought in valuable contributions to Morocco over the past years, much more than I can list here. The Peace Corps has impacted generations in Morocco. We are always coming across high government officials who were taught English by PCVs when they were young students or shared technical skills with PCVs in the past. It’s difficult to measure the development contribution of PCVs over the past decades.
         In Morocco, there are the visible and countable contributions PCVs make, like the individual small projects each PCV has left behind (e.g. income generation projects for village women, setting up women’s cooperatives and resource centers, well digging, water-pump installing, solar ovens, new crafts designs, and latrine building in addition to the environment-related health and hygiene lessons they delivered at schools, youth centers and local hospitals, and continuous training they offered to their co-workers).
         But their contribution isn’t simply limited to the community-based activities, technical know-how, knowledge transfer and skill sharing with their counterparts and communities. It goes beyond that to a most important human relationship, cross-cultural exchange and friendship they develop with their host families, communities and friends they have made in country.
         Our paranoid modern world is in a big need of mutual understanding and tolerance among different peoples. The Peace Corps is one of the very few organizations worldwide that has promoted valuable long-term relationships between the United States and the host countries.
         Volunteers help demystify the United States in the eyes of their communities and help change the unfortunately negative image of USA that now is sweeping across the world. In the same way, most Moroccans that Peace Corps Volunteers have met and lived with have given the Volunteers a different view of the Arabs and Berbers, the “1000 nights” and politics. No doubt Volunteers leave their host country changed in many ways. Each of them carries with him/her a piece of Morocco and they leave with a big void in their hearts for the people they have met and worked with. We have witnessed Volunteers part from their communities in tears, and a good number of RPCVs have come back to revisit and reconnect with their host country and the Moroccan friends they have left behind.
          Each Volunteer’s contribution is a little drop in the ocean of development and this development continues as the Friends of Morocco has organized two group visits back to the country and I understand a third trip is being planned.

    You have seen many Volunteers over the years. What makes a good Volunteer in your estimation? And can you mention some individuals who served in Morocco and why you think they were such good Volunteers?
    A good Volunteer isn’t only someone who builds a bridge or leaves behind a quantitative project. A good Volunteer is someone who joins the Peace Corps with the understanding of making a little difference with respect of host country people, culture and life style, a willingness to learn, build on the impact the past Volunteers have made, and take home a positive experience to share with his/her family, friends, and peers.
         I consider Peace Corps Volunteers as permanent Goodwill Ambassadors for peace. My memory is running short, but I remember some Volunteers who were special.
         Jason Ben Meir, who served as a PCV in late 1990s as an Environment Program Manager. Later he went to Harvard University and now heads the High Atlas Foundation he founded with other RPCVs and other Moroccans. The foundation funds small projects, particularly fruit tree planting as an income generator for the villagers and a reforestation activity for the area he served in.
         Joe Kitts who served in the early 1990s. He speaks Moroccan Arabic better than some Moroccans of different ethnic groups, and has demonstrated an excellent cultural integration. Liz McLintock who extended and revisited the country several times, and also coached and founded one of the first girl-basketball teams in country. Mark Peterson who came back to work with AMIDEAST and runs workshops in Moroccan Arabic. Sam Werberg was a PCV who adapted very well to the local culture and who served here in 2000. He is now a foreign Service official in one of the Middle Eastern countries.
         I am sure I forgot many other names who left a big impact on us as staff and also on the people they served. Almost all Volunteers who served in Morocco have planted seeds of change and given America and Americans much to be proud of.

    How are you involved with PeaceWorks, the Morocco PCV Newsletter?
    I am the coordinator for PeaceWorks. The crew is composed of three to four PCVs from different groups and representing almost all four sectors. The Volunteers get together on a weekend every three months, review and edit all submissions. It’s been produced for over 18 years now.

    Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about the Peace Corps Program in Morocco?
    Well, thank you for this interview. Here are some basic facts and contact points for our program and Volunteers, past and present.
         And thank you and Marian Beil for your work with Peace Corps Writers. I, for one, look forward to every issue. It is a great additional to the Peace Corps world. You and Marian have really fulfilled the Third Goal of the Peace Corps. I know all RPCVs appreciate the work you and the other writers have done for the Peace Corps. Thank you.

            

    Peace Corps/Morocco
    2 Rue Abou Marouane Essaadi, Agdal, Rabat 10100, Morocco (North Africa)
    email: melkadi@ma.peacecorps.gov
    Tel.: 212(0)37 683 780
    Fax: 212 (0)37 683 799

    Visit the Friends of Morocco web site:
    www.FriendsofMorocco.org

    Peace Corps/Morocco web site:
    http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell
    =learn.wherepc.northafr.morocco

    High Atlas Foundation
    (An NGO created by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers & Moroccan citizens)
    www.HighAtlasFoundation.org