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

October 17 marks the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The commemoration of this day suggests that the way to end poverty is not a matter shrouded in mystery. In fact, its celebration denotes that, at a minimum, the manner to end poverty is most likely established knowledge. While it could withstand further evaluation, its people-centered methodology is tested as plain as day, and it is as well understood as the brutality of en masse denial of the potential of our humanity.

The process of planning actions that eradicate poverty conditions is synonymous with the experience of designing sustainable development or enterprises in societies that experience long life. In a nutshell, we – the public of all walks – must plan together in consideration of the great range of factors that impact and are impacted by social change.

The intentional and unintentional forces that are leveled by societies, and that manifest due to the natural world, that cause growth or demise of an intervention in promoting our general welfare, are relevant in the different areas where we seek improvement. For example, what are the economic and environmental implications of an agricultural enterprise? What are the political repercussions of ending women’s illiteracy? What are the cultural dimensions that hinder or set free the innovation of youth? What are the technical and financial assessments of rural cooperatives’ product-processing activity? What has history taught us about the future when we establish clean drinking water projects that rid ourselves of water-borne diseases and the loss of infant life?

We must view development from all these lenses and dimensions if we are to establish projects that can, over time, strike the deepest blows into poverty. Most critically, how do we enact this kind of multifaceted dimensional planning, considering that no one person or agency can bring to bear all of these angles to identifying an effective social action? It requires the participation of the people, whose poverty is intended to be eradicated, and who are targeted to be the beneficiaries of change, to engage in their own assessment of what will be best for them, involving the inclusive dialogue among women and men, members of all ages, and sectors. Individually, they combine into the many points of view necessary in achieving the balanced design of poverty-ending projects by and for the people.

I project that the people who experience harsh poverty situations, carried down from the past and transmitted further into the future, will one day rejoice when international and domestic developmental assistance will be applied to accomplish the priorities that they determine through their own analysis, discussion, and consensus-building procedures. The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty will never know its last heralding without a number of key realities, one of them being that the matter of allocation of development finance is a community matter, and not for the strings pulled by external others. Further, the world’s Sustainable Development Goals will finally be a juggernaut on the high-road to their fulfillment, when their composition is the aggregate of all the self-defined needs of local communities and neighborhoods on the planet.

Since most poverty on earth afflicts rural people, we should acknowledge that food growers’ associations must also be processors of their bounty. Growers’ capacities must be invested in, to enable the physical infrastructure of water efficiency, to improve upon cultivation and their abilities, and to forge their cooperatives in partnerships that help attain market reach and sustainability. Many nations see the majority of rural girls not going on to secondary school, yet they can and should be breadbaskets for themselves and the blocs of nations of which they are part. A travesty of rural poverty is that it takes place in the very space where there is the vastest potential for most prosperous shared growth.

An astute truth of this International Day is that it is inextricably bound to human rights. How can we manifest the change in our hearts when we have never been asked what may be our own personal vision for our future? How can we courageously put forward our own interests when they have been denied and unacknowledged for the most part of our lives?

It is so immensely difficult and perhaps unfair to expect that we speak to power – which dominates in hamlets as it does in world affairs – when those groups who wield it have done so for ages. The eradication of poverty must start with dismantling those inhibitions and doubts that prevent the assertion of our self-belief, and instead lead to the questioning and redefinition of those relationships that oppress and control. It is then, when we enter into development planning, that we become most robust in our discovery and achievement of opportunities that will once and for all bring poverty to heel, and give rise to our best days on earth.

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The topic of gender in Morocco is one of considerable debate among the people, and it can often be controversial. In order to make progress toward a Morocco that values and makes strides toward prosperity, progressive policies that have already been adopted by the government must not only permeate throughout society at the institutional level–they and the values behind them must be known, understood, respected, and also valued among Moroccans of all walks of life. The IMAGES study conducted by UN Women and partners in Rabat-Sale-Kenitra uncovered and proved a conflicted identity and stance among its participants who are found caught between progress and traditional outlooks in regard to gender, gender norms, gender equality, women’s rights, relationships, health, work, and education. Nearly half of participants indicated that gender equality has no part in the traditions and values of Moroccan society; however, more than half agree that more needs to be done to promote egalitarianism. Among several alarming figures, 58 percent of men and 49 percent of women believe that gender equality has already been achieved in Morocco.

