The last three Sundays we had a chance to give workshops at project Soar; a women empowerment organization established in 2013.
It takes part as an extracurricular activity for teen girls from suburban areas. To the school where we were (Chwiter, near Marrakech), some girls even have to walk an hour and a half to get there.
We wanted them to experience circus and theatre. We grabbed all the props we have with us and at 9 in the morning on the roof top 40 girls were trying to stand on rola bola, juggle, manipulate plastic bags and balance the clubs.
Firstly, we did a short performance with juggling and guitar to present where circus can go. Afterwards they tried to use the props by themselves and it was exciting to see them balance various objects on their heads. During the second and third meeting we worked on creating an invisible landscape and adding sound produced by their voices and bodies. The girls usually don’t have the possibility to do sport, have fun or express themselves, especially with their voice. At the beginning they were laid back but very soon became loud, confident and creative. Sometimes they would be shy because we were around, but if we would leave them enough space and encourage them to prepare an action on their own, they would do it more relaxed, spontaneous and sovereignly.
It was challenging and rewarding at the same time and it gave me the feeling we are doing something useful for the community. We were only given an hour for each workshop but it looked like the girls were having a lot fun and we could have kept going.
We tried to bring the tools they can use for enhancing their persistence, self exploration of strong fields and boundaries, regular practice and meeting friends. Circus is a medium with which we can meet others and ourselves in a deeper way; maybe we are not always satisfied with it, but it brings improvement if we keep on working.
I was personally amazed by the project Soar because of it’s values. Every day they would loudly say affirmations:
I AM SMART I AM STRONG I AM LEADER I AM CAPABLE I AM FEMINIST,
that are a way of developing their identity in a self-empowering way.
Project Soar also works on education about women’s bodies, how can they react to it’s changes and understand it better. Together they are putting an emphasise to planning and organising, so the girls feel they have control of their activities and everyday life. Women are step by step getting to know what they can be, do, what can they accomplish and what they can choose from.
The curriculum has nothing to do with religion, which is, without doubt, a fiery topic in Morocco. The project was founded by American woman Maryam Montague, who we had the chance to meet and attend a dinner at her house as an act of gratitude. Moreover, Soar is run by American funding and is spreading all around the country. Mentors (we saw only women) who work at the project are very positive, cheerful and willing to cooperate.
To continue, Moroccan national history has been officially recorded by men and the images of women in it are created from a male’s point of view. Women’s roles are either ignored or made secondary to men’s. Consequently women are subordinated and have supported patriarchy through centuries. A rigid gender dichotomy has been adopted through the years and is present even now at relatively recent generations.
It was interesting to talk to a Moroccan man who pointed out that men need even more support or education than women. Furthermore, there can be a conflict between them if only women get the opportunity for extracurricular programmes and consequently men don’t know how to live with empowered women.
With the equal attitude we have towards each other as partners we can also be set as an example of how the relationship between a man and a woman can be. As an addition, people often think we are brother and sister, which I actually kind of like!
For one to be empowered, they must come from a position of disempowerment first. And they should be empowered themselves, not to have it given from somebody else. As mentors we can create a laboratory for exploration and discoverment. I am learning from them even more they are learning from me. I like to be around youngsters because I sincerely want to meet them and show them what is also possible to do in life.
It was a pleasure spending time with these smart, strong girls!
Photo: Eva & Rachel