Monday, September 20, 2010

The End is Near....

I can tell that my short time left in REK is starting to influence what I am doing and how I feel about what I need to get done.

First up. Met w/the ATPF group late yesterday after finally returning from Mehdia (with new PCV group) and Fes. On the positive side, they’re excited about the prospect of being included in the Ribat El Kheir day trip for tourists. They’ll get paid to show tourists how to make the traditional breads (i.e.; xubz, harsha, miloui) and cookies/sweets (i.e.; shbkya) of Morocco. We’ve now got everyone in REK and Fes on board w/the itinerary options, just need to agree on a meeting time to get them all together with Gail and Michele so there’s complete understanding and transparency.

Next I gave them their final print-ready logos and business cards. They also told me that they’re struggling to make the rent each month, as sales have been slow-Ramadan not helping at all. They’re thinking of moving to a smaller, more affordable space. Sounds like a good plan.

We also discussed at length the cheese making information workshop scheduled for next Saturday w/Eva and Fouzia coming from Meknes. All of this was sorted out, only to receive an email from Eva late last night, after meeting w/ATPF, that she’s not coming after all. Seems she’s concerned w/too many cheese makers and not enough customers, so is now not willing to share her experience w/the ATPF women. (Anecdotally she’s still encouraging the women pursue sewing or tanning of rabbit skins. Hello. The women here are just trying to make an educated decision on whether to pursue cheese making.) Thanks anyway. Next step? I think give the cheese making idea a rest, pass along all the contact info to my successor and see if the women are motivated enough to pursue it later. If not, then it wasn’t important enough to them in the first place.

Meriem and Amina have also been approached for help by 2 young, unmarried, pregnant girls in town who have been thrown out of their respective homes by their families. I’m trying to find out more about the women and children’s shelter in Fes that Gail has worked with-Inshallah they can help out.

Quick discussion w/Maqol about the Women in Technology project. He’s spoken w/Widad and understands the opportunity, but says none of the women in REK want to pay for training. I told him that’s too bad but they must be willing to invest themselves. I’m not about to try to help them find more funding. This is an amazing opportunity that they’re turning away, but if they’re not sufficiently motivated to invest a few DH each week, then that’s their decision. Just don’t complain about “no way to make money”-it takes an investment to make money. No handouts. Safi.

I’ve got a message out to Bouchra at Al Akhawayn University. I’d really like to get a final meeting set up to hand off the Fair Trade Website project to another PCV who is interested in pursuing it. I’ve also passed along info on the Cultural Complex in Fes that Jess used for her exhibition to the SBD Program staff. I think it would make a really terrific (and affordable) location for the next Marche Maroc Fes next spring. More and more I’m finding myself in the position of getting things ready to pass off, rather than finish up.

As I mentioned, I did have a chance to meet the 68 new volunteers who arrived in Morocco last week to begin their training and 2 years of service. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we started, until I fielded some of their questions. They appear to be a really good group-great attitudes, energy, etc. Good luck to them all as they get started in their new CBT sites around the Fes and Azrou regions.

And now a bit of info on the status of education in Morocco, courtesy of the GAD Committee for PC Morocco: In January 2004 the King of Morocco, despite much resistance from religious fundamentalists, introduced reform measures to the family code providing more freedoms for the girls of Morocco. While the new reforms have provided a platform for change, the messages are still not reaching many rural communities and are meeting resistance by long held social and cultural beliefs. These restraints are hindering the education system in regard to the discrepancies between girls and boys education.

Primary education is free and compulsory for kids 6-13 but 70% of Morocco’s rural population is illiterate, for women in rural areas the rate of illiteracy raises to 82%. While women participate in up to 41.4% of economic activities, their enrollment an illiteracy rates are ominously low. The majority of those jobs going to women, especially in rural areas, are low qualifying and of low compensation.

Aware of these issues the King has invested a lot of money in social and human development activities, declaring education as the country’s second national priority. The government initiated a ten-year charter program in 2001 to eradicate illiteracy. While the National Education and Training charter was well intentioned, illiteracy rates still remain very high nine years later and there has been recognized need to focus on promoting adult education classes in addressing retention issues.

The quality of schooling is additionally in question as a large number of students leave school without basic numeracy and literacy skills. The UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report in 2009 recorded that 30% of Moroccan children did not reach the basic competency thresholds. In 2008, official figures found that only 38% of baccalaureate test takers passed their exam, with over half of those passing being girls. This last year, the highest scorer on the BAC exam was a young Moroccan girl. While the percentage of those who passed is rather low, it is encouraging to see that girls are also among some of the highest scoring individuals.

Programs funded by USAID are trying to work on the issue of equal education for girls and boys and has found that rural communities are most hardly hit due to economic and cultural strains in the community. The USAID identified that education in rural Morocco faces barriers such as the direct/indirect costs of schooling, the toll of poverty, traditional and cultural views of women in society, concerns for girls safety, parents illiteracy, family perception and school-level constraints such as lack of infrastructure, water, electricity, latrines, teachers housing, school distance, poor teaching and learning environment, inequitable treatment and a low female teacher population. Moroccan Observatory of Children Rights (ONDE) found % of rural children suffer from at least one of the above mentioned problems against only 13% in urban areas.

To change things, support will need to come from programs that are locally developed and rely primarily on local resources. It is important to communicate how the benefits of girl’s education and education for all outweigh the costs at all levels. USAID found that when indigenous girls in rural areas are able to complete primary education, entire communities benefit as girls become more informed citizens, more productive and knowledgeable, place fewer social and economic strains on their communities and have greater opportunity and increased life choices.

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