Because the IMAGES study found little to no delineation in beliefs between the older and younger generations, it is imperative to engage young people in awareness raising activities which promote understanding of: (1) the importance of gender equality to achieve a better Morocco, (2) the necessary role that men and boys must play in the effort to achieve gender equality, and (3) the reevaluation of what is means to be a man in Morocco (and globally). To achieve this, it is also necessary to speak to the true role of gender in Islam and its sacred texts. As the Qiwamah study conducted by UN Women in partnership with Rabita Mohammedia des Oulamas demonstrates, for example, often traditional interpretations of Islamic law, which are commonly preached and internalized by the people, contribute to false notions of gender that result in a widespread socio-cultural mindset which ultimately impedes true progress for an egalitarian Morocco, regardless of the adoption of national policies that aim to advance this very concept. HAF advocates for gender equality and women’s rights in Morocco based on its empowerment methods and the Islamic approach, combining human rights and promoting personal growth and socioeconomic independence. Gender equality isn’t solely a women’s issue. It’s a human issue which will guarantee basic human rights for all people once achieved. Thus, youth (and adults) of all genders must organize and advocate for a stronger, healthier society.

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) seeks to engage all people in the process toward Morocco’s sustainable development. It works primarily, but not exclusively, with rural communities who rely on agriculture for livelihood. HAF programs are diverse and engage people of various backgrounds and levels of influence, from their own local and household-level spheres to that of the national policy making level. It works with cooperatives, associations, and education institutions, targeting women, youth, farmers, and students of all ages–from the primary to the university level (and maintains eight university partnerships across the country). HAF eagerly promotes a gender-equitable development landscape in the country by prioritizing women’s role in development and holistically engaging communities in empowerment efforts. It aims to amplify voices that have been traditionally excluded from decision-making in their homes and communities, and even at the national level.

HAF has, since 2017, conducted 28 Empowerment workshops that are 32 hours each. A total of 755 participants, predominantly women, have benefitted from workshops in Marrakech, Al Haouz, Azilal, Boujdour, Essaouira, Mohammedia, Oujda, Taroudant, and Magouna. As a result, nine new cooperatives were established, which together include 106 members. The program is designed to empower women and girls resulting into sustainable development activities, by focusing on the following categories: money, work, emotion, relationships, sexuality, body, and spirituality. After the personally strengthening and vision-expanding experience, the participants are in an improved position to analyze their social and environmental conditions and identify opportunities that reflect their individual and group interests to which they will dedicate themselves.

Evaluation results show that of the 106 jobs (in the agro-food, artisanal, and clothing sectors) that have been created, 103 (97 percent) are women. These women have said that the cooperatives’ economic activities help them cover their household expenses, such as food, clothing, and utilities. In addition, the workshops created nine jobs for teenage girls in the private and public sectors. Seven girls returned to school due to their participation in the workshop. Since 2009, HAF conducted experiential training workshops with students of eight Moroccan universities in participatory development and empowerment, legal aid delivery, and project management and evaluation, strengthening the capacities of 3,000 people. HAF projects and work result in employment, increases in household income, social inclusion, education, well-being, and lifetime skills, impacting the lives of more than 150,000 people, mostly in the agricultural sector.

Because of its success to inspire underserved women and youth to build income-generating cooperatives, the organization has begun to integrate these workshops across its programs. Recently, the workshop curriculum has also been adapted for a male audience in an effort to promote a more holistic approach to gender work and rights-awareness in Morocco. It is also currently being adapted for an adolescent audience to be facilitated in Child Protection Centers. HAF’s staff boasts three female and two male staff members who have not only been trained in this empowerment curriculum, they have also experienced transformations within themselves and their workshop participants around Morocco.

The organization aims to create a network of motivated Gender Youth Advocates in target regions across the country who understand themselves and are galvanized to play an active role in the process toward a more egalitarian, and thus prosperous, Morocco.

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After building an organic tree nursery and a well, and after facilitating participatory meetings and trainings concerning environmental protections with the farmers and the men’s association in Tassa Ouirgane village (Al Haouz province, Marrakech-Safi region), a project financed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and managed by the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), a new approach was decidedly developed and implemented to maximize the impact of the project on the people of Tassa Ouirgane. This gender approach was encouraged and supported by National Coordinator Microfinance Program FEM - UNDP Morocco and the High Atlas Foundation.

