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The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education

by High Atlas Foundation
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education
The Bernard Mejean Fund for Girls' Education

In 1993, for the month before my traveling to live in the Tifnoute Valley just south of Mount Toubkal, I lived in a small house on the outer edge of the village of Tassa Ouirgane, just north of Toubkal. There, I learned conceptually the delicate balance in meeting developmental and environmental goals at the same time, the time consuming and sometimes tranquil obligation to fetch drinking water, and depth in faith feeling comfortable with a sense of personal purpose without knowing what it is. They were, I presume, typical initial days of one’s Peace Corps Volunteer service.

Tassa Ouirgane, today, is the location where mid-teenage girls – denied middle school education for socio-cultural-economic-geographic reasons – have created a cooperative managing a fruit tree nursery that serves their region. Cruel gender norms of lifelong consequence thwarted their participation in school, and those norms and divisions have now been overcome in the economic sphere, with the girls’ cultivation and ownership of thousands of little trees that will uplift the region with food and income bounty, once they sell them.

Let’s help the Tassa Ouirgane cooperative plant in their nursery 40,000 walnut, carob, pomegranate, almond and fig trees in 2020. There is no travel involved, no density created; the precautions to keeping COVID 19 at bay are still in full force, as two teams of two girls in shifts and distance plant along an agricultural terrace located within their own mountain village.

In the past years, the High Atlas Foundation, with UNDP-GEF and USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer program (F2F), facilitated planning workshops with the five girls who formed their cooperative. Managerial and agricultural technical topics were covered with regular sessions. The men’s village association first started the tree nursery, and handed the project to the girls, who are determined, hard-working, and now earning income. Let’s further reinforce the reality that empowerment can be found in all paths. One of the girls returned to school, with the added confidence found in cooperative sisterhood.

$20,000 will plant the 40,000 fruit seeds with the girls, who will grow them into saplings and sell them to farming families in the Marrakech-Safi region. Give to a project that is all about cooperative building, gender justice, girls’ education, and food security. Help this nursery born from international friendship to flourish. Former Peace Corps Volunteer and F2F Volunteer Mark Apel also helped Tassa Ouirgane know even better days, decades after his sojourn with its people.

The fund created in loving memory of Bernard Mejean supports girls’ education and achieves the change that was in his heart. Established by Bernard’s family, the fund provides the means for girls to stay or return to school, by promoting essential infrastructure and personal empowerment to affirm and make informed decisions. The precipitous drop in girls’ participation in education between primary and middle school is knee-bending when we try to grasp the loss of people’s potential, especially when we imagine the devastating feeling for the girls when they realize their formal education is over.

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At the High Atlas Foundation with our community partners, we learned together that empowered people have self-belief, experienced depths of self-discovery, and have capacities and confidence to assess and then make decisions. Empowered people forge and implement plans of actions for development that is considerate of a range of social and environmental factors, inclusive of all interested people and sectors, and is sustainable.

For years, we believed and acted accordingly, that if only the historically-denied and controlled groups of humanity were integrated into decision-making processes that impact upon their lives, then outcomes will be fair and equitable. However, what we learned was that first assisting people as they heighten their own liberation, and understanding of relationships and conditions that may hold them back, is a necessary predecessor so that they can make their best decisions. At HAF, communities first envision, affirm, and know their recourses before planning and creating the projects to uplift their families and regions.

Our everlasting gratitude is to the nearly 700 women in 10 provinces who participated in one of the 24 workshops of four-days each, to catalyse their being agencies of change. Cooperatives developed, girls returned to school, familial harmony rose, and greater financial independence was achieved.

On this day, we call out to all potentially interested partners and all desiring participants to further embark with us on this empowered life course.

Our deep gratitude extends to the nation of Morocco that has built the policy, legal, and reform frameworks for launching and supporting greater freedoms for the benefit of women and girls. It is upon all of us to help ensure fulfilment in participation, especially in regards to rural girls’ education, particularly secondary and high schools and universities being of upmost importance.

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This is the story of Selma, a little girl who is 11 years-old. She is one the 38% of the population who live in the rural areas, and of the mere 26% of girls living there who go to school. She lives in a small village in the heights of the Atlas Mountains, close to Marrakech, a cosmopolitan city.

Selma is very lucky because her parents push her to study, which is far from being the case for all the families living in the rural areas. For many, the “good place” of a woman is still at home, ideally fuelled by cultural norms where the so-called traditional roles of men and women predominate. Selma’s mother, Janna, is illiterate, and she only knows how to write her name. She is one the millions of Moroccans who have never entered a classroom. She got married at 16, the age at which most European girls are in their first year of high school.

In Selma’s village, there is a school. Sometimes the access conditions to the educational infrastructures are very bad: the closest schools are still far from home, or to reach them requires taking dirt roads that can be dangerous. Out of 100 girls in her village, Selma is one of 48 who will go on to secondary school. Will she be among the 40.8% to continue to college?

Also, Selma has the opportunity to speak Amazigh and Arabic languages thanks to her aunt, who was able to leave her village to live in the city. Rural people speak some form of Tamazight when Arabic is the most commonly spoken language in the country. Selma’s neighbour and friend, Yasmine, only speaks Tamazight so she has to stay at home while Selma is going to school. The classes are taught in Arabic and the teachers, who are not from the village, know nothing about Selma and Yasmine’s first language.

