Aicha Qassem, 48, never learned to read and write because there was no school in Jamaat Ben Izouli, the village in Zagoura Province where she grew up.
Back then, girls were barred from attending school outside their village.
Qassem went on to get married and have her own children—seven daughters, ranging from 10 to 28. But she always wanted to read and write.
When Qassem heard that a literacy class for women opened up at El Farabi Madrassa in El Hay Mohamadi, she signed up. She’s one of 30 women who are learning Arabic as well as learning about women’s rights.
The class, which began last November, was created by Collective Associations in Ouarzazate’s Ouad Edahab’s neighborhood to reduce illiteracy and educate women about their rights and issues that affect them. The association runs literacy classes in schools across Ouarzazate.
Kheira Farih, one of the teachers at the school, said women are learning about their role in society, Al Moudawana, domestic violence, marriage and health issues. The goal is to help women improve their lives and give them confidence in their ability to change their lives. The classes are held twice a week, 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday and Friday.
The number of people enrolled in literacy programs nationwide has increased from 286,000 in 2003 to 700,000 in 2011, Farih said. Women make up 80 percent of the people enrolled in adult literacy programs, she said. Participants don’t pay because the program is fully funded by the government, she said.
Saida Ait Yehia, 36, said she regrets dropping out of middle school at 13. She left school, she said, because her friend dropped out.
“If I was educated, I would be able to help my kids with their studies,’’ said Ait Yehia, who enrolled in the class two months ago. “I’m advising young girls not to drop out of school because this is going to help them now and in the future.’’
Qassem is glad that she now knows how to write her name. The women are also learning to read simple sentences and study the Quran.
Jamila Ouaali, 25, dropped out in fourth grade.
“My best friend dropped out of school, so I did the same thing,’’ said Ouaali, who has a three-year-old son. “My family didn’t say anything.’’
Aanaya Falih, 71, enrolled in the class because she wants to learn to read the Quran. There was no school in Tidili, where she grew up. She went to the mosque for religion class.
Most of her education was at home where she learned to cook, spin wool and make carpets.
Khadija Zoubair, 37, wants to attend the literacy classes but she can’t because she has a new born. Zoubair left school at 14 to get married. She regrets that decision.
“I wish my children could achieve what I didn’t achieve,’’ said Zoubair, who has four children, ranging from nine months to 18.
Two weeks ago, the women at the literacy class took their first exam. The exam included writing simple sentences and reading passages from the Quran.
Farih said the women’s reading improved in the last two months. She feels like they’re making progress.
“The exam was good,’’ Qassem said. “It was all about what we learned in the last two months. The teacher wanted to assess the outcome of her effort, and Hamdullah, she’s proud of us.’’
By Hafssa Ait Tabamout