Fellows' Reflections: Jessie Wyatt

Final Reflection: Building a Community of “Powerhouse Women” at Reclaim Childhood

As I sit here and write my final reflection for the MENAR Fellowship, it still remains hard to fathom that over a year has passed since joining Reclaim Childhood. Although all words feel inadequate in describing the ways this past year has moved and shaped me, one theme that has pervaded the entire year is the importance of communities of “Powerhouse Women,” something I was able to experience every day at Reclaim Childhood.

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The Reclaim Childhood coaching staff is the most important part of Reclaim Childhood. They are the reason why families trust RC; they ride the buses with the girls and they facilitate all of the practices. They have the sense of what makes the girls happy and they advocate for changes that need to be made to make the program a better and safer place for all. They ask for more trainings, attend trainings on their own, and have formed tight bonds among themselves. The RC staff is made up of 10 different women, from a diverse array of nationalities, who serve as mentors and role models for not only just the girls, but also for me.

When I first took this job, the RC coaching staff immediately took me under their wing. They taught me new Arabic phrases, they took the time to walk me through all of the protection concerns that the girls face, and they never ceased to exude positivity for the program and their work. To me, each coach exemplifies what it means to be a powerhouse woman: a woman that drives through all obstacles to advance the well-being of not only herself, but those around her. The coaches are forces to be reckoned with, yet they practice patience beyond what I have ever seen before.

This past summer, RC had a team of female interns to support the coaching staff. My favorite part of the summer was watching the interns grow in appreciation, admiration, and awe of the coaching staff. Starting off at coach clinic, they quickly recognized that the coaches are the ground on which RC is built. Over the course of the summer, the interns and the coaches defied language barriers, built strong relationships, and exchanged information and cultural tendencies. During the interns’ last week, all of the coaches and interns came over to my apartment to have a little celebration and potluck dinner. All the women flooded into the room, filling the table with dishes from their specific cultures, ranging from grape leaves to mac-and-cheese. They spent the night chatting, eating, and, of course, dancing. It was amazing to see the way that a team of 20+ women celebrated the uniqueness and success of the women around them. It was clear that they built themselves a community of powerhouse women.

Fellows' Reflections: Katherine Butler-Dines

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It may seem odd that a girl raised in the mountains of Colorado loves surfing, but starting a few years ago surfing became one of my greatest passions. While I lived in landlocked Washington, D.C., I was constantly planning my vacations to places where I could surf and I was often staying up odd hours to watch competitions happening half-way across the world in Hawaii or Fiji. Surfing was more of an obsession than just a hobby; it consumed my dreams and was a major impetus for my taking the position at Experience Morocco. Moving to Casablanca meant living next to an ocean and the chance to surf every day.

Now living in Casablanca, surfing does in many ways dictate my day-to-day schedule. Lucky for me, my role at Experience Morocco allows for flexible work hours, so I can shape my schedule to allow for trips to the beach when the waves are at their best. But surfing in Casablanca has also posed its challenges.

The first being how get my surf boards from my apartment in downtown to the beach, a 20 minute drive away. I don’t have a car and my surfboards don’t easily fit inside taxis. This often meant strange looks and hard bargaining in order to convince taxi and Careem [the Middle Eastern version of Uber] drivers to allow me to strap the board to their roof or let it poke out the back window. Now, my friendship with some of the instructors at a local surf school means I can keep my board at the school. I also bought a special rack that allows me to carry my surfboard on my bike. I am really looking forward to summer to actually use this. Right now, I get so cold biking to the ocean, I lose my motivation to then dive in the freezing Atlantic waters.

Another challenge is that the ocean conditions this winter have not always been conducive to surfing. The beach in Casablanca is a long stretch of sand that faces north. As winter storms barrel south from the Arctic regions, they create huge swells which translate into big waves. Unfortunately for me, the beach in Casablanca does not handle these big swells well. The beach becomes unsurfable with two and three meter waves crashing on the shallow sand banks, and the wind blows from the ocean to the land, further deteriorating the conditions. But, since I will be taking a surf instructor qualification test later in February, I still need to practice. This means going to the gym.

Some of my favorite memories of this year will actually be interacting with local women at the gym. Three days a week the gym’s pool is open for women. On these days, if I can’t surf, I will go to swim laps. Moroccan women though don’t really use the pool to swim laps; instead it is like a big pool party. Women of all ages floating, splashing, and laughing in the waters. It can be a challenge to find space to actually swim as I dodge other pool users. At first I was getting lots of funny looks, like, "Who is this white girl swimming swimming back and forth?" But soon, women were approaching me to ask where I was from, where I learned to swim, and if I could teach them. It is a challenge to explain in my broken French and Darija the basics of swimming, but I do my best. Mostly, I mime the movements, showing the women how to hold on to the edge of the pool to practice kicking or giving pointers on arm positions. Slowly but surely, I have noticed more women joining me as I swim laps. I never thought I would need to know the words for stroke, kick, and paddle in Arabic or French, but these impromptu swim lessons are growing my vocabulary and connections to the community. I can’t say that these swim sessions have improved my surfing, but they do provide a bit fun and laughter on those days I can’t make it to the ocean.

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Fellows' Reflections: Jessie Wyatt


The theme of the summer, and my time so far at Reclaim Childhood, has been the song Jeno Noto. If you haven't heard this song yet, it's a song popular among all our participants and its dance involves quietly gathering in the middle and then jumping up and screaming. The song at its essence is a unifier. Just as the song involves both moments of quiet gathering and pure chaos, so too has my time with Reclaim Childhood. In our quiet moments, we gather as staff and coaches and discuss topics ranging from our hopes and dreams and our lives as women to how we wax our legs and our favorite foods. Just as Jeno Noto instructs, we take the quiet moments to gather back to the middle, recenter and continue to build one unified force of diverse, powerful women with different perspectives and different ideas. 

In our chaotic moments, we navigate screaming girls, water balloons, late bus drivers, and wild dancing to both Jeno Noto and the Cupid Shuffle. It is in these moments, as we're screaming, running, dancing, and laughing that we renew our energy, drive forward together, and take inspiration from the girls around us. 

I have found that a necessary balance has been created that makes each moment, quiet or chaotic, all the more special. This past week, we finished Coach Clinic -- a week-long program where we focus on solidifying our sports skills and continuing to be intentional about the safe environment we foster for our participants. Coach Clinic is a perfect example of how to strike a balance between quiet and chaos. In the mornings, we run around the gym, get a little too competitive, scream, laugh, and fight down to the last point. In the afternoons, we transition into community conversations about our program. Both the chaos of the morning and the quiet of the afternoon are necessary to making Reclaim Childhood the program that it is today. 

As I move forward with my time here, I'm looking forward to both the quiet and the chaos. I'm lucky to be surrounded by a strong community that, in our more serious discussions, forces me to be more thoughtful, more passionate, more intentional, and more aware of my surroundings. In our wild moments, we embrace the sweet chaos of spontaneous hikes, accepting an offer for tea, and the ever-honking horns of taxis. I'm confident that both the moments that I experience actively and passively will continue to provide more opportunities for growth, awareness, and fun. Looking forward to the coming year!