The omnipresence of school dropouts, especially girls, causes problems in rural Morocco. Parents provide for their families, sometimes with great difficulty. Poor living conditions force girls to stay at home to help.

It has been suggested that education threatens a woman's likelihood and ability to marry. Let us stop defining a woman by her status as a mother or a wife; she is foremost a woman. Not all women aspire to the same life, and this is fortunate, for variety is “the spice of life.”

Too often, the first question a woman is asked, even before knowing her first name, is "Do you have children,” thus positioning motherhood as the pinnacle of her life. But not all women dream of giving birth, of having a nice husband with whom she could buy a detached house, own a dog, and go on holiday to a seaside resort. What could be more reductive than to lock a woman into the sole role of being procreative, making a woman who does not want children "abnormal" or a sterile woman "shameful"? Why point the finger at this woman who doesn't want to be a mother and accuse her of selfishness? Isn't it the opposite? Isn’t the woman who chooses not to raise children not only protecting unwanted children from growing up in potentially poor conditions but also sparing the Earth from population beyond its capacity? 

The key to emancipation, to open-mindedness, is education; it is also a fundamental right of every human being. A woman is a human being, entitled to the same rights.

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On November 20th the International Day of Childhood and Adolescence Rights is celebrated throughout the world.

 The date reminds us of the day when the United Nations General Assembly adopted in 1989 the Convention on the Rights of Children and Adolescents and more than 190 countries have ratified it. The purpose of the day is to promote global togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children's welfare.

 Despite the improvements in recent years, the situation remains untenable. According to UNICEF, there are about 246 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 who work, and 180 million are employed in occupations that fall within the worst forms of exploitation surveyed by the International Labor Organisation.

 Naturally, the living conditions of children are not the same in all over the world and sometimes there are significant differences in the same country. This is the case of Morocco, where the gap between rural and urban areas is one of the main obstacles for the country's development.

One of the biggest problem is illiteracy. According to UNESCO, 1,137,546 children, teenagers and young people have not received a primary or secondary education and most of them come from rural areas. Many rural areas are lacking in infrastructure, such as access to drinking water, healthcare centers, electricity, public transport, and schools, which are often located many kilometers from villages.

Despite this, some progress has been made in recent years thanks to new reforms and many organizations and associations which promote the development and welfare of children.One civil group is the "Al Karam Association", which was created in 1997 by Karima M'kika and deals with the safeguard of children in difficult situation. Located in Marrakech and Safi, al Karam is an active association for vulnerable children living on the street.Its team of thirty three employees includes coordinators, educators, psycologists, animators, social workers, and trainers.At Al Karam Association, children study, take courses in English and French and improve their computer skills, they eat every day good food and spend part of their time playing with animators.

 The High Atlas Foundation has the Sami’s Project that encourages children to become advocates for education, socio-economic community development and environmental conservation through the participatory approach. Through small-scale fruit tree farming at schools and children protection centers, HAF supports children’s advocacy by exploring with them the direct impact of innovative agricultural techniques on families' income. By supporting girls‘ education and basic infrastructure in rural schools, HAF creates an indespensible foundation for a sustainable and prosperous future. HAF and community partners also collaborate with schools building and refurbishing buildings, bathrooms and student and teacher housing and installing clean drinking water systems.

 In conclusion, there are still many problems that the country must solve, but thanks to all the realities that are committed to ensuring the well-being and safety of children the situation in Morocco will certainly improve, inshallah.

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The exclusion of illiterate women from the community was the motive for fighting against illiteracy. Today - accompanied by Amina, HAF’s Director of Projects, Ilyas - HAF’s photographer, and Hassan the driver and assistant - we supervised a ceremony for a group of women of the Aboughlou cooperative who benefited from the literacy program.

Aboughlou is a women’s cooperative that was created in 2013 and is supervised by Rachida. She has a personality of both firmness and strength, and is also fluent in Arabic and Amazigh. Aboughlou, comprised of 33 members, specializes in preparing traditional Moroccan food such as Couscous, Barkoukch, and Zamita. In addition, the women cook bread with various grains including barley and wheat. Lastly, Aboughlou cooperative members work in their nursery of flowers, which they dry and sell, including for export.

In an interview with some of the beneficiaries of the program to combat illiteracy, participants explained that this program served as an outlet and was the first step for change. “It is very easy for each of us to read words or phrases on a wall, but for a woman who had no luck to go to school or training in a particular area, it is difficult,” said one woman.

As women have struggled for six months to learn the letters, today their efforts were celebrated in a ceremony of great joy. A 60 year-old woman who is fighting illiteracy is a testament to women’s abilities and desire to challenge themselves and society. How proud she was sharing with us her joy in being able to write her name for the first time at the age of 60.

These women owe a lot to Fatima, who has been devoted to teaching women how to read and write for years. Six hours a week of study led by Fatima resulted in participants’ progress.

As the literacy program for these women proved to be beneficial, the High Atlas Foundation is committed to continuing to improve its methodology and to expanding the program with other women and girls of cooperatives and associations.

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @haffdtn
Project Leader:
Fatima Zahra Laaribi
New York, NY United States
$20,961 raised of $90,000 goal
 
57 donations
$69,039 to go
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