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Favorite Blog Throwback #2 – Originally posted August 15, 2013
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This post was written by Rachel Wiser towards the end of her time volunteering in Morocco.
I was certainly too idealistic before coming to Morocco. From what I was told about the women I would work with I wrote in notebooks with ideas and plans. But once here, a large portion of that had to be thrown out. My task was to help the weavers of Tarmillat. I had a rough idea of what to expect: poor village, no water or electricity, group of women who weave. I was given tasks in an effort to support them. But what was not on my list of tasks was something so basic and necessary.
I study economics and hoped to apply that general knowledge with the women. They needed an inventory, marketing, tracking, etc. In order to do any of these things, though, the women needed math. I cannot remember learning my numbers. I do however remember practicing addition with M&Ms or trying to see how many multiplication problems I could answer in five minutes. Math is knowledge so basic to me that I often forget how invaluable it is.
These women already knew how to count. Their life experience provided that. They were not, however, given any schooling. During my interviews I only found one woman who attended school, though it was for a very short time. Instead of attempting to fulfill many of my other tasks I decided math was a greater priority. Oussama, the AUI student who was our translator, and I started teaching them math.
I have a very limited knowledge of Arabic, but fortunately that includes the necessities to teach writing and counting. I therefore focused on the women who could not even recognize a written number. We made flashcards and for hours repeated the numbers. Wahed, Juj, Tlata, Arbaya, hamza, etc. When they could finally recognize them I would mix the numbers and have the women put them in order. For some strange reason two and four were constantly switched. One and seven were as well, but I can see the similarities between those two. After we progressed to addition. One woman came in the morning and could not recognize numbers, but by the afternoon she was doing addition in a notebook. I was overjoyed watching her add two plus two.
Oussama helped with the more complicated math. He was able to communicate subtraction and multiplication. Working primarily with Ito, the woman most enthusiastic about learning, he diligently taught her more complicated problems over the week. Now Ito has the knowledge necessary to maintain her inventory and can calculate her costs. Even something so basic as measuring her rugs she can now do and understand its meaning. She can accomplish so much more with her new knowledge
The question now that many of these women have a growing knowledge of numbers is whether they will implement their knowledge. Unfortunately I am afraid they have become too dependent on volunteers doing the work for them. I do believe, though, that continuing their education is the greatest way to enable their future independence and success. If they can understand what they are being told and the logic behind it, I feel the program would be more successful. So while not everything on my work plan was completed perfectly, I do not regret giving up those few items to watch the women learn and help enable their future independence.