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Last Friday, May 21, 2010, the Moroccan Coalition of Education for All organized its nineteenth, "Lesson for All," in the Secondary School of Sidi Taibi, a small, impoverished village nestled in between the larger and more developed cities of Kenitra and Rabat. With a student body surpassing 2,000 middle school-aged adolescents, and located in a community with a poverty level exceeding the national average, Sidi Taibi's secondary school was an ideal environment for emphasizing the importance of completing studies to the highest level possible.
During the "Lesson for All," Fouzia Beniaja, a mathematics instructor at Sidi Taibi for the past 19 years, invited representatives of the Moroccan Coalition to attend her interactive discussion with one of her classes regarding the goals and importance of the coalition. She asked the class-sized at over 44 students-to share their thoughts regarding the importance of education and the problems associated with schooling in their own community; the recurrent theme amongst their answers-as substantiated by the lack of a sufficient number of seats, forcing some to share two chairs among three students-was a discourse on the basic need for more schools.
This problem is especially pressing in the town of Sidi Taibi, where the nearest high school is over sixteen kilometers away in Kenitra. For those without car, bike, or bus, this means a walk of more than thirty-two kilometers each day just to get to and from school. In addition, many of the students have to work to help support their families and to care for younger brothers or sisters; these demands on their time, combined with the dangers of a three mile walk through an unsecured area that-at least during the winter season-begins before sunrise and ends well after sunset, serve as a significant deterrent to continuing education for those students most in need.
Despite these challenges, the principal administrator of Sidi Taibi's secondary school-Mr. Ahmed Benzahra-- fights to keep as many students as possible enrolled, and strongly encourages students to continue their studies through the end of high school. Following Ms. Benaija's presentation, Mr. Benzahra spoke to the class, reminding them that furthering their education is, ultimately, essential to the development of the country, and that, "it has to start here, with us, ourselves... and each student must have an objective, a goal."
Following the "Lesson for All," representatives of the Moroccan Coalition had the opportunity to speak with a select few students regarding their experiences with the hardships of simply attending school. Ayoob, a 17-year-old in his second year of middle school, told a story typical of a shocking number of students in Sidi Taibi. Each day, Ayoob walks to and from school, and each night, he works in a café in order to support his family of five. Neither his father nor his mother can find work, and in addition to providing the sole income for the household, Ayoob is expected to look after his 6-year-old brother. There is no water in the house, so Ayoob and his siblings must walk long distances each day to buy water for half a dirham per bottle. A problem posing an even greater challenge, however, is the fact that there is no light or electricity in their house, rendering Ayoob unable to study after dark. Ayoob hopes to continue his studies through high school, but the long distance between his house and the high school in Kenitra may well render this goal unattainable, given Ayoob's family's circumstances and resources. "I don't have the conditions to study," he explains. "I don't even have what is necessary to live, the minimum to have a good quality of life... [However], I encourage [all] to go study, because in the future, they will not be able to do anything without studying... Only with an education can one work later on."
Similar stories of poverty and danger were shared by Abderhmane-a 15-year-old who works and studies simultaneously-, Hicham-a 15-year-old who cares for his younger brother and walks long distances each day to be able to attend school-, Fatimah-a 16-year-old who suffers from a handicap rendering her unable to walk without crutches, and who has not the means to pay for the bus to Kenitra next year-, and Fatimazahra-a 16-year-old who was abandoned before she can remember by her father, and who suffers from severe harassment during her walk home from school by boys who know she will be home alone until her mother arrives, well after dark. By far, the most significant problem each faces is the poverty that renders them unable to sustain safe and viable living conditions; though the largest potential impediment to each of them continuing to pursue their studies after middle school is the distance that separates them from the high school in Kenitra, three miles away.
Despite these challenges, each of these students-along with the countless others whose "dirty laundry" stories remain untold-has demonstrated an incredible force of will in maintaining his or her studies to this point, and each hopes to continue through the Baccalaureate. Even more, each of these students-along with those who support the 1Goal campaign-passes on a message of encouragement to all those suffering from similar circumstances, and a plea to the leaders of this country to ensure that they remember the critical importance of this one goal: ensuring a quality education is available for all.