“Education, education, education.” No matter your opinion of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, there’s no denying that he had a point. And while education for all is a given in some parts of the world, it’s a different story elsewhere – especially where girls are concerned.
But does it have to be that way? Education For All – PURE Life Experience’s charity partner in Morocco – works tirelessly to secure girls’ futures by giving them the chance to have an education. Meet Fatima, their first student to have defied all odds by taking on a Master’s degree…
An education is no easy thing to come by for girls living in rural areas of Morocco. It didn’t take Fatima – a boarder at Education For All turned Master’s student, originally from the Moroccan village of Imlil – long to realise this growing up. “People didn’t care about education for girls”, she recounts. “They thought girls should stay at home after primary school and get married four or five years after that.”
People’s opinions weren’t her only obstacle: logistics played their part. “The primary education offered in my village wasn’t very good, either – in winter, we’d only have a few hours of school a week.” Secondary school also came with complications, as Fatima explains. With many parents – including Fatima’s – reluctant to send their daughters to study further afield, the nearest secondary school outside her village was off the cards.
Societal restrictions and geographical hindrances such as these can make their mark: “I didn’t think about what I wanted to be when I grew up as I was scared that my parents wouldn’t let me study”, Fatima admits.
But this is no sob story. Nothing stopped her dreaming – she longed for a life beyond her village, a way to expand her horizons and venture out into the wider world. And a good thing she did, too – greener pastures were only just around the corner.
It was after hearing about Education For All that Fatima’s future began to brighten. Enabling 194 girls to live in one of their five boarding houses positioned right by secondary schools, Education For All opens up a world of opportunity for girls just like Fatima, making what once seemed unfeasible a real-life possibility. The assurance of having their daughter looked after by a House Mother was what turned Fatima’s parents around. “After I heard about Education For All, I managed to convince my parents to let me go!” Fatima tells us. And that was that – her life-changing journey had begun.
It’s those simple things we take for granted that meant the world to Fatima and her peers. “Education For All offered us everything we needed to help us study – things like dictionaries and books, and many other things that we didn’t have at home”, she explains.
And while many of us are able to casually hop on a plane at our leisure, the same opportunities are not as readily available for girls living in rural Morocco. The worldly outlook provided by Education For All gave Fatima a sense of wanderlust and curiosity that not even the most crippling worries or doubts could shake. Avidly, she tells us how she and the other girls “travelled to places we would never have visited, and learned a lot about other cultures from the volunteers who came to the boarding houses.”
The lessons taught at Education For All weren’t all mathematics and languages, either. “I learned a lot about making goals and studying to achieve them, as well as organising my time”, Fatima tells us. Living in a boarding house also presented an opportunity to learn a host of life skills: “Suddenly, I had to do other things as well as study – things like cooking, shopping and so on.” These skills became fundamental to her future studies – along with her rigid determination and hours upon hours of hard work, of course. Armed with all three, Fatima made it to university – an immense achievement.
That’s not to say her academic progress came without its challenges. Fatima fills us in on the big jump between studying for her Baccalaureate at school and her work at university. “The first year at university was also hard because everything was new – moving to a big city (Marrakech), meeting new people. Plus, we had to study everything in French, which was a challenge for me.” But she didn’t let that stop her – keeping her goals in mind, she seized the opportunity with both hands, choosing to take on extra studies in accounting outside of her degree during her final years there. “It was like studying at two different schools, which was quite hard! I had very little time to relax”, she tells us.
But in the end, all her hard work paid off – and look at her now: Fatima has started studying for Master’s degree, exceeding expectations and reaching higher than anyone has in Education For All history. “I was a bit nervous about the Master’s as I knew it would be hard”, Fatima confides, “but now I’m excited!” Everyone couldn’t be prouder of her – from her House Mother at Education For All to her friends who’ve already married and settled down, her success story is a source of inspiration: one that defies all odds and completely shifts perceptions of the ‘norm’ of a woman’s place in rural Moroccan culture.
And if you’re wondering how her parents feel about her success, rest assured that they’ve entirely changed their tune: “In the beginning, my parents were not happy that I was studying, but over the years, they’ve come to see it as a good thing – now they’re really happy!”
A Moroccan girl’s education: it’s one small step for woman, and one giant step for womankind. An education is possible, and Fatima’s story is proof – both for girls in Morocco and for girls in similar positions across the globe. Her advice to other girls in her shoes? “Make goals and have dreams! If you don’t have a dream, when challenges arise, you might give up.” You heard her, girls: dare to dream.
[Photos are via Facebook]
Fancy finding out more about the work Education For All do? Or want to know how you can help? Visit their website.