Monday, May 3, 2010

Women on the run.

Early morning run/walk along the beach in Agadir.

Riding in the taxi to Agadir, on my way to our long-awaited Women's Wellness Weekend, I suddenly had a burst of trepidation: Had I set my hopes far too high? I knew the dozen-plus Peace Corps volunteers involved (all female!) were enthusiastic and prepared. I knew the women we were bringing from our respective villages were excited for a new adventure and curious about their bodies. I knew had we strong and dedicated Moroccan advocates to present the information. But would any of it transfer into our ultimate goals ~ to give our women health and fitness information they could put to actual use and share with more women in their communities?
In fact, the weekend proved to far exceed my highest expectations. The 24 young Moroccan women at the workshop forged strong new friendships while learning basic health education that we take for granted. Even better, my shy young ladies from the women's center have taken the concept of sharing what they learned and are running with it. Better health, education, empowerment and leadership ~ this weekend was a highlight of my Peace Corps service, and a week later I still can't write about it without tearing up.

Getting to know each other: With each twist of the string around her finger, each participant had to share something about herself.

Yoga, sort of.

We started Friday with a getting-to-know you session ~ many of our participants rarely have a chance to meet counterparts from other communities, and we all warmed up to each other right away. Then I led the first of the weekend's three sport sessions, explaining (or trying to) some of the basics of yoga and the virtues of stretching, flexibility and mindfulness.

Saturday morning, armed with water bottles for weights, we speed-walked our way to the beach for a walk/run along the coastline. The air was cool, the setting idyllic, and there is nothing more exhilarating than seeing a couple dozen women of all ages, sizes and abilities, in conservative dress or not, take over a beach typically dominated by postadolescent boys and, literally, run with it, smiles on their faces the entire way.

That was just the beginning of a truly inspirational day. Atika from the Association Marocain de Planification Familale led a lengthy, detailed session on the gynecological system, menstrual health, family planning options and how to obtain them, SIDA (AIDS) and other STIs and more. I was worried there would be complaints that such information was hchuma ~ shameful ~ and there was a brief discussion, but Atika knew just what to say in response. She kept everything fact-based and yet culturally appropriate. And you could see the women's brains just inhaling the information. I would bet that for many, it was the first time they'd heard the actual facts.

Mounia, a high school student with all the charisma and drive of a future prime minister, took the reins for a session on breast cancer awareness, symptoms and self-exams. Peace Corps volunteers led sessions on handwashing and basic hygiene, first aid, and making reuseable menstrual pads ~ the latter being another subject we thought the ladies might not be ready for, and they again surprised us with their enthusiastic embrace of the idea.

Stretching before aerobics.

Sewing "gladrags" ~ homemade, reusable menstrual pads to replace the wildly expensive commercial variety.

Sunday morning, after a high-energy aerobics session, we sat in a circle and Amal, our local counterpart who helped us with all the logistics, asked the participants to share a little bit about what they had gotten out of the weekend. The waterworks began, and this is when we knew the weekend had been a success ~ not only could the young women articulately and movingly describe how important the information was to them, they were truly sad to see the weekend come to an end.

But this is the beauty of the plan, for the end of the weekend was only the beginning of the project. My young ladies immediately started plotting how they would share the weekend's information at the women's center. This Thursday, we'll do a short gladrags session. Next week, Atika from AMPF is coming to lead another session on basic gynecological health in our village.

From there, totally on their own initiative, my young ladies are ready to gofarther than I would have dared hope ~ they want to take the show on the road! They've already spoken with Atika, acquired her PowerPoint materials, and want to visit the duoars ~ the remote villages that dot our region, to serve women who rarely leave their homes, much less their villages, many of whom have never had any type of education.

All it took was an opportunity ~ for these women to learn something new and then see that they had something to share with others. I didn't do a thing but get them to the workshop, but I couldn't be prouder of them.

After every photograph, the demand to Nchuf! Nchuf! ("Let me see!")

Group photo.

Me with my beautiful young women from the village.

At dinner the Saturday evening of the workshop, I sat with the women from my village. We discussed what we'd learned that day and how we might share it back home. I mentioned how they would be role models for other young women.

"But Becki ~ I'm not a role model," sweet, bespectacled Fatima, my quietest participant, told me.

Why not, I asked.

"Because I didn't finish school."

I couldn't adequately say everything I wanted to tell her, but I could tell her a simplified version of this: Fatima, you and your friends are the ultimate role models. You don't just sit at home, watching television, wishing for more. You didn't have the opportunity to finish school, but you seize every opportunity presented to you. That is education. And you want to share everything you have, everything you know. That is leadership. You want more for your future daughters. That is everything.

As usual, tons more pics here:


william lauer said...

Delightful. I remember a time when you questioned your effectiveness.

What is written in the hills of the beach picture?

B said...

I meant to mention that ~ it says "Allah, king, country" ~ very typical to see it on mountains throughout the country.

I still question my effectiveness ~ but I love the moments when opportunity and interest converge.

Anny said...

I am so happy and proud and excited to read made me cry my dear!! So exciting. Miss you and the whole Taroudant region! xoxo