Girls Leading Our World Part I: Origin Story

Empowerment, imagination, and accessibility. These things are important to girls and young women all around the world—including in our under-resourced Moroccan community. To make a real grassroots difference where it matters most, the students in my Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) Club are building a community library.

Morocco has an extremely low reading rate. On average, Moroccans read a quarter of a page a year (not counting textbooks or the Quran), compared to the American average of 11 books a year. The root of the problem is access. Our community is full of bright and curious minds, but we do not have any accessible libraries or affordable options. —GLOW

How GLOW Grew

I knew, from the very beginning, that I wanted to do sustainable gender advocacy work in Morocco. However, the core tenant of this work is that it must be community-led. So when we first moved to our city in April 2015, I decided to focus mainly on English, journalism, and creative writing programs. I planted the seed of a Girls Leadership Club early on, but no one seemed interested. I didn’t push. It wasn’t until September 2015 that some young women started to show interest. I scheduled a “girls only” meeting, made flyers, and posted on Facebook. No one showed up. I scheduled another one a couple weeks later. No one showed up. Finally, at the end of October 2015, I scheduled another meeting and one girl—Sarah—showed. We talked about women’s health issues, work opportunities, and the culture of marriage in Morocco. It was amazing. From there, very very very slowly, GLOW began to grow. By 2016, we were planning volunteerism projects in the community.

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How the GLOW Library Took Root

Most of the youth leaders in my GLOW Club are also in my Advanced English class. At the beginning of this year, I assigned my English students to work on a passion project in which they would have to do research on an issue and give a presentation on it.

At our next GLOW Club meeting, we were supposed to be discussing which community volunteerism project we wanted to do next. On the list, generated by the girls during the previous meeting, were: clothing drive, volunteering childcare services at the hospital, and visiting the orphanage.

In the midst of this discussion, two of my GLOW girls, Dounia and Fatima Ezzahra, brought up the English class passion project. “We’ve been researching education issues in Morocco to figure out what we want to do for our speech,” they said. “And we were so shocked at finding some of these statistics about reading in Morocco and about girls’ literacy rates.”

“Does that mean you want to do a volunteerism project based on your research?” I asked.

“Yes, definitely,” they said. “We think this is the most urgent thing our community needs. We think this could make a real difference here. Why don’t we have a library here? Can we do something about that?”

 

The Library’s Context

Our city is extremely divided, socio-economically. The longer we live here, the clearer this becomes. In the northern part of the city, there’s a golf club and two private schools. People who live there own cars and wear Ray-Bans. If you take a half-hour walk south, you’ll get to where we live. An area where kids run barefoot on the street next to donkeys munching on trash.

Our youth center is located in the city’s poorest neighborhood. Many of the students in my Advanced English class are qualified, intelligent, skilled professionals in their twenties and thirties—and unemployed. Job prospects are nonexistent. In the rare case that someone does have a job, buying a novel would cost them AT LEAST an entire day’s wages, if not more.

In city’s North, there’s a large white building. “That’s the library,” someone told us when we first moved here. We exclaimed in excitement. But when we trekked north to visit the lovely “library” a week later, we walked in to find a grand hall that was completely empty except for three pictures of the Moroccan King.

There are no affordable ways to access books here. It seems like an impossible challenge because it’s a problem at every level—structurally, culturally, economically. The issues are rooted in history, language, and the education system. So how can a small group of girls and young women even make an impact?

Join Us and See:

Coming up, we will share the GLOW Club’s journey throughout the year! From our library action plans within our city to travelling for trainings to meeting First Lady Michelle Obama.

If you would like to support girl leaders, literacy, and grassroots development, follow along as we create sustainable change in our community!

To donate or learn more, visit the GLOW fundraising page here. 

 

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

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Kawtar Turns Ten

This is how it happens here. One afternoon, we get a phone call from our host sister Amal. “Kawtar’s birthday is tomorrow. We’re having a party. Come over at four!”

No advance notice. No way of knowing what we’re about to walk into. A small, family-only gathering for tea and a few pastries? Or a full-blown PARTYYYYY? Turns out it was the latter.

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Amal with her three kids.

There was even a face sheet cake involved! (And it was a photo that I took last year, when we first moved to site!)

The house was so packed with people that it felt like a furnace in there! Especially when the dancing started.

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This is something that happens way too often to me nowadays… Moroccan women forcing me to dance while I whine in protest. Usually it involves tying a scarf around my hips and then physically moving them for me. (My hips do, in fact, lie.)

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Kawtar is such a special person, so we were very happy that we got to celebrate her! Even at ten, her sense of compassion and her sense of humor are extraordinary. She feeds sick street cats even though she’s scared of them. She gets along with anyone. She takes being a kid very seriously. Even though her family doesn’t have much, she makes the most of everything. It’s ALWAYS fun hanging out with her. She’s hilarious. She’s always making the silliest faces and jokes.

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We love all of Amal’s kids to no end. Fatine, Youssef, and Kawtar have been big parts of this past year of our lives. And we’re very grateful they welcomed us into their family.

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Bonus pictures of Robert wrangling some kiddos:

(These pictures are symbolic of why we love kids and also don’t ever want any of our own, hahahahaha!)

Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie