This past Monday, Emily and I accompanied some of the Fatima kids on a field trip to a nearby Club Med. The goal of the trip was to introduce the students to some of the professions in the hotel industry – we heard talks from staff in the cleaning, cooking, and ‘Mini Club’ (babysitting, essentially) departments. Each staff member heavily emphasized the value of hard work and starting small, alluding to travel and job stability as the reward for those who persevered within the Club Med system. Some of the staff members we talked to were G.O.s, meaning that they live at the Club Med, and, in their free time, are allowed to sample the village’s various amenities and activities. Hearing their stories of exciting work in foreign places, Emily and I wondered where we could sign up, but the harried look in their eyes told me that working at Club Med isn’t all jet setting and jet skiing.
As we moved through the departments, some of the girls asked a few timid questions, but, on the whole, the students didn’t seem interested in any of the professions presented to them. Perhaps it was just shyness, or perhaps, the fear of committing to a profession (I can definitely relate). When we talk to the students about what they want to do after their impending graduation from Fatima, most of the kids say they want to be cooks, beauticians, or entertainers. Yet, the follow-up question, “Why?” usually receives a blank stare. These are the professions to which they are exposed, both by the vocational programs at their school and the burgeoning tourist culture down the street. Part of me sees the necessity of preparing them for jobs in the widening tourist sector, yet part of me wishes we could inspire them to consider a broader range of options. As ELI Africa fellows, we occupy a liminal position – simultaneously encouraging the students towards professions within their comfort zone, and attempting to inspire them to consider options about which even we are uncertain. For all of the unambiguously great moments I’ve had while here, this is one of the gray areas I find most frustrating.