Sunday, May 23, 2010

Film updates:

The team all came together in Rabat, the capital of Morocco at the end of May and we begun our journey together. Everyone’s energy was high and excited to see how the project would pan out. Lotfi was our national networker, shooting producer and faithful driver. Kawtar, our spirited young Moroccan women who will and is making big strides for her country, served as our interviewer. Najat, a Moroccan actress tried her hand at camera production and through her connections helped make our trip an enjoyable one. Cristiana, a Romanian tour de force and social anthropologist and documentary film maker was our lead camera technician, capturing beautiful footage and personal stories. And finally, myself, a Peace Corps volunteer as assistant producer, logistic officer and photographer.

We started off on a good foot with a nice car donated to us for the trip, meetings with regional heads and a big bag of peanuts, craisins and chocolate chips (the chocolate chips were the first to go).
Traveling eastward from the sea coast of Rabat, into the Middle Atlas Mountains, down to the desert, through the gorges , back west to the beautiful fishing town of Essaouira and back up we made our trip through the heart of the country. Over twenty days and hundreds of miles we spoke with many interesting women who are working to help support themselves and their communities. We met with countless co-operatives and associations working on a variety of products ranging from jams to textiles to dried herbs and even making de-caffeinated coffee out of date pits. Women in the professional sphere included a political party president, gynecologist and hospital director, science researcher, environmental researcher, poet, school teachers and an expressive, vivid and inspiring painter who made me feel like I was in So-Ho.
With Cristiana and Najat, video cameras in hand, Kawtar uncovering these women’s stories, Lotfi on the phone making future plans for us and myself with logistics and camera in hand worked on developing our groove working together. The car rides were a good time to bond, relax and plan for the road ahead, discovering what we can work on to be a stronger team and make a better film. A few conflicts arose between the stresses of a full schedule and a long road but we did it and completed our tour with beautiful footage and compelling, powerful stories.
Currently the film is in the hands of Najat’s brother, an editor for 2M, a Moroccan public cable station. He has offered to take the editing on with his students for free and discussed even getting the footage and interviews on 2M before Ramadan in August. If we could get this on 2M it would reach a massive amount of viewers and would be good usage of the material. I hope to get the film in my hands by July so I can work on sub-titles and completing a manual guide which will accompany the film when distributed to volunteers and NGO’s.
I am so proud of all of the work that the team did and look forward to seeing the final product.

I will keep you updated.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My girl highlight

I stumbled across this great young women and her environmental project over in northern Morocco by the Algerian border. Plastic and pollution is a problem across the world but it is highly visible in developing countries such as Morocco. Plastic bottles and purple, white and black plastic bags suffocate the beautiful landscape and adorn trees. Plastic, called mika (me-ka) is a prevailing issue and are consumed at large rates daily here. You go to buy two eggs in the morning, you have a mika, each vegetable and fruit item has its own, bread another. Then they are discarded into the environment or burnt, both with negative repercussions. But alas, there is progress! This young lady Fazia Hajji at 27 years old dropped her telecommunication engineer job to work on a development project in her home town.

It is a project that combines environmentally conscious action and addressing this issue of illiteracy. Her village was referred to as “Douar Mika” or “Plastic Neighborhood” as plastic bags taking on the form of plastic birds had due to flight migration settled there. She wanted to find a way to address this issue and tried out applying the local weaving techniques with this new, non biodegradable material. What she ended up with were these great bags.

She now has 22 women working on the project which also includes literacy classes. With this project, she hopes to help the environment and provide income and education for the mothers so that they will continue to send their children to school. Many in the area are pulled out of school at 12 as the families do not have the means to financially provide for the children to go to school.

