A girl with a book

By Robert Hall and Julie Feng
Oct. 5, 2015

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” — Malala Yousafzai

Worldwide, 62 million girls are not in school. Yet when you educate a girl, it is not only her quality of life that is lifted up — but the quality of life of her family and her entire community. When you educate a girl, you change the world.

In our community, there have always been women and girls leading this fight. We feel proud that we get to fight alongside them. We are passionate about youth empowerment and girls’ empowerment—and that’s why we took this job! Our work at our Dar Chebab (youth center) allows us to work with the most amazing people and organizations.

We get to assist the Women’s Literacy Association — a group teaching written Arabic to illiterate adult women — as they put on amazing workshops for anti-sexual harassment, health & safety, and so much more. We get to teach English classes to brilliant girls and women whose opportunities are improved with their language abilities. We get to facilitate STEM programs targeting talented future scientists and doctors and engineers. We get to connect under-resourced students with opportunities they deserve. We get to be listening ears for girls who already know what their dreams are, who already have the guts & brains to achieve them, who just need a little encouragement to get there.  We get to learn from all of these amazing people.

These people are not statistics or vague ghosts in a vague blog post about women’s rights. They are real. They are our colleagues, our neighbors, our students, our friends. They are impacting their (our) community in powerful ways. We want to introduce you to just some of these incredible Moroccan women… THIS is what happens when you educate a girl:

Meet Hazar. She’s eighteen and the most independent person I know. She has her own apartment in our city, where she attended high school, but she recently just moved to Casablanca for university. Women who live by themselves are not common in Morocco, so her situation begets a lot of curiosity and jealousy from other young women. Hazar’s educational pathway is electricity/electrical engineering, but her true passion is journalism and human rights.

She triumphs in Model United Nations conferences, dominates all debate matches, and silences rooms with her clever arguments. She’s a pro-Palestine activist and a fiery Muslim feminist. We have a lot in common—including the fact that she has the silliest, strangest, and most sarcastic sense of humor! She was our first real friend in site, and that means the world.

Meet Omayma and Amina. They are both leaders of associations at our Dar Chebab. Omayma works with the Association of Children. She’s the youngest member of the association leadership, as well as one of the only women. She’s the master of ceremonies of all our Dar Chebab’s big events. Her natural element in on the stage, yelling into the mic.

Amina is one of the Dar Chebab’s steadiest presences, despite all of the other things she has going on in her life. She studied microbiology at the polytechnique school and wants to work in health sciences. She has two jobs right now: she works as a hematologist at the hospital and at a cybercafe/school supply store. Amina is going to be one of Robert’s strongest counterparts because they both want to implement a science club that will lead into fairs, competitions, and outreach programs.

Meet Asmaa and Sarah. They are both students in my Advanced English Class and they are both extremely dedicated people. Hardworking students, devout Muslims, and loyal friends. Asmaa is a student at the university in our city. She is my most creative student. She always writes the most beautiful, poetic passages and crafts the most intricate theses. Asmaa cares deeply about social issues, and loves books and documentaries.

Sarah has a degree in computer science and teaches private school students in what she calls “mental calculus.” When I asked her about it, she said it was “like math, but not exactly — and more complicated.” I can definitely see her educational background in the logician structure of her writing, but she’s also very funny and very frank. They both have bright — no, radiant — futures.

Last but not least, meet Meryem. Meryem is my BEST FRIEND in site. Even if I fail at everything else, even if everything else during my service is awful, moving to Morocco will have been worth it because I met Meryem. She is hilarious, generous, and beautiful in all ways. Meryem recently graduated from university with a degree in business/management/economics. We met her because she taught French at the Dar Chebab, but she no longer wants to do that.

Right now, she’s in that (familiar) fork in the road: graduate school or job? (Unfortunately, Morocco is BRIMMING with talented, intelligent, over-qualified youth who have no job prospects…) Whatever she decides though, I know she’ll rock at it. In the meantime, she’s helping us with our projects at the Dar Chebab! She, like me, yearns for adventure. I wish we could travel around the world together. She’s habibty (my love).

These are some of the names and faces that are at the heart of our work in Morocco. This is why we continue to advertise our free Dar Chebab classes to marginalized kids, why Robert’s STEM club has a focus on recruiting girls, and why I will be starting a girls club (perhaps a women's rights club) in November.

As of 2012 in Morocco, 47 percent of adult women were illiterate (31 percent for Moroccan men). These people are people just like Hazar and Omayma and Amina and Asmaa and Sarah and Meryem — only without the same resources and opportunities. Our jobs as teachers are to facilitate those resources and opportunities.

People in Moroccan communities all over the country are already addressing this issue. The number of beneficiaries of literacy programs increased from 286,000 in 2002-2003 to 656,000 in 2008-2009. And these numbers are increasingly getting brighter. Many Moroccans — working in education, policy, law, administration, and so on — are facing this head on.

They know that a girl with a book begets powerful change. We know this too.

We believe strongly that our job is not to be a voice for those who do not have voices. As Arundhati Roy said, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” Our job is to help build a platform for voices that are already strong. 

“Let us pick up our books and pencils. They are our most powerful weapon.”

Robert and Julie Feng