Ramadan with Meryl Streep – Olivia DiNucci, Morocco 2013-17
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Peace Corps Volunteers come away form their service with amazing stories, like the time when Olivia DiNucci broke her fast for Ramadan with Meryl Streep and later met Michelle Obama. Yet, the things that mean the most to volunteers aren’t usually the stories of adventure or meeting the First Lady. Rather, they are the friends we make with the citizens of the countries with serve in and the relationships we forge when sharing food and drink. While these are the harder stories to tell, they are the ones that leave the biggest impact.
Photos from Olivia’s Story
Olivia DiNucci’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
2013-2017 Morocco; Youth and Community Development Volunteer. I spent my first two years in the beautiful coastal town of Essaouira and extended for a third year where I lived in Douar Ladaam, a semi-rural village on the outskirts of Marrakech. I was involved with many different projects and initiatives thanks to active associations in my community and on the national level. Together, my host mom and I started Khadija’s Kuzina, a cross-cultural cooking class business that her and her husband continue to grow. I worked with a core group of high school students doing advanced English courses around current events and social justice. Together, we planned projects around gender equality, tolerance, and volunteerisms. I worked with community based associations and leaders on women and girls empowerment initiatives, trainings and camps around healthy lifestyles, leadership and anti-sexual harassment. I was fortunate to see many parts of Morocco through work projects including co-leading a Health Peace Hike on the western coast and coaching basketball camps and a national basketball/life skills school caravan tour in 15 towns around Morocco with TIBU Maroc.
I worked on Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn launch in Morocco with the Moroccan participants for the We Will Rise film and traveled with them for the Let Girls Learn Leadership Exchange Program in Washington DC. For my third year of service, I was the Field Manager for Project Soar Morocco, a girls education and empowerment NGO, where I worked with a local team on developing a training of trainers for female facilitators for a multi-month girls empowerment program scaled across Morocco.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
My relationship with my host parents. Not only did we start Khadija’s Kuzina together (cooking class business), but we grew incredibly close during my time in Morocco. After nominated Khadija for a State Department exchange that she was accepted for, I got to spend time with her in the US and it was surreal to experience her first time abroad together. Also, spending time with Meryl Streep during the We Will Rise filming for Let Girls Learn was pretty incredible. I got to break fast with her and some of the girls involved and that was a Ramadan moment I will never forget!
Do you have any regrets from your Peace Corps service?
I am so grateful the Peace Corps model allows Volunteers to learn the local language for those in the community in which you live a. However, wish I would have dedicated time to learning to speak and read Modern Standard Arabic. After Morocco, I want to explore so much more of the Middle East North African region and being able to read and speak MSA would be helpful in connecting more with the people and places.
What do you miss about Peace Corps?
Meal times and the unrelenting Moroccan hospitality. The warmth of host families, neighbors, friends and strangers was a constant. “Mrhaba,” or “welcome” was used not just as a greeting, but as an authentic, genuine invitation to enjoy a glass of tea, loaf of bread, and so on. There is always room for another person at the table, and too often than not, that person was me!
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
So, so much. The complexity, layers and intersectionality that culture, religion, language, politics have on society continue to guide my lens as a curious learner.
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying?
“It is not just life, it is life.” انها ليست فقط الحياة، إنها الحياة My Language and Cultural Facilitator, Abderramane would say this during the Community Based Training and it really stuck with me during the Peace Corps journey and beyond.
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