MARAKECH — Fusia Turkartoum comes from a small village 60 kilometers from Marrakech, Morocco. After finishing her primary school, she had to go to another village which was seven kilometers away from home for her secondary school.
Like many other people in Morocco, Fusia’s parents felt that girls should not be educated in the first place and therefore, asked her to drop out. Nevertheless, Fusia’s perseverance kept her going. She finished her secondary school with excellent grades and graduated from high school with an honor degree.
Dar Taliba made everything better, she said.
Founded in 2005, Dar Taliba (an Arabic term that means ‘the house of female students’) is an innovative boarding school system in Morocco, aiming to provide education for girls and thus reduce the delinquency rate among them.
In Morocco, girls living in cities are five times more likely to remain in school than their rural counterparts. The national attendance rate is about 60 percent, but in isolated rural areas the rate is only 16.5 percent for girls.
The underdeveloped infrastructure of the rural areas and the poverty of the parents make it extremely hard for young girls to pursue their education beyond primary school. They are easily sent to work unskilled jobs with low pay or married off during their adolescence.
To ensure the girls in rural areas to complete their studies, Dar Taliba launched its program to let girls learn in Morocco. It provides girls with lodging, educational support and psychosocial enrichment programs. Once selected to the program, there is no cost on the girls or their families.
The program began with 90 girls in four pilot households in the regions of Khenifra, Figuig, Khouribga and Errachidia in 2005. In the subsequent years, Dar Taliba expanded nationally and reached more than 55,000 girls with 774 boarding houses.
Since Dar Taliba started, the dropout rates in these boarding schools have reduced to a mere one percent against a national rate of seven percent. The youth literacy rate has grown from 58 percent in 2000 to 74 percent in 2012.
To support Dar Taliba’s future development, First Lady Michelle Obama announced a $100 million aid package for Morocco to establish a secondary education system, among which $400,000 will be used to build five more Dar Taliba boarding houses.
With such funds, Dar Taliba will be able to design more inspirational programs such as classes on the traditional use of plants in the Ourika Valley and workshops that promote women entrepreneurship.
This aid package is also a recognition of the Moroccan government’s aggressive educational policies in recent years. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics database, Morocco allocates almost a quarter of its total government expenditure to education annually, effectively lowering the country’s illiteracy rate.
“The health of any nation can be measured by the health of women in that society,” remarked Mrs. Obama when she promoted Let Girls Learn in Morocco this year.
“If you look at women who are not educated in their countries, there are health outcomes that are negatively impacted: Higher infant mortality rates. Higher rates of HIV. They have obviously lower wages…. If we aren’t empowering and providing the skills and the resources to half of our population, then we’re not realizing our full potential as a society, as mankind,” she further elaborated.
After listening to Fusia’s story, Mrs. Obama asked her what made her carry on, not give up. Fusia answered, “You can put any obstacle in front of me and I’ll jump over it. But when you lose heart, you lose everything.”
After all, it is programs like Dar Taliba that help girls like Fusia gain confidence in their abilities and pursue their ambitions in future.
– Yvie Yao