Traveling to and from the remote parts of Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains typically involves a long journey in a banged-up bus overfilled with people, produce, and occasionally livestock. It’s little wonder that girls in these far-flung villages rarely get past primary school. Secondary schools are in towns away from home and the state-run boarding houses are poorly run and lack resources. And then there’s the financial burden: supporting a child living in town costs money that many rural families don’t have.
Enter Education for All (EFA), a non-profit supported by the Kasbah Du Toubkal. Established in 2007, EFA aimed to provide a safe, comfortable place for village girls to live and study in towns. They initially built one boarding house to enable 36 girls to pursue their studies. They are now completing their fifth boarding house, and are expecting no less than 186 students next year.
The road to school is difficult for rural girls in other ways as well. These isolated mountain communities are typically more traditional and conservative, and many families are leery about sending their young girls in those tightly packed buses to faraway towns to live among strangers. Some are also worried having an educated girl might affect her marriage prospects. Many of the EFA girls spent weeks or even months convincing their parents to let them go to school in the city.
When the first EFA girls finished high school and took the baccalaureate, they made the front page of a national newspaper, were featured on television, and fêted at the British ambassador’s residence in Rabat. Their parents, once wary, were visibly proud. Five of the young women are now studying at university.
It costs about 40,000 euros to run an EFA boarding house for a year. To help raise funds, the non-profit organizes an annual cycling event known as the Marrakech Atlas Etape, a charity bike ride from Marrakech 60-70 kilometers into the mountains—and back if you so choose. The ride was named one of the six best cycling events of 2015 by The Daily Telegraph. They also count on the Kasbah Du Toubkal, which directs a percentage of its proceeds to support local projects like EFA.
Today’s EFA students are still often the only girls in their families who can read. Yet they want to be doctors or teachers, they speak different languages, are computer savvy and love to read. Says Head Housemother Latifa Aliza, “We can see our girls blossoming with confidence and self-esteem.” They imagine how far they could go in their education, and now they see that it’s possible.
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