Thank you to all those PUREists who donated to Education For All – together, we raised an impressive total of £18,157.57, which is enough to support over 21 girls for a year.
If you’d still like to help, visit efamorocco.org to find out how.
No matter where or under what circumstances they’re brought up, it seems bunk beds hold the same allure for children all over the world. And the girls at the Education For All boarding house in Asni don’t mess around with your standard dual-level sleeping quarters; oh no, we’re talking three-tier.
Apparently the pecking order is arranged by age, with the youngest housemates (from 11 years old) occupying the lower bunks, while the older girls (anywhere up to the age of 16) earn the right to the elevated status, both literally and figuratively speaking, that the higher beds afford.
But from wherever you’re perched, you’d never guess this was a room shared by six excitable young girls – the beds are so immaculately made and the space is entirely devoid of clutter, with each girl’s meagre belongings stowed neatly away in a cupboard no bigger than a school locker. The reason they’re so tidy, explains House Mother Latifa, is that they’re used to communal living back in the rural villages they call home.
So why are they here, miles from their families? Hailing from all over the Atlas Mountains, these girls are the lucky few. Schools in the sticks cater only for primary education, and while boys are free to travel further afield to continue with secondary learning, cultural and financial barriers mean it’s not so easy if you happen to be born to the fairer sex.
Enter Education For All, which facilitates access to education for girls by providing them with a free, safe place to live near to the colleges they attend. Opened in 2007, this house in Asni was EFA’s first full-scale project; but now, less than ten years later, the charity funds five boarding houses and has 164 schoolgirls in its care, along with another 18 who have smashed the odds by making it to university.
Having originally relied on Berber ambassadors to build trust among locals unhappy at the thought of letting their daughters out of sight, the houses are now wildly oversubscribed, “which itself is evidence that the project is working and is valued by the local community”, says committee member and fundraiser Mike McHugo.
But with success comes responsibility, and while EFA has the support of several passionate individuals, schools and major donors – along with the profits from the Marrakech Atlas Étape cycling event, which the charity organises – Mike admits he loses sleep thinking about what could happen if the money runs out. Although the only administrative expenses are modest salaries for a cook and house mother in each of the houses, accommodating each girl costs around €1,000 a year – so the annual bill is certainly headache-worthy.
But Mike is not to be deterred. In fact, I get the feeling that he’s trapped in a self-inflicted cycle of guilt, forever focussing on the girls that EFA has not yet reached, rather than the hundreds of lives they’ve positively impacted – including not only the girls they’ve given the opportunity of an education, but also their families and communities back home. “Our vision is to give as many girls as possible in rural Morocco the opportunity of a full secondary education and to continue running and building houses where they are needed.”
“We believe that changing the world starts with educating girls and that by educating girls you educate a whole community. Not only is having an education a basic human right, but it also supports the flourishing of all of society – literate mothers can make better decisions about their health and the health of their families; and national economies thrive when women are contributing their skills to employment.”
This fact is not lost on the girls I meet, who ignite in me feelings of pride and female solidarity by daring to dream big, but also a glimmer of shame that I’ve taken my own education for granted. Twelve-year-old Nora speaks four languages and wants to be a geography teacher; while Fatima, 16, says, “Without higher education, all there would be for me is marriage and children. I want to become a doctor so I can improve people’s health and their lives.”
As I leave the girls to their homework – which they apparently do without so much as a word of persuasion from Latifa – it occurs to me that while an appreciation of bunk beds might be shared by children everywhere, an appreciation of education certainly isn’t. I begin to vow that I’ll one day bring my own children back to Asni to make this point to them; but then I realise that if Mike has anything to do with it, education will be a given for all children in Morocco by then. Well, here’s hoping.
Katie Palmer is Senior Creative Executive for Beyond Luxury Media.