While American teens may beg their parents to stay home from school, girls in rural Morocco must plead with their parents to pursue an education. According to the World Bank, only 36 percent of females in rural Morocco enroll in secondary education. The remoteness of many villages in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains means secondary school is not an option, particularly for girls. Parents prefer their daughters to stay at home to help cook, clean, and care for siblings. Many families can’t afford to pay for lodging or transport to schools. The majority speak Berber and school is taught in Arabic. And many parents don’t trust their girls will be kept safe away from home.

But Berber girls have a brighter path thanks to Education for All, an NGO building and running boarding houses for females aged 12 to 18. Founded by Mike McHugo, co-owner of Morocco’s mountain eco-retreat Kasbah du Toubkal, and Cees and Maryk van den Berg, owners of Riad Siwan in Marrakech, EFA started as a simple idea: provide young women with a safe base, located within walking distance to secondary school and in an environment where they can thrive in their studies. The first boarding house opened in 2007 in Asni. Just 30 miles from Marrakech, Asni, like most of the High Atlas villages, feels like another planet compared to the cosmopolitan city. Community outreach was crucial to gain the support of parents. The original vision was to accept 10 to 12 females from the poorest families living in some of the most remote villages in the High Atlas for the three years it would take them to complete their secondary education. Everything is provided for free: three meals a day, hot showers, beds, access to computers, study support via an international volunteer program, and dedicated Berber housemothers.

Young Berber women have a brighter path thanks to education for all, an NGO building and running boarding houses for females aged 12 to 18.
Jen Murphy

The success of the first boarding house has led to the addition of four more, including one fully funded by a benefactor inspired after a visit to the program. A sixth will open in 2019. Nearly 200 girls now attend school, thanks to EFA, and on average, the pass rate for all academic years is more than 90 percent, double the national standard. More than 60 EFA participants have gone on to enroll at university and two are pursuing Master’s Degrees.  

A portion of every stay at Kasbah du Toubkal goes towards supporting the program. I make the journey along a dusty, pot-holed road to the boarding house in Asni. The simple brick building is akin to a camp dorm with bunk rooms, a dining hall, kitchen, and study areas. I join a group of girls for lunch and they enthusiastically begin to introduce themselves: “Hi, my name is Amina Ait Afraden, I’m 16 years old. My favorite hobby is basketball and I want to become a lawyer. Hi, my name is Malika Ait Aablla, I’m 15 years old. My favorite subject is math. I would like to become a doctor. Hi, my name is Fatima Alhyane. I’m 16 years old and my favorite sport is football. I want to become an engineer.” All are engaged, polite, curious, and thankful. And all have a future thanks to EFA.