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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

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.

She stands out in my memory as the most beautiful girl in the room. Her eyes bright with desire and friendship. She wore bold jewelry--a big ring and matching necklace. She was silly and wanted to talk and take pictures. She ran down to the creek first and asked me to scoop her up some water to drink. Her name is Hakima. She introduced herself to me on Monday, and then on Tuesday I found out she is “the girl who doesn’t want to go to school.”

I went to sleep Monday night thinking about the promise and leadership Hakima possessed. She ran up to me as soon as our first women’s empowerment evaluation was completed, grabbed my hand, and led me down to the awe-inspiring area of the Tifnout valley in the High Atlas Mountains where they live. Out of twenty-two girls, she was the least shy. She was the most excitable. She was a leader in so many ways--how she carried herself, encouraged the other girls, and even just by flashing her gorgeously piercing smile she seemed to make a difference. She wanted to be friends and so did I. I couldn’t wait to see her again the next day.

It can be haunting learning someone’s story after you’ve already perceived them one way. That’s the double-edged beauty of stories, I think. Or even hearing a story and then figuring out whose story it is. That can be worse. Because at first it seems possible but not probable, at first you feel sad and confused but that confusion is simply confusion. When I heard Monday afternoon that there was one girl in the village who refused to go to school when she had the opportunity, I thought that seemed silly, but I bet she would start going after the women’s empowerment retreat. I figured she was one of the shy girls, hiding behind her hands in conversation, pulling part of her scarf over her mouth. Not Hakima. Not my friend, the fearless and vibrant leader.

Tuesday, I sat in the back of a hot and stuffy classroom, listening to a final evaluation in Arabic, with sporadic translations for us interns. I was in and out of focus, thinking about the village, thinking about my own life. Amina’s translation pierced through my stream of consciousness--“Hakima, why don’t you want to go to school?” The girls started lightly laughing, meanwhile my stomach dropped.

The last seven weeks instantly came into focus. Yossef often repeats that Morocco has vast potential, and over and over again goals are not met, trees are not planted, clean water cannot be attained, girls do not continue their education. Hakima does not want to continue her education. Hakima, my fourteen-year-old friend, nonchalantly answered Amina’s question with some comment about seeking marriage.

 Although this story has been and will be repeated all over Morocco, all over the world, Hakima’s face, name, and story sit in my heart with pain and hope. Hakima, I pray that you will know marriage and education can coexist. I pray that you will continue to lead in your village and share your smile. I pray that you will go to class tomorrow and work on your walnut tree nursery. You have so much strength and potential. I will be your friend always.

In Morocco, just 26% of girls--in contrast to 79% of boys--residing in rural areas are enrolled in primary school.  Furthermore, rates of school dropout--particularly between primary and secondary school--are 15% higher for rural girls than for boys, and three times higher for rural girls compared to urban girls.  In effect, the gender gap in literacy is large, and girls continue to be marginalized into womanhood.

Barriers to girls’ education are numerous.  In these impoverished rural areas, the costs associated with sending children to school are too high.  Schools are often far away and transportation unaffordable.  Walking to school is not only time-consuming, but can be dangerous, and health risks are exacerbated when schools do not have clean drinking water or sanitation facilities.  Moreover, parents are reluctant to send daughters to dormitory schools given high costs and safety concerns.  Gender role expectations--including domestic work and marrying young--also keep girls from receiving their education.  Taken together, families will prioritize sending their boys to school--over sending their girls. 

The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) is committed to addressing the barriers to girls education on infrastructural, social, and financial levels.

Access to clean-water and toilets significantly increases girls’ education outcomes, not only by improving the health and safety of school environments, but also by removing the burden of traveling far to collect water from their responsibilities, thus, granting them the time to attend school.  HAF, with its partners, has supported the construction of clean drinking water systems in rural Morocco.

The lack of access to education in girls’ lives perpetuates their marginalization into womanhood.  HAF facilitates workshops and trainings in women’s empowerment to help women gain the skills, develop the confidence, and secure the resources necessary to improve their livelihoods, strengthen their autonomy, and achieve their dreams.  When sharing their dreams, many participating women--most, if not all, of whom are illiterate--relate their visions to education, seeing it as the key to achieve their goals.  By facilitating participatory-action workshops--such as one in Anamer village in March 2018--HAF has learned firsthand of the issues women face in the absence of receiving an education.  For instance, illiteracy is a major barrier for women hoping to establish cooperatives, as they cannot perform administrative and legal requirements. 

