Peace Corps Morocco (PC-M) organizes trainings led by Peace Corps (PC) staff and other professionals over the course of the year for Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) and their Moroccan counterparts, like the Life skills and leadership training I went to last October with Souhaib. The trainings help to start new programs and projects in dar shebabs (youth centers), nedi neswis (woman’s centers), and other PCV workplaces by providing information and feedback and teaching new skills. Many of the PC-M trainings are funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) grants. After an adventure-filled vacation in southern Spain and northern Morocco with my friend Serena, I attended both a Library workshop and Employability training with youth volunteers from my village last month.
I had already begun work with the new Library club at the dar shebab, training the 4 members on cataloguing and organizing the Arabic and English books. Then, just as we were going to meet to decide on the library rules (of use), hours of operation, decoration of the space, literary activities, and an opening event, everyone got busy with university exams and Ramadan started.
Simohamed, a 22-year old university student in sociology, attended the Library workshop with me in Agadir for two days. We started with a lively discussion about the problems of reading culture in Morocco, which has a complicated history compounded by socio-economic, cultural, rural vs. urban, and gender factors. Recent information given by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) places the adult literacy rate (15 and older) at 67.1%, illiteracy at 32.9%.
M’hamed, the Peace Corps librarian who lead the workshop, emphasized how the Moroccan educational system contributes to the reading problem. Moroccans grow up speaking Darija (Moroccan Arabic) or the Amazigh dialects at home and then learn Modern Standard Arabic, the standardized and literary Arabic used in writing and most formal speech, at school. For children who don’t have access to preschool, it creates a huge learning curve when they start their formal education. In 3rd grade they are introduced to French and in 9th grade to English. Therefore students find it very confusing to manage three or four languages at home and at school. Many end up not knowing any well. This is just one aspect of the education system affecting the reading culture. Another aspect mentioned by Simohamed is the fear students have of their teachers and corporal punishment. And, a final observation by another Moroccan volunteer is the importance of oral culture like storytelling and songs.
There is a huge dropout crisis in Morocco though it is not well documented. The expected schooling years on UNDP are 11.6 years, with females at 10.6 and males at 11.6. Gross enrollment ratio in primary is 117.5%, secondary 68.9%, and tertiary 16.2%.
We also received information on beginning a library from scratch, ways to catalogue books including an online library catalogue, brainstormed library activities, and learned about funding opportunities. Different PCVs and counterparts shared their successful library projects in their dar shebabs and communities. As part of the training, we will receive 500 Arabic books, many of them children’s books! This is super as we have few Arabic books in our collection and children’s books will help to engage them in reading for pleasure at a young age.
I think it was an extremely productive two days of training. We networked with other PCVs and their counterparts and heard about their work at the dar shebabs. It was especially motivating for Simohamed and our Library club, because the club members will need to sustain the project. A plus was the fancy beach resort hotel where we stayed, packed with Moroccan tourists enjoying the huge pool. After we received certificates, we had a pool party and then went out for dinner on the boardwalk.