"From when I was a kid, I wanted to help people. Life gave me things and took things away from me, but not this wish to help people," she said.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Single Mothers

In Morocco having a child out of wedlock is highly stigmatized. These are often some of the most marginalized women in Moroccan society. Many young girls are given marriage promises from male suitors and once they become pregnant the man runs away and refuses to recognize the child. The girls or women are then further rejected from her family and community as losing your virginity before marriage is one of the ultimate sins. You are now seen as being spoiled and of no community value.
Girls who become pregnant due to rape are also a cause of concern. Societies do not protect women easily in these situations. First if a women is raped and wishes to condemn the aggressor she needs 4 male Muslim witnesses to attest to the assault. Also the man who rapes the girl can escape persecution by agreeing to marry his victim, even if it is against her will. So why would any women want to report such abuses if she would have to end up marrying the man and publicly letting the community know she is no longer a virgin?
These young girls and women are then forced out into the streets to beg and fend for themselves and their growing fetus. Social institutions were just recently put into place in some urban areas but are still not fully utilized. There is also a lack of hospital centers and unwed mothers are not aware that they have access to these centers as their children are preserved by the community as illegitimate. There have also been reports of nurses refusing to care for unwed mothers and calling them prostitutes and are often left unattended or rejected completely by clinics and hospitals. Children born out of wedlock are also labeled ‘X’ on their birth certificates and the single status of the women is highlighted on her hospital file.
In the worse cases, the mothers abandon their children upon birth or perform infanticide to keep grace in their household. Women who decide to keep children often fall into the deadly profession of prostitution, it is one of the only communities that accept them and take them in. Here their health and dignity are further jeopardized. For example I have a friend who had a child and the father is not in the picture. She now works as a prostitute in the local coffee shops to help provide for her and her child. They are also shunned from my village and very rarely are seen outside. When I first got to my village people told me to stay away from her as she was spoiled and a bad influence but I realized this is not so. The child also has a cleft pallet and needs money for the surgery. Her mother fortunately still helps to care for the child and I cannot imagine if that support was not there.
This is even more upsetting for me as I was raised without a father for the first 7 years of my life and my mother had the support of her family and community that she needed to raise me. She was able to have access to a decent job, schools and daycare programs accepted me despite my status and my family gave me more than enough love and support to help me grow into a healthy, educated, happy human being. I never remember having to think of myself as a child born without a father until much later in life but not in a way that upset my social inclusion. It was not only the support of my mother and grandmother that helped me get to where I am but also my grandfather and uncle. If my mother had me here, we might have never made it. I might have ended up abandoned on the front steps of the police station or grew up in the environment of street life and prostitution.
It rattles my brain and breaks my heart that these children and mothers should not be given the support and opportunity that I have so fortunately experienced. There are barely any organizations to help these women and media and the government does not dare touch the taboo subject. The silence needs to be broken.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

sleepless streaming on the fringe of a full moon

3:30 am restless unable to sleep. Tossing and turning my sides aching from the all too forgiving foam cusion. Moon emanating a blue across the night sky in through my window which is open to run the chill out of the concrete tiled room; the glass door opens and shuts in a calming erythematic tempo. I feel as if I am by the ocean with the waves crashing on me on a front porch swing on a summer night but no, it is to cold here now.

But the sound of water is true and not an illusion I am still awake not yet dreaming.

The river, mere paces away from my window, it is roaring, light rapids.

I am alive and it is alive and could destroy my home one day if the waters rise as they are.

But I will be gone for where I am is temporary but oh the families that will stay here how close my neighbors are to the over flowing gates of water, tides washed down from melting glaciers somewhere in the far distance.

But now I am safe and awake and outside all I hear is the waters,
calming soothing not even a breeze through the trees.

I look out the window.

Fog is rising off the ground and glowing in the blue mask of the moon.

A small shrine where the founder of this village lays, dead, asleep, still loved and honored. Right there outside my window he lays entombed.

Still 3:30 and no sleep, restless.

I closed my eyes and opened again as three men cloaked in white seem to float by my window with the light banging of a drum, white turbans, people unrecognizable to me.

One stops for a moment still within my view.

I feel no threat. He pisses or something of that gesture. Why it is night, who would be awake to see?

I need your help!