Fourteen women from the Tassa Ouirgane village attended a 4-day Imagine Empowerment workshop January 2019. The purpose of Imagine workshops is to enable women to create the life they most want. It is considered one of the foremost personal growth trainings available. The program focuses on seven areas of life: Emotions, Relationships, Body, Money, Work, Spirituality, and Sexuality. Below are the testimonials of a girl and a woman, both of whom attended the workshop:

"My name is M. I’m divorced, and I have a daughter. I live with my father and my mother. I want to work to help my daughter, and I’m afraid to get out of the house because of society's contempt toward me and their lack of trust. I thank God because my family has helped me a lot, but I wish I could be independent.”
After 4 days of the empowerment training, she confirmed “I will not pay attention to the opinion of others. I will be working toward my vision to be independent, build my own home, and live with my daughter.” This woman is now the leader of the Takhrkhourt agricultural Cooperative.

“My name is L. I dropped out of middle school during the last school break. I started training in artisanal craft, but I don’t feel comfortable with the decision that I made, and I don’t know how I can tell my father.” On the second day of the workshop, she told the other women participants: “I informed my father about how I felt, and he agrees with my decision to return to school.”

One of the results that came from the empowerment workshop and the participatory approach meetings that were conducted afterward with the same women was the vision to create an agricultural cooperative in order to capitalize upon the village’s great natural resources. To reach this vision, the women needed technical and managerial training. This is why the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) provided them with training on the creation and role of cooperative statutes, democratic voting for decision-making in the cooperative, organizational management, environmental protection, how to plant seeds and cuttings of trees, and how to irrigate trees.

Throughout each training and workshop that the women received in 2019-2020, HAF supported them to create Cooperative Takhrkhourt, an agricultural cooperative whose membership includes one woman and four girls. Two of the girls are studying in high school, and they want to continue their studies at university. In 2020 alone, Cooperative Takhrkhourt planted 40,000 olive and walnut trees in a nursery that they manage. The nursery is supported by the Ecosia-HAF partnership.

To achieve these results means that the women of Takhrkhourt Cooperative have:

  • Made decisions about their own lives, as demonstrated by starting the cooperative that they themselves chose and created;
  • Learned how to manage their time between studies, work at the nursery, and work at home;
  • Made initial visits to the bank, local authorities, ODCO (Office du Développement de Coopération), and met other people outside of the village to promote their initiative;
  • Opened a bank account, possibly for the first time in their lives, in order to receive income and manage cooperative finances;
  • Started to receive income;
  • Begun to experience and enjoy independence and autonomy;
  • Voted for administrative members; and
  • Created space for communication between them and other visitors to learn about the project.

The women’s cooperative now wants to expand the project. They are thinking about beekeeping and growing medicinal plants in the future.

This project has become a great example to other women and the girls in rural areas that women can change their situations for the better in the ways they want--if only they have the determination and the support to make it happen.

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There are a number of reasons that explain the ascendency over decades, and now the mainstream, of participatory approaches to meaningful development. We often see that when people decide upon the project or change that they most want, that they will give their energy and time to help ensure its continuity and success. We widely appreciate that each local context has comparable similarities and differences from the others. Environments, relationships, and many other factors come together to make each location special and unique, and in regards to what is specifically appropriate and desired by its people.

But there is another indelible quality to participatory action for enduring change: that is, the experience and process itself helps to reveal the bound connections between the project sectors of life and how they impact our different social and economic groups.

For example, it sadly remains so that clean and accessible drinking water remains the most common priority that rural communities in Morocco determine for themselves. We certainly need to acknowledge that in recent decades there have been important improvements, but we also cannot deny that girls’ participation in education is seriously undermined by the lack of water and sanitation systems at rural schools and that the harsh burden of fetching water from kilometers away primarily falls upon girls and women. Accessible clean drinking water not only reduces infant mortality and enhances quality of life with less disease, but also directly and measurably (up to 16% according to the World Bank) enables girls to study with basic comfort and without shame. Thus, water access and girls’ education are positively linked.

