This week we arranged for our new friend Atika, a volunteer with Association Marocain de Planification Familale, to visit our village for a public session on women's health, covering the menstrual cycle, birth control options, SIDA and STIs, breast cancer awareness and more.
To accommodate a hoped-for crowd, we used the gathering room at the dar chebab. I knew about 20 women from the nedi would show up, and I would have been happy with that number. At the appointed time, we had a solid handful of ladies on hand. Half an hour later, a darned good crowd.
But they kept coming ... and coming ... and coming. I lost count, honestly, at 120 ~ and for any event in our town, that's an amazing crowd. I'd be surprised if a televised World Cup match this summer brings a crowd of that size. We were fairly evenly divided between late teens/early 20s and middle age. I can't tell you how satisfying it is to know that these women were genuinely interested in the topic; got facts they may never have known before, at least not in such concrete terms; and would be sharing that information with still more girls and women.
Between Atika giving the presentation, and Malika, Fatima and Fatna from the nedi making most of the arrangements (not to mention the cakes and tea for post-presentation), I really didn't do a thing but set out more chairs, rush to find a microphone as the crowd noise began to exceed Atika's vocal skills, and keep toddlers from running amok.
Walking around town with Fatna and Malika a few days before the event, placing fliers at the schools, post office and local stores, handing them out to schoolgirls and encouraging them to share the information with women who can't read, I was amazed by the transformation I can see in these two 20-something women. When I started visiting the nedi, they were eager to meet me but shy, giggling into their hands, eyes cast downward. Here they were striding into the principal's office, at a school they'd left before graduating, talking knowledgeably and confidently about the information we hoped to provide, discussing possibilities for future sessions in the schools (the public schools! Can you imagine that back home?).
Not only that, but after a long sweaty afternoon traipsing around town, they brought me to a little hole-in-the wall restaurant I hadn't known existed (if a bench, two plastic tables and an elderly man behind a grill counts as a restaurant), ordered me a fish sandwich with hot sauce and an ice-cold Coca Cola, and wouldn't even hear of me paying.
All I did was help them gain some new information and make connections with people who have that information. They've taken things from there. Needed my fellow volunteer Vish to remind me that, in fact, that's the point of my being here ~ not to do the work for them, but to give them the skills to do it themselves.