We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
By Rafiatu Nawuridam
Rafiatu is a rising sophomore at The College of New Jersey. A Nagy Papa Foundation scholarship winner, Rafiatu is studying International Studies and Arabic. She loves working with youth, and has direct experience organizing and managing activities as a camp counselor, and tutoring in high-needs school. She is currently serving as an Unofficial Ambassador to Morocco as a camp counselor at the Azrou Center.
There are many stereotypes against women living in Muslim countries, and Muslim women in general. Through my stay here in Morocco, I have come to realize that Moroccan women are a diverse group of people despite the fact that a majority of them are Muslims. Therefore, any generalizations made about them will most likely be inaccurate. The women I have had the opportunity to meet come from different ethnic groups, different economic backgrounds, and hold different positions in society. Yet they all work towards self-empowerment and the empowerment of other women. I have had the pleasure to meet some stereotype-defying women whose independence and determination inspire me.
This summer, I am a participant in America’s Unofficial Ambassadors’ Summer Service Internship program. The goal of this program is to dispel negative stereotypes of the Muslim World, engage in citizen diplomacy, and build strong relationships with community members through a service internship. I am interning at the Azrou Center, an NGO for community development. A majority of the people who take advantage of the programs and services provided by the Center, as well as a majority of the employees and volunteers, are women. I have had the opportunity to meet women of all ages who come to the center for English classes, weaving or hair dressing classes and other certificate courses.
Upon conversation with Zhour, a woman enrolled in one of the certificate courses, I learned that she used to work as a concierge at a hotel, but that did not pay much and it was difficult for her to find another job. Therefore, in order to improve her employment opportunity she decided to enroll herself in one of the certificate courses in business administration. She recently completed the year-long course and is interning at the center.
The Azrou Center also provides non-formal education for the kids from the local orphanage, or children who have dropped out of school. Through this, children are able to be integrated back into the public school system once they pass an exam. Three out of the four teachers are female and one of them specializes in sign language. She is, therefore, able to teach and communicate with the three deaf chidren in the program.
Two other women who also volunteer at the center have taken it upon themselves to arrange the books in the library onto the shelves and into a database in order to make accessing books easier in the future. One of these women also gives Arabic lessons to the illiterate women who take weaving lessons at the center.
Irrespective of age, all the women I have met through my internship have dreams and aspirations and they come to the Azrou Center to work towards achieving their goals. The young girls at my camp aspire to be doctors and fashion designers among many others. They are so keen to learn English that some of them come with a list of words and phrases for me to translate. Even the ones who have left school and have no plans of going back are taking dress making or hair dressing classes at the center. The fourteen year old girl in the beauty school who painted my nails told me that one day she hopes to own her own salon and teach other girls too.
Aside from the women I have met at the Azrou center, I have also had the opportunity to meet girls in my age group at Al Akhawayn University, where I’m staying. These girls also defy stereotypes held against Muslim women and women in general. For instance, my neighbor, a computer science major just designed a game for her senior thesis, which mimics the graphics of Minecraft for English learners.
The Moroccan women I have met are not that different from western women. They are independent and work towards self-advancement. They also play a significant role in society by contributing to the economy through weaving, dress making, education, business, parenting and more.