Here is another example: Let us consider the enormity of the national demand for fruit trees, and in requiring an effective investment. What is the plan on the national level to generate trees as farming families transition from traditional barley and corn to organic fruit that can be cultivated and sold in lucrative markets, particularly as raw products are processed? It takes two years for a seed to grow into a sapling, and farmers must sow and grow crops each year in order to make most basic ends meet. The provision of land for farmers to build their nurseries as a contribution where rural communities cannot meet their needs, is one essential criteria for overcoming poverty conditions.

Partnership with government agencies that can provide land in-kind for farming communities is therefore vital for the nation to achieve its goal of billions of trees. The Department of Waters and Forests, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, provincial authorities, public universities, and thoughtful civil society groups are all in a position to grant the use of land for communities to build their nurseries. At regional levels, all these agencies have done so, which underscores the point that the interplay at all sectors, faiths, administrative tiers, and components of society, together have an inescapable and undeniable role within the sustainable development process, without which, the most critical needs of the people cannot be met, even when they are empowered, determined, organized, and committed to achieving change. Unity of all strata and sectors, when combined with the community’s own unity and consensus around their plans for actions and projects, are essential to the building of better days that we need.

Part of natural resource management is about gender and youth empowerment, just as agricultural growth is tied to social solidarity, and actions that are in unison. Financial independence of women’s cooperatives is as much bound to markets as it is to water and self-discovery, justice, and participation. The High Atlas Foundation embraces the participatory approach and participatory activities for development, because it reveals these interconnections and the multifaceted plans required to bring along all sectors, individuals, groups, and layers toward a shared fulfillment.

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As I conclude this virtual internship, I cannot help but reflect on the connections I made and the valuable skills I learned. Firstly, getting the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse group of people enhanced my communication skills, as I learned to adapt to the new circumstances of a virtual environment and improve my cultural competence.

Intercultural communication is a tenet that has guided me throughout this experience, as I constantly drew parallels and differences between the United States and Morocco. For instance, during our last meeting today, the UVA interns extended their gratitude to Yossef and Katie because they have been so attentive to our interests and constantly made us feel valued. One of the UVA interns pointed out that at her past internship, she met with her supervisor a few times over the course of the internship, but she was not given as much attention and equal treatment as this. When thanking Katie, Yossef, and other High Atlas Foundation (HAF) staff, I was thinking about the cultural component of this internship, as it played a huge role in shaping my relationships and comfort levels with HAF colleagues. The warmth and words of encouragement that were constantly reiterated made me feel validated and as though I was doing meaningful work.

In contrast, if I was to have done an internship in the United States, I feel that my colleagues and supervisor would have viewed me as inexperienced and unworthy of recognition. The reason I think this is because exchanges in the American workplace tend to be transactional and mainly focused on the completion of tasks. In Morocco, it seems as though the work culture is centered around relationship-building and individual development.

Another takeaway from this internship was the fact that I was still able to enhance my critical thinking skills and engage in a variety of tasks from a remote place. I am sure that if I had gone to Morocco, each day would have invited a new adventure for me to explore; thus, I would have been preoccupied with different activities and allured by opportunities for discovery. I was scared that the virtual conditions of this internship would limit my creativity and result in a lack of energy on my part. This unique virtual setting ended up re-energizing my passion for development work and desire to help marginalized communities due to the fact that I became more intentional about the articles and media I was exposing myself to.

I read personal accounts and heard from HAF staff about people’s experiences of not being able to continue their studies, having women’s reproductive rights policed, and seeing statistics of domestic violence cases surge during this pandemic. In absorbing all this information, I wanted to force myself to feel uncomfortable and envision myself in another person’s shoes. As a result, I humbled myself with these stories and fueled greater energy to affect economic and social change in my community and other corners of the world.

I will continue to hold myself accountable and take social responsibility for my life as well as the lives of others because in a world as unstable and scary as this, it is important to engage in small acts of kindness and keep service as a core value. To conclude, humility and discovery were the biggest takeaways from this internship, as I was able to find out more about myself as well as learn compassion from others. The High Atlas Foundation created a platform for me to advocate for historically silenced voices and delve deeper into my career interests.

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Organization Information

High Atlas Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AtlasHigh
Project Leader:
Fatima Zahra Laaribi
New York, NY United States
$23,045 raised of $90,000 goal
 
75 donations
$66,955 to go
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