When did you arrive in Morocco with the Peace Corps and what determines the amount of time that you stay there?
Justin: I first arrived in Morocco on January 14, 2014. Before we are sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers we are considered Peace Corps Trainees and we undergo eleven weeks of an extensive training process. During my training I was stationed in Sidi Kacem where I lived with a Moroccan family for three months.
What determines the amount of time you spend there is you yourself. Within two months more than twenty Trainees had quit. Most screen themselves out during the course of in-country pre-service training. Trainees who do not survive training do not so because of their inability to adapt culturally – which is the ability to adapt and become effective in unfamiliar circumstances and among unfamiliar people. Although training is done by the Peace Corps, I believe the development of a good volunteer occurs along his or her life’s course. The best volunteers, before joining the Peace Corps, have pursued cross-cultural communication and understanding. They enjoy discovering new environments and in doing so they discover themselves and grow. My predecessor had quit and there had been no Peace Corps presence in my assigned town, Sidi Kacem, since. I was determined to put the Peace Corps/Sidi Kacem relationship on a sound footing. I knew I was privileged to represent the United States in a foreign country. I had never been more grateful to my country. Nor had I ever been more confident and more intent on a mission. I decided I would be neither frustrated nor provoked to leave my work until the job was done. Two years and four months later I completed my Peace Corps service on April 28, 2016.
Where did the Global Human Rights Project come from? What created this desire to use pictures as a means of teaching and connecting the world?
I needed a sophisticated strategy to mobilize people from every country in the world. This photography book is that strategy. But the message is bigger than the photos themselves. This book is momentous to mobilizing and training human rights advocates in every country of the world – which is GHRP’s leading objective.
Do you find that media plays a huge part in our understanding and connection of other groups of people, other nations, and oppressed groups of people?
I do. Peace is based upon recognition, communication, and understanding. People of the world must know-of one another, recognize one another, and talk to one another. We must keep a constant focus on knowledge sharing and mutual learning.
How can we use media to help those in need and how have we used it to hurt those in need?
We have never been more connected than we are now. We must use globalization in ways to serve humanity. From raising awareness, to providing education, to advocating for human rights, to simply cross-culturally communicating, media tools can be used to improve the outcomes of social initiatives. Many people are unaware that internet access is a human right. The internet should be used responsibly. It is important for everyone to be able to access, create, utilize, and share information and knowledge. This enables individuals and communities to achieve their full potential and improve their quality of life.
I have read that you want to study law in order to focus on international human rights law. Is this something that you have always planned to do, or has being in Morocco really woken you up to new ideas and injustices?
I have been grappling for years with the hardships disquieting the world’s people, first as a student then as a young professional. But before serving in Morocco, it was attending college and graduate school that woke me up to new ideas and injustices. And it was during this time that I became more focused on human rights. However, in school we discussed and debated injustices, in Morocco I experienced and witnessed them first-hand. Serving in the Peace Corps I was able to turn my theoretical knowledge into practical. Serving in the Peace Corps I grew up to the world.
Considering your work as a teacher in Morocco as well, what is your view on the value of education? Why is it important to bring English to another country?
Education is paramount to the development of individuals and nations. In fact, it is the substructure for such development. People want to learn English—not simply for self-improvement, but as an economic necessity. Good English is a critical tool, which people rightly believe will help them tap into new opportunities at home and abroad. But more important than bringing English to another country is simply brining yourself and interacting and conversing with people of different cultures. You don’t need to know the language. Communication is not all about speaking. A simple smile can alter perceptions of people and cultures.
Has being in Morocco changed the way that you view issues in the United States? Obviously there are issues in the U.S. such as poverty or racial/gender injustice, do you view those differently given your focus on international human rights or the experiences you’ve had elsewhere?
No. All human rights have equal importance. Human rights obligations apply no matter the people, and irrespective of the location. Acts of human rights violations are criminal and unjustifiable, wherever and whenever, and by whomsoever commits them. Not a single State can claim to have a perfect human rights record. There are issues and concerns in every country in the world.
You must enjoy the work you do given the incredible amount of effort you’ve put into your projects, but do you find anything about your work that “gets you down,” so to speak? Do you find it difficult to do this work in any way?
I do enjoy the work I do, very much so. But you are right, it can get you down; and it sometimes does. It certainly puts a heavy weight on your mind. It can be difficult to research and investigate – and even stomach some of the atrocities happening around the world today. It is particularly frustrating when there are known solutions. In the human rights field there is a heavy focus on the negative because this is where we work and try to make change. But many countries have progressed and there are success stories as well. I feel it is important to highlight the positive with the negative, notably for your mental well-being.
If you could summarize the importance of your work in Morocco, how would you summarize it? What do you find to be valuable about what you have done?
It is hard to quantify accomplishments during Peace Corps service. I was involved in a people-to-people program. My success, like other volunteers’, could not be judged by major economic or social changes, but through the individuals I taught and befriended. But the scope and rewards of my own field operations exceeded any of my expectations. I have to admit, I was absolutely engrossed by this work. It was not just the cross-cultural challenges, but the full scope of people-to-people relations that captivated me. I like to think my Moroccan students, colleagues, and friends are different as a result of my presence in Morocco. I know I am.
If you were asked to pick one special moment during your Peace Corps service that really had an impact on you, which moment would you choose?
That’s easy; meeting my wife, Yousra. She was a contractor for the United States government and I saw her often. I saw her my very first day in Morocco but did not speak to her until six months later when we both had work Marrakech. I asked her if she would like to go for a walk and talk. We did. And we’ve been together ever since. I had never imagined being married in Morocco, certainly never imagined such family joy or family love from Moroccans. These were unexpected blessings. All my best Peace Corps memories are with her. Her laugh and smile inspire me anew every day.