Dedication: The First Lady Michelle Obama, Let Girls Learn
Growing up in a little Amazigh village called Tazarine in the desert oasis of Morocco means being born into family tribe thatis dominated by men. My community operates within a segregated system, which inherently discriminates against women because of their gender. The only expectation of a woman is to stay at home and bring up children.Women are controlled by codes of honor and shame, honor to those who fulfill this role and obey men and shame to those who decide to break these gender barriers by seeking access to public spaces, thought to be owned by men. Unfortunately, I still live in a society that still believes that women are the property of men.
I can still remember when I was nine years old my father left home and never returned, leaving my mother with four children. My mom was illiterate at the time, and being a divorced woman in such a patriarchal society has been a daily battle she has to face. My society considers us valueless because there isn’t a man in our family and we have had to stand for ourselves. My mother could not afford a good education for me and my siblings, so we went to public schools.In my free time, I would go to the QuranicSchool or Youth Center, where I first encountered Peace Corps volunteers.
Although my mother was illiterate, she believed in the power of education.“She always insisted on my education, saying,“school is what can empower a person. If I had had the chance to go to school I would have been able to stand up for myself when your father left home rather than waiting my family provides for us.” This really empowered me every morning when I was waking up to go to school.
Another obstacle I faced growing up was from my community and tribe; I was one of the girls who decided to break the silence and speak up against all the oppression that young girls like myself face for not being able to pursue their higher education in a big city. It is regarded Hshumaor shameful because for them a “good girl” is the one who gets married at an early age and spends her days looking after her husband and kids. I believe that this kind of life is not for me, I have big dreams in my life that I want to make a reality.
I finally graduated from high school in 2014 and chose to move to a big city to continue my studies at CadiAyyad University in Marrakech. I am pursuing a degree inEnglish Literature and American Society. After arriving to the University in Marrakech I discovered another set of challenges awaited me. It was my first time living by myself and being independent in a city where I face sexual harassment on a large scale, unlike my small village. Being a university student limits my ability to work, leaving me with little money, which necessitatesliving in one room with four roommates.I had to take a part-time job to help pay my rent and my expensive textbooks and school supplies.
I then became very aware of the disadvantage of the Arabic language being my second language; being an Amazigh girl I face discrimination from some of my peers for not Being Arab. There aremany stereotypes about Amazigh people; many believe to be Amazigh is to bevulnerable and weak, which is not the truth. It has been very difficult for me to build friendships with people because of these barriers.
Despite all these challenges- including being away from my home and family- I am determined to continue what I have started and be a voice for many girls in my community, Today I am fluent in Amazigh, Arabic, French, English and am hoping to learn even more. Though I am only 20 years old,I hope to be Feminist Scholar just like Fatima Mernissi.
Since encountering US Peace Corps Morocco at the age of 14 in my village, I have met a lot of volunteers who have helped me develop my personality and skills. Now I am helping the volunteers around Marrakech run many programs, which foster Youth Development, including programs centred on Let Girls Learn. I know first hand how influential Peace Corps was to me and I hope to be that same ray of hope to young girls who feel helpless and disempowered by being an example of independence and the power of education. Most recently, I have been working with Project Soar Morocco, a U.S. based non-profit organization that supports and empowers girls hoping to impact many girls in my country and worldwide. Let Girls Learn has been an initiative I fought for with my life and one I continue to embody.
I never thought I would go to the United States of America, let alone to the White House, through my hard work with Peace Corps Morocco I got selected to meet the First Lady Michelle Obama last June after her trip to Liberia. She came to Morocco and joined up with Frieda Pinto, Meryl Streep and Isha Sasay. We 22 Moroccan girls had a very inspiring roundtable talk about the challenges that young women like myself face in order to get an education. The First Lady shared with us her success story and advised us to work harder and be powerful in order to succeed in life. After that, I thought that was it. We met her in a very wonderful week and that’s it, I will never see any of these people again. But, I was wrong. The First lady wanted to see us again, but this time in her house. We got an invitation from Mrs. Obama to come to the White House to celebrate International Day of the Girl in which we met the girls from Liberia and shared many inspiring stories that motivated me every day to work harder and be the change I wanted to see in the world