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A journey of discovery

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Azari Thomas applied for the study abroad programme to improve her French, but gained so much more from her six months in Morocco.

Rugs, scarves, clothing, ceramics, jewellery and artwork — it took a few extra suitcases to pack all her finds from the local medina. Now in Bermuda, they'll go on sale tomorrow, at KatKids' annual market fundraiser.

“I'd volunteered in the market and I really like the organisation,” she said of the local charity.

“People would spend six months building a rug and then sell it for US$20. In Bermuda it would sell for so much more and could help these children. So I reached out to KatKids.

“Their motives are to help children in need and there are a lot of children in Morocco that are in need.”

Studying dentistry and French at the University of Virginia, Ms Thomas had hoped the six months in the North African country would make her fluent — it didn't.

But she tells everyone: “It's the best decision I've ever made in my life. I learnt so many things — a sense of direction, independence, responsibility. Being in a culture that speaks so many languages, I feel like I gained an understanding of many.

“It was an experience I didn't expect to gain so much from when I signed up.”

The location gave her a good jumping off point to countries in Europe. She visited France, Italy and Spain and many Moroccan cities.

“The programme only had seven girls [and] we became such good friends.

“Every weekend we would go to a different place,” said the 20-year-old who was based in Rabat from January to May.

It opened her eyes up to the disparities between life there, and what she was familiar with. Outside of her classes at Université Internationale de Rabat, she interned with local NGOs and was placed at a planned parenthood organisation.

“Hearing about how unfairly women and children are treated, it made me want to reach out to KatKids,” said Ms Thomas, who had volunteered with the organisation as a teenager.

“It built relationships with women, giving them a voice and a choice, and they also supported many co-ops.”

Her ultimate goal was to get KatKids to help build schools in one of Morocco's tiny communities.

“Telouet is a little village on the caravan route between the Atlas Mountains. It's really neglected, really poor, no electricity,” she said.

“I was trying to act as a liaison between KatKids and these villages, but I didn't have enough time to create a relationship.”

The market seemed like a good first step. She became a familiar face in Rabat's vast medina — and with that came local prices. “All the merchandise was either purchased in the large medina of Rabat or in small villages,” said Ms Thomas, who selected items she thought were “cool” and “original”.

“The medina is an experience unique to Morocco, it is the oldest town in a city surrounded by grand walls. It can be seen as a melting pot of the cultures within the country — Amazing, Sahrawis, African migrants and French and Spanish influences — each group's crafts and traditions are represented through their handcrafted art, and each piece tells a story and holds significance.

“It was amazing to watch people make things from scratch from the natural resources around them — quite a refreshing and a stark difference from the western world in which everything is mass-produced.”

She and her classmates studied Moroccan culture, politics and language at Amideast, outside of their regular modules. “We were in a foreign country by ourselves, having to adapt to their culture and their religion,” she said.

“Morocco is a country of contrasts. You can go to the Atlas and have snow and in the desert it will be 100 degrees; you can go to a beach town — there are so many different aspects of it.

“I would do it again. I hope that everyone gets a chance to have such a humbling experience. You don't know how small you are in the world until you travel.”

Visit KatKids' market at BAA tomorrow from 5.30pm-9.30pm. Supporters can get a head start on their holiday shopping while raising funds for children in need in Bermuda, Nepal and Africa

Camel back riding in the Sahara (Photograph supplied)
Azari sits in a cow leather bag in the tannery of Fes (Photograph supplied)
Azari Thomas (left) takes Darija, an arabic dialect, class. (Photograph supplied)
A giant doll at the Nomad festival (Photograph supplied)
Amazing experiences: above, making argan oil with a Berber woman and, below, keeping warm while purchasing rugs. Main picture, enjoying a camel ride in the desert
Camel back riding in the Sahara (Photograph supplied)
Keeping warm while purchasing rugs (Photograph supplied)

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Published November 16, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated November 16, 2017 at 7:32 am)

A journey of discovery

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