The majority of the US population views education as an entitlement. While one can argue the many shortcomings of our educational system, by and large, education is available to all. This is certainly not the case in many developing countries.
On a recent trip to Morocco, my family and I had the opportunity to visit with an incredible group of young women at a privately funded all girls boarding house in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains, an hour outside of Marrakech. While Morocco is typically hailed as a beacon for women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa, underneath all of the positive publicity lies a rather heartbreaking reality for many Moroccan women.
Recent surveys in Morocco estimated the country’s illiteracy rate to be approximately 55% of all women and 90% of rural women. Although women are increasingly joining the workforce, one of the biggest obstacles for women is their primary responsibility for caretaking in the home, which prevents them from going to school or fully participating in public life. Very often, parents place little value on their daughters education and do not allow them to attend school because they are “only destined for marriage and motherhood.”
Additionally, parents often cannot afford to pay for lodgings near schools, nor do they have confidence in the existing facilities near schools to entrust their daughters to be away from home. As girls enter adulthood, prevailing societal attitudes and logistical difficulties prevent women from gaining access to schools or literacy programs.
Fortunately, NGO's (Non Government Organization), like Education for All, have established all girl boarding houses that are helping to provide the opportunity of secondary education for girls from rural Moroccan communities. The boarding house we visited offered housing for girls from 10 to 14 years old. We were welcomed by Latifa Aliza, the house mother, and we could immediately feel the warmth and selflessness with which the house was run. Latifa spoke to us about the girls, the community, as well as the story of her fortunate educational opportunity.
The walls, while organized, were peppered with inspirational stories, art, community outreach endeavors, as well as a family tree of graduates. The boarding house even had a technology / computer room with internet access; a luxury for which many public schools in the US do not have the resources. Although English is the third most common language after standard Arabic and French, I could not resist the opportunity to provide the school with free subscriptions to MyloWrites!
Exposing my children to different cultures and lifestyles is an important philosophy and objective of mine. Helping children, and offering a chance at greater opportunities is a common goal we share with Education for All. The vision for Dar Asni boarding home is: “To give girls the chance of a College Education in Morocco because we believe that if you educate a girl, you educate the next generation as well.”
As President Obama said, if a country is educating its girls, and if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward. Education is a silver bullet for empowering women and girls worldwide. When girls are educated, their families are healthier, they have fewer children, they wed later, and they have more opportunities to generate income. These girls reminded me how critically important education is to peace, prosperity and empowerment. Among other fortunate young women in Morocco, the girls we visited represent the future of a country moving forward.