Following HAF’s women’s empowerment workshops, women frequently pledge to return to school or commit to sending their daughters back to school.  At the conclusion of this particular 4-day training, a 16-year old girl--who dropped out of secondary school at age 12--volunteered to teach the women how to read.  They have since begun a basic literacy program, which has grown from 10 to 40 women from this village.  Moreover, the teacher has seen the students progress so quickly, that she is seeking advanced literacy training for herself!

Women’s Empowerment Facilitator, Fatima-Zahra Laaribi, noticed that at the beginning of the workshop, when the women were asked about their visions, they found it challenging to imagine.  As the workshop progressed, they recognized that once education was a possibility, their dreams could be realized.

Moreover, whenever HAF invites university volunteers, such as those from the Universite Privee de Marrakech (UPM), to join environmental workshops and tree-planting events, the Foundation encourages women university students to share their paths and stories with the girl students.  In particular, we ask them to share how they have been able to finance their education, as some of the UPM volunteers are on partial or full scholarships.

With HAF, the Bernard Mejean Scholarship Fund provides support to enable young females in Taza Province to pursue high school and higher education. This fund contributes to the costs of books, school supplies, and further course instruction for driven female youth, and will alleviate the financial burden of travel and enrolling in high schools or universities far from the students' homes.  The Fund was created in memory of Bernard Mejean, who was born and raised in Morocco and went on to continue his studies in the United States.  Bernard’s brother, Bruno, began the scholarship to provide the tools and resources needed to underprivileged girls to achieve their dreams of pursuing higher education.

Educating girls is among the most impactful ways of breaking cycles of rural poverty and improving the wellbeing of communities.  Join HAF in taking a multi-tiered approach to breaking barriers to girls’ education, and support the Bernard Mejean Scholarship Fund.  By contributing to the Fund, you are empowering girls through education, bringing them closer to their dreams.

 

Links:

Taza Province Scholars
Taza Province Scholars

During the summer vacation months, including Ramadan, tutoring of the Taza high school students has slowed down.  However, their service learning projects at the local orphanage continue.  Because of your continued support, the High Atlas Foundation, including the partnership of Wahiba Estergard, contributes to this orphanage to help meet its essential material needs for the young children, as well as staffing needs.

Moreover, the alumni association of the school in Rabat, Lycee Descartes, has identified a young woman to offer a scholarship. This fund will participate in providing the necessary economic support for this incoming student to have an excellent high school education. Bruno Mejean and his family, in memory of his brother and family member Bernard, have made this scholarship on the part of HAF possible.

Thank you also to GlobalGiving and YouthSpark, and all the contributors, who have made teaching young girls in high school, and in preparation for it, possible for our participants. We raised nearly eight thousand dollars during the Global Giving YouthSpark Bonus Day on June 25! To view the past report for YouthSpark Bonus Day, click the link below.

Links:

The tutoring of high school students in the Taza Province is in full swing and the results are stunning. Since January, we've added a sixth program participant, and two additional tutors, Mustapha and Khalid.  Hanan is still coordinating the program and reports that the students are "dedicated to their studies, eager to learn, and look forward to bright futures.  The Bernard Mejean Fund offers our students a great opportunity to meet their goals and improve their performance in school."  Our Global Giving donors are providing these students with a unique opportunity to take control of their futures and gain access to further educational and development opportunities.  The students' report cards are in, and all six have earned high marks.  

To help our supporters get to know a little bit about the students, we've asked three to send some information about their studies and interests.  Here's what they shared:

  • Fatima is studying to obtain a Physical Sciences Baccalaureate and she enjoys sports, reading, music and travel.
  • Smahane is studying to obtain a Physical Sciences Baccalaureate and she enjoys sports, reading, and travel.
  • Ikrame is studying to obtain a Physical Sciences Baccalaureate and she enjoys sports, reading, music and travel.

The students are working towards attending university in the future.  They've learned valuable lessons through service-learning activities including volunteering with non-profits, including with the local orphanage and homeless shelter. This volunteer program prepares students for a promising future by developing their professional skills and engaging them with the associations that provide human services to their communities.  Students have also been awarded the chance to participate in youth development forums and to meet with community leaders.  Your support makes it possible for the Bernard Mejean Fund and the High Atlas Foundation to support the education goals of these dedicated students to flourish.  Thank you for helping to create brighter futures for Moroccan youth.

 

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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
$20,681 raised of $90,000 goal
 
52 donations
$69,319 to go
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