As a Peace Corps volunteer, now living in Morocco for over a year, I have had the opportunity to get to know and work closely with community members. Also serving as a Peace Corps representative for the Gender and Development Committee I have become fully enveloped in working with girls and women in Morocco who are struggling and want to make a difference. I have now paired up with a Morocco non-governmental organization called the Moroccan Women Network Initiative and we are working to help improve the lives of young girls and women across the country. I am writing to you because your help is needed to improve the condition of women like my friend Zenib.
Zenib is 17 and like many girls in rural areas, her family depends heavily on her unpaid and often invisible contributions to her family and community. She undertakes much of the domestic labor needed for poor families to survive. She is the water carrier, the wood gatherer, the harvester, caretaker of the livestock and of the old, sick and young. Her family does not think she is a source of income and thus does not invest in her health or education. Zenib is not aware of the opportunities around her yet wishes to make a change in her life but does not know where to start and fears no one is there to support her. She is of marrying age and soon she will be married off to someone of her family’s choosing and will be expected to bear and prepare children for the next generation. Due to poverty and her lack of education Zenib like many other girls might be compelled in the future to seek employment. She will most likely end up in a low skilled job with minimal pay, long hours and unequal power relations that often lead to exploitation. To prevent her future daughters from entering into this cycle it is important to have her physically and intellectually prepared so as not to pass on her illiteracy and poor health to her next generation.
The good news is that within the past decade, Moroccan society has passed important legal reforms transforming women’s lives like the new family law that was enacted in 2004 by King Mohammad VI which provides a legal framework for girls across Morocco, like Zenib to create a better future for themselves. The minimum age of marriage was raised from 15 to 18, the family is now the joint responsibility of both spouses as opposed to just the mans, the wife's duty of obedience to her husband was rescinded, there is an expanded access to divorce for women, and the practice of polygamy was placed under strict judicial control. Now women in Morocco have more of an opportunity to become politicians, intellectuals, activists, police women, and spiritual advisors. Yet, despite the major legal reforms, gender disparities are still prevalent and many are facing resistance due to lack of awareness about the new laws and accomplishments of women that are related to existing poverty and fear of the changes that are occurring throughout the country.
To address these issues, the Moroccan Women Network Initiative and I are working to bring together the collective wisdom and creativity of women in Morocco who are leading change and spreading their message across the country into hard to reach places. This network will be composed of men and women committed to achieving gender equality, sustainable development and women’s human rights. This organization will reach out internationally including input and support from various groups. The internet will be utilized as an electronic forum for information sharing, capacity building, networking and strategizing. The network will all come together in an annual forum with the first projected date being the spring of 2011.
With your financial support we will harbor visual media to profile and spotlight Moroccan women community leaders through a series of films which will document the stories of women and girls who through education and perseverance have managed to break the shackles of socio-economic and gender constraints to make a positive improvement in their communities and lives. These women have become role models for girls in Morocco but their stories are yet untold. We will change that and help spread these women’s voices.
These films will work on a variety of levels. They will be used as a tool to motivate parents to ensure their daughters continue schooling, generate demand in the community for equal opportunity and to inspire girls to make a positive impact in their community and for themselves. The films impact will be increased with an action guide that will list available resources for women’s equality and rights as well as activities and workshops focused on gender development and leadership. It will be designed to support the development of women’s skills and help them become participants in issues that concern them by offering engaging and dynamic activities to motivate and enable women to believe in their abilities to catalyze change and motivate others to do the same. A brief history and transition of the situation of women in Morocco will be included, listings of internship and mentoring programs, film discussion questions as well as geographically and topically categorized information of organizations, institutions and individuals who can help.
The films and action guide will be facilitated by Peace Corps volunteers in their rural communities and through the Moroccan Women’s Network Initiative at a grass roots level to help viewers of the film through innovative and effective ways to start taking action right now to tackle the challenges they face. With the Moroccan Women’s Network underway, and our team and itinerary set for the film, we need your help financing our travel and post production costs and we need these funds by April 2010 in order to carry out our project on time. During the month of April the Moroccan Women’s Network Initiative will be traveling the country conducting our interviews. We are contributing as a community $3,600, roughly 44% of our whole project cost and need help with raising the remaining $4,600. This film project and resource guide are monumental in spreading awareness and encouragement to hard to reach places and your donation of $20 or $200 can help make a huge difference in the lives of girls like Zenib. Investing in young women leadership is essential to social change now and for the future.
We need these funds by April 2010 in order to carry out our project on time. Please act now by visiting the Peace Corps Partnership website where you can make a tax-deductable contribution.

