She stands out in my memory as the most beautiful girl in the room. Her eyes bright with desire and friendship. She wore bold jewelry–a big ring and matching necklace. She was silly and wanted to talk and take pictures. She ran down to the creek first and asked me to scoop her up some water to drink. Her name is Hakima. She introduced herself to me on Monday, and then on Tuesday I found out she is “the girl who doesn’t want to go to school.”
I went to sleep Monday night thinking about the promise and leadership Hakima possessed. She ran up to me as soon as our first women’s empowerment evaluation was completed, grabbed my hand, and led me down to the awe-inspiring area of the Tifnout valley in the High Atlas Mountains where they live. Out of twenty-two girls, she was the least shy. She was the most excitable. She was a leader in so many ways–how she carried herself, encouraged the other girls, and even just by flashing her gorgeously piercing smile she seemed to make a difference. She wanted to be friends and so did I. I couldn’t wait to see her again the next day.
It can be haunting learning someone’s story after you’ve already perceived them one way. That’s the double-edged beauty of stories, I think. Or even hearing a story and then figuring out whose story it is. That can be worse. Because at first it seems possible but not probable, at first you feel sad and confused but that confusion is simply confusion. When I heard Monday afternoon that there was one girl in the village who refused to go to school when she had the opportunity, I thought that seemed silly, but I bet she would start going after the women’s empowerment retreat. I figured she was one of the shy girls, hiding behind her hands in conversation, pulling part of her scarf over her mouth. Not Hakima. Not my friend, the fearless and vibrant leader.
Tuesday, I sat in the back of a hot and stuffy classroom, listening to a final evaluation in Arabic, with sporadic translations for us interns. I was in and out of focus, thinking about the village, thinking about my own life. Amina’s translation pierced through my stream of consciousness–“Hakima, why don’t you want to go to school?” The girls started lightly laughing, meanwhile my stomach dropped.
The last seven weeks instantly came into focus. Yossef often repeats that Morocco has vast potential, and over and over again goals are not met, trees are not planted, clean water cannot be attained, girls do not continue their education. Hakima does not want to continue her education. Hakima, my fourteen-year-old friend, nonchalantly answered Amina’s question with some comment about seeking marriage.
Although this story has been and will be repeated all over Morocco, all over the world, Hakima’s face, name, and story sit in my heart with pain and hope. Hakima, I pray that you will know marriage and education can coexist. I pray that you will continue to lead in your village and share your smile. I pray that you will go to class tomorrow and work on your walnut tree nursery. You have so much strength and potential. I will be your friend always.
HAF Intern, UVA student Something I have been thinking about is the relationship between top-down and bottom-up development. Community-led, participatory development plays an undeniably important role in global…