Very few girls living in rural communities in the High Atlas Mountains get the chance to further their education beyond primary level. Most secondary schools are located in larger towns several kilometers away and parents struggle to afford lodging for their children. While boys are generally allowed by families to make the long journeys to and fro nearby colleges, girls must stay at home unless their parents can afford lodging near the schools. The existing housing facilities are very often inadequate, presenting further reasons for families to lose confidence in sending their daughters to live away from home. Many girls find themselves in uninspiring work or married at a very young age. These new found adult responsibilities often prevent them from furthering their education or securing a career path.
Education for All (EFA) was established to provide the opportunity of a college education for girls from rural communities. The charity began in 2007 by opening a boarding house in Asni – the first main town for many villages in the Imlil region which offers educational facilities and good transport links to other major cities such as Marrakesh. The aim of the boarding house was clear; to provide a safe living environment for up to 36 girls which would allow them to continue their studies and facilitate an opportunity they may not otherwise have had. With the first house being a success and the tried and tested means going from strength to strength, EFA opened up a second house in September 2009. This home was opened in an even more remote town named Talaat n’Yacoub, around 100km from Marrakech.
EFA now has 5 boarding homes in full operation, supporting a near 200 girls. Of those who are supported by EFA, 90% pass their secondary level exams, with many following on to university. This demonstrates the importance of the charities work, with a 50% secondary level examination pass rate being the national average in Morocco. Girls at the boarding house look up to those who have passed onto university and want to follow in their footsteps, seeing it as proof of their success and determination to continue on with their studies. These prospects provide them with an inspiring alternative to otherwise limited options, which could be marrying early or entering full time work at a young age. Without the EFA boarding homes, many girls families would have stopped their education.
The introduction of a recent family law in Morocco (called the Family Code or the “Moudawana”) has raised the minimum legal age for marriage to 18 and compared to 18 years ago, the risk of early marriage for girls has halved. But there are loopholes in this family code which allow girls to be married before adulthood in certain circumstances, with an estimated 16% of girls being married off before the age of 18. Full time work is often the only other option and young girls from rural communities are recruited by “samsars” – intermediaries in villages who send them to towns and cities to work as maids. The parents and families are often unaware of the long hours and intensive labour which their daughters take on, whilst being promised decent wages and told the girls will be schooled alongside their work. Children under the age of 15 are not allowed to work in Morocco and a law outlining domestic labour was introduced in 2011. Yet still, almost 10% of children work to help their families and INSAF estimates that there are between 60,000 and 80,000 young maids in Morocco.
During a recent visit to Asni, Journey Beyond Travel visited an EFA boarding home and were amazed to see the inspiring work of the charity. Equipped with modern IT facilities, libraries and beautiful living spaces, the building is nestled in a peaceful corner of town, looking out onto stunning panoramic views of the High Atlas mountains and enclosed by fig and cherry trees. But it was the smiles and laughter of the girls themselves that told the true story of how they, along with all those involved, really have created a home from home from which to facilitate their studies. We were taken on a guided tour of a new boarding house currently under construction – the third one in Asni – which is expected to be completed in September of this year. This short walk around the building revealed the hard work and determination behind this project and was a reminder of the efforts put in by all in order to make these boarding homes possible.
A family of in house cooks, mentors and volunteers provide a loving environment for the girls to progress and continue their studies. Not only is happiness and well being shown, but also a gratitude for all those who have supported EFA with financial donations and they cannot imagine life without the opportunity to achieve this potential. Many of the girls could easily have stopped schooling at the age of 12, like many generations before them, but now they are at Universities and Colleges, learning useful skills to contribute to society, earning an income to support their families and making better decisions for the health and well being of generations to come.
The Marrakech Atlas Etape cycle race was set up with the intention of fundraising for EFA and is a must attend event. Providing a challenging ride through one of North Africa’s most beautiful and hardest climbs, it is a great way to get involved with fundraising for the NGO. A choice of four routes, from Marrakech to the High Atlas ski resort town of Oukaimeden and the Ourika valley, offer 60 or 140km climbs.The full ascent will challenge the serious amateur or even the professional rider, as well as passionate and determined cyclists who just want to endure the monster of a climb and the experience the exhilaration of the descent. The race has recently been listed as one of the six best cycling sportives of 2015 by The Telegraph.
Climb Toubkal – North Africa’s highest peak. EFA are running a sponsored fundraising ascent of Jbel Toubkal this June. What better way to show your support, whilst getting to see one of Moroccos most beautiful regions? While not a “doddle,” climbing Toubkal is easily achievable by people who are reasonably fit and determined. The cost of the trip, fully inclusive of mule support, guides, food and overnight accommodation is €250, of which a minimum of €150 will go directly to EFA. To find out more, click here.
Donations can be made via the EFA website donations page. A $77 donation will buy a set of uniform, sports shoes, school bag and books for one year, $464 will buy a new computer for one of the study rooms and $1,237 will sponsor a girl for a whole year. Any help and support is greatly appreciated by the charity.
Volunteer applications are being considered for 2015/2016 for committed and enthusiastic people who want to contribute to the project and spend time living in Morocco. Since its expansion to five boarding homes, EFA aims to have a volunteer present at each home throughout the school year. The main focus for the volunteer is to assist the girls to improve their school level, language skills whilst gaining a broader perspective of the world.
Follow EFA on Facebook and share their inspiring story with family and friends. The charity regularly updates its Facebook with interesting posts about its progress, the Marrakech Atlas Etape Cycle race and photos showing life in the boarding homes and the Imlil region.
Sign up to the newsletter to receive monthly PDF with more extensive updates about the charities work.
Further Information and Resources:
The world education branch visited rural villages in the High Atlas region and documented a beautiful video and photo essay about the daily commute to school for Fatima, a young girl living in the remote Berber village of Iznaguen. The story documents Fatima’s introduction to Education For All and the changes in her life as a result.
A Different Life by Derek Workman is a well researched ebook with beautiful imagery which expands upon the story of EFA and captures life in the boarding homes.
How We are Involved:
We are Journey Beyond Travel try to help EFA promote their work and raise funds to support as many girls as possible each year. If you’d like to learn more about our Morocco sustainability efforts or would like help arranging an exceptional tailor-made trip, feel free to reach out to our team!
The black and white images in this post were taken by Gerard Wagemakers, see more of his work in his online portfolio, including more pictures from Education for All.