One week ago I officially became a Peace Fellow to Morocco with The Advocacy Project. Now, having bought my tickets, completed the necessary paperwork, and assembled gifts for future friends, I feel like I am really going.
This summer, I will be working with a women’s cooperative that produces handmade rugs, wall hangings, bags and throw pillows in traditional patterns using traditional methods in Ain Leuh, just 20 miles from where I lived last year as a Fulbright student researcher. The website for the Cooperative des Tisseuses d’Ain Leuh can be found at http://ainleuhcooperative.webs.com/
Despite King Mohammed VI’s efforts to further economic growth and development throughout Morocco, most employment opportunities are located in the Atlantic coastal region and in urban centers. The rural poor are still largely excluded from access to healthcare and education. Women in rural communities are especially vulnerable to living in poverty as men migrate to urban areas seeking employment. The women of Ain Leuh have created a new economic reality by establishing a business cooperative in their community.
I have set two main goals for this fellowship. First, since this will be the first summer The Advocacy Project will have a fellow based at Ain Leuh, I will work toward creating relationships with the women of the cooperative, understanding the structure and processes of their work, as well as assess areas of opportunity where future fellows through The Advocacy Project can contribute to the continued growth of the cooperative.
The cooperative has benefited from the efforts of Peace Corp volunteers over the years but after the current volunteer finishes her service in November, Peace Corp will no longer have small business development volunteers in the country. I hope that The Advocacy Project can continue to provide support to the cooperative through future Peace Fellows.
Secondly, I will work to help the women of the cooperative tell their story and promote their business, not only through my own blog posts and social media tools, but also through the creation of an Advocacy Quilt. The Advocacy Project will be displaying quilts at the UN Headquarters on International Women’s Day of 2012. In the past, over 80,000 people have viewed AP’s exhibitions. It is my hope that each woman of the cooperative will agree to contribute a small weaving to create a larger whole promoting not only their business and indigenous craft, but also their culture as Amazigh Moroccan women.
The majority of Ain Leuh’s 6,000 inhabitants identify as Amazigh (or Berber), the indigenous ethnic group of North Africa. I look forward to learning more about Amazigh language, culture and role in a country that still primarily considers itself Arab. Both Amazigh activists and scholars state that the Amazigh culture ofMorocco was marginalized under policies of Arabization after independence in 1956. There is now, however, somewhat of an Amazigh renaissance in Morocco. The traditionally oral language now has a standardized alphabet, Tamazight is an officially recognized language, and there are festivals throughout the country celebrating Berber arts, including one in Ain Leuh every July. Throughout the summer, I hope to write more about the complex issue of Amazigh identity in Morocco and how that affects the women of the cooperative.
This summer I am most looking forward to getting to know the women of the cooperative. I have already spoken to Khadija, the president of the cooperative over the phone a couple of times and in true Moroccan style, offered a place for me in her home while I search for housing. I will even be able to spend a week or two of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, with the women of Ain Leuh!
I leave for Morocco on Thursday, June 14th after some brief training with The Advocacy Project in Washington DC. Share my experience with me this summer through weekly blog updates.