Also visit the Moroccan Women’s Network Initiative website for more information about our project or please contact me for further information.

“A small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Saturday, February 27, 2010


The beauty that takes my breath away, the fresh air that fills it up again and my feet to take me farther into its depths.

Like everything I struggled at first but soon I found my bearings. Running has taken over my body and mind like a drug. I crave the high. I habitually think about running, from the moment I wake and again an hour after I complete my run. I could have gone farther; maybe I can go again today? Where will I run to tomorrow?
It is a healthy asphyxiation driven by the pure desire to get the endorphins flowing through my body, pulling the corners of my mouth upwards into a smile, my heart lighter and my eyes refreshed with the view of the fresh green fields before me. I want to keep my body moving, to breathe in the fresh country air and feel the sweat pouring down my heated chest.
I only wish I knew the joys of running before this, if I could have stuck out the initial pain at first. But could have should have, I am thankful that I did.
While running, particularly a girl running is not common in these parts men and women occasionally cheer me on. Sometimes I get a confused look by passersby who appear to ask themselves, ‘Is someone after her? Does she need help?’ The only dangers I face are the sheppard’s dogs who upon seeing me bark and unleashed make advances towards me. If I had not been munched on before from the ancestor of a wolf, I might not be so fearful.
Everywhere I go is up hill yet the reverse never seems to be a downward slope. The landscape is ever-changing. Thanks to the high frequency of precipatation this winter the fields are now gleaming in the most vibrant green I have ever seen in nature. The fertility of earth is in contrast to the red harsh rocky soil.
Thank you Kerrie, Alexis and Alicia for encouraging me and introducing me to this endorphin rich routine, thank you earth for your beauty and resiliency.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Village snap shots

International Women's Day - March 8th

Excerpt provided by the United Nations website:

Why dedicate a day exclusively to the celebration of the world's women?

The United Nations General Assembly, composed of delegates from every Member State, celebrates International Women's Day to recognize that peace and social progress require the active participation and equality of women, and to acknowledge the contribution of women to international peace and security.

For the women of the world, the Day is an occasion to review how far they have come in their struggle for equality, peace and development.

You might think that women's equality benefits mostly women, but every one-percentile growth in female secondary schooling results in a 0.3 percent growth in the economy. Yet girls are often kept from receiving education in the poorest countries that would best benefit from the economic growth.

Until the men and women work together to secure the rights and full potential of women, lasting solutions to the world's most serious social, economic and political problems are unlikely to be found.

In recent decades, much progress has been made. On a worldwide level, women's access to education and proper health care has increased; their participation in the paid labor force has grown; and legislation that promises equal opportunities for women and respect for their human rights has been adopted in many countries. The world now has an ever- growing number of women participating in society as policy-makers.

However, nowhere in the world can women claim to have all the same rights and opportunities as men.

The majority of the world's 1.3 billion absolute poor are women.

On average, women receive between 30 and 40 per cent less pay than men earn for the same work.

And everywhere, women continue to be victims of violence, with rape and domestic violence listed as significant causes of disability and death among women of reproductive age worldwide.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


So my project is moving along!

Not only am I working on a film, but the group of Moroccans that I am working with want to make sure everything is sustainable, which of course I agree with 100%. So, the group and I are taking it one step further and forming an NGO that will work as a networking tool to help connect women from across the country and also with international opportunities and resources. Check out our NGO website and please stay posted.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Videos on womens rights in Morocco
(2 minutes)
(4 minutes)

I recommend watching them in this order.