- Parkin Fellows
My first few days in Rabat was interesting to say the least. It was my first time traveling to both Africa and to a majority Muslim nation, and I would be lying if i didn't say that American conceptions or rather misconceptions about both of these things didn’t affect my expectations at all when coming off my flight.
I arrived on June 8th which meant I had the opportunity to experience the holy month of Ramadan, a holiday dedicated to one of the five fundamental principles of Islam, fasting. This meant that all observers would go without food or water from sunrise to sunset in one of the driest places on Earth. For a moment I questioned my dedication to cultural immersion, but quickly reminded myself that I’ll probably be fine, and that I needed to lose some weight anyway.
The job that I came to do was at a place called Au Grain de Sesame, an NGO with the mission of empowering women through art. Something to note about Morocco is that women’s civic and social equality to men weren’t given until the constitutional referendums of 2011, and while those reforms are objectively good, women in Morocco still face many obstacles to gender equality. Au Grain de Sesame addresses this issue by empowering women to pursue financial stability and independence for themselves and their family. The organization routinely holds training workshops for local women, many of which did not complete high school and cannot read, to create different and unique works of art using a special technique involving recycled paper.
These women, armed with the skills gained at the workshop have now a means of selling their artwork and making a living off their art. After contacting the founder of the organization, Asmaa Benachir, I received a list of strengths and weaknesses of the business. The one that stood out to me was the lack of overseas marketplaces due to (I suspect) the language barrier between Morocco and America. I thought my proficiency in English would be useful in achieving and immediately started drafting a list of potential overseas free trade marketplaces to reach out to. Over the next coming days I look forward to doing the slow work of reaching out to marketplaces and filling out grant applications.