Shaler Area alum recognized for Peace Corps service
Olivia DiNucci's Moroccan Peace Corps experience allowed her to complete a lifetime's worth of humanitarian work while integrating herself into another culture.
DiNucci, a Glenshaw-native, served with her husband, Kabir Moss, a native of Chico, Calif., in the coastal town of Essaouira from 2014 through 2016. She extended her service with a solo year in Douar Ladaam outside Marrakech, returning to the United States in June.
“I always wanted to be involved with social justice work and I was always eager to travel and live in other areas of the world and so the Peace Corps is such an incredibly opportunity,” DiNucci, 26, said.
In Essaouira, she facilitated a Girls Leading Our World Camp offering a safe space for empowerment and self-esteem building. The former Emerson College basketball player and Shaler Area Athletic Hall of Fame member also launched a girls' traveling basketball camp, in addition to implementing women's healthy lifestyles workshops. Furthermore, DiNucci and her colleagues organized classes focusing on sexual harassment training.
Due to her womens and girls equal rights and empowerment efforts, the U.S. Embassy and Peace Corps contacted her to nominate girls to participate in the Let Girls Learn program promoting equal education access. She and the nominees met with former first lady Michelle Obama and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto in Marrakech to discuss the education challenges girls in Morocco face. Thereafter, DiNucci served as a liaison to Obama, Pinto and Streep when they filmed “We Will Rise,” a CNN Films documentary about Obama's mission to promote girls education worldwide.
“And if breaking fast at Meryl Streep's table during Ramadan wasn't surreal enough, we were later told that all 44 girls involved from Morocco and Liberia were invited to the White House for a premiere of the film and to participate in the first Let Girls Learn Exchange Program,”
DiNucci said. “These girls are more and more on the trajectory of not being second-class citizens, which is so amazing to be a part of.”
During their first two months in Essaouira, DiNucci and Moss resided with a host family prior to moving into an apartment. She wrote on her blog that the couple noticed that their host mother, Khadija, worked “absolute magic in the kitchen” from the first time they dined together. As a result, DiNucci helped her launch an in-home cooking business, Khadija's Kuzina, to share her host mother's gift with others.
As the field manager for Project Soar — a nonprofit headquartered in Douar Ladaam aiming to empower girls through after-school activities — she managed a program to expand the organization to 17 communities throughout Morocco. DiNucci continues to work as a Project Soar consultant. “I have been working with youth for 47 years and Olivia is in my top five for a human being blending compassion with passion with vision, and of course commitment,” said Gregg Dietz, former Shaler Area High School counselor and M-Powerment womens social justice group adviser. “I could tell on first meeting her in ninth grade that she was a difference maker — both her talk and her walk were full of values and morals.”
DiNucci said the most challenging aspect of her service occurred when she and Moss spent three months in training studying the multiple languages spoken throughout the country.
“You are basically a toddler because you can't read, you can't speak, all of your meals are being prepared for you. You are told when to go to bed. And you're told, ‘OK, tomorrow we're going to this wedding and this funeral and this and this.'”
Nonetheless, DiNucci thinks she and Moss would consider a future Peace Corps stint.
“I really want people to understand how much of an impact it made on my life. It really opened my mind and created so much room for empathy. I was learning every day.”
Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune- Review contributor.