In the Summer of 2016, I had the opportunity to Volunteer abroad in Morocco and I can tell you that it was the most eye opening experience I have had. I was placed in Lalla Maryem Orphanage which provides social, health, psychological, and educational care for abandoned children. Children and adults with special needs were between the ages 2 and 40, and I work with those who are physically challenged.
Morocco is a Muslim country, so in order to be able to make a change and provide the help they needed, I needed to be very open minded to a different culture and religion. Luckily I have always been a very open minded person when it came to meeting and working with a diverse population. Despite the negative comments and stereotypes that a lot of people hold towards Muslims, I was very excited and I had chosen to go there because I knew they needed the help. Also, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and prove to others that believed that following Islam as a religion, was a "threat" to the rest of us, which was obviously a lie.
I went in June, it was Ramadan, for those of you that are not familiar with Ramadan is a period of fasting, sacrifice, giving, counsiousness, and self-training with the hopes that these qualities will extend beyond this month and stay with us throughout the year. Fasting in Radaman is spiritual, provides tranquility of the heart and mind, improves our blood fat levels, may help you overcome addictions and promotes fat breakdown and weight loss.
The act of fasting also serves as a lesson of practicing self-discipline and self-control as well as sacrificing oneself and feeling empathy for those less fortunate.
After fasting all day and sunset hits, imagine how refreshing a glass of hot mint tea would feel and how sweet gooey Medjool date would taste if you had been deprived of water and food from the moment the sun rose. For millions of muslims around the world, that is the satisfaction they feel when they sit down to iftar during the holy month of Ramadan. I, myself fasted during Ramadan for a day to try it out for respect of the people in Morocco and their religion. I was going through my journal and I couldn't stop laughing at what I wrote; "I'm in automatic mode right know, getting a headache and all I can think of is food... iftar.... I WANT TO EAT". You are probably thinking I was dying because I was without food and water for almost a day but then remembering back and thinking about my experience, I had the time to reflect on things that not just give me pleasure but overall happiness in life. In a day, I learned about self control and became aware of how much I needed something. I was taking for granted so many things like family and friends and I cared about so many valueless things. Of course, I probably had to do more than a day to really get the whole Ramadan experience but after that day and the rest of my work in Morocco, I practiced and gave all my attention to things that actually mattered like compassion, courage and connection with myself and others. I brought that back home to San Diego and as times goes by I can tell you that practicing those three mindfulness actions have changed my life for good.