By Jamal Laoudi
By Jamal Laoudi
Washington, D.C., – Malala Yousafzai, author, activist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, once said: “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back,” referring to the importance of educating women.
First lady Michelle Obama took on the cause of girls education worldwide, and along with Malala, they announced the Global Girls’ Education Initiative. CNN broadcasted its Film: “We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World.”
In this documentary, Michelle Obama with help from Meryl Streep, Freida Pinto, and CNN’s Isha Sesay ravel to both Morocco and Liberia where success cases of young women beating the odds and getting an education are highlighted. These two countries understand the issue but continue to struggle.
Surely the importance of girls’ education cannot be overstated but this felt very personal for me. Personal due to an experience I had a few weeks back while vacationing back home in Morocco. I got a taste for what the magnitude of the challenge really is like. While driving through a village in the outskirts of the city of Sidi Kacem, I saw two individuals hitchhiking, asking me for a ride. One is a kid, so I decided to stop and they moved towards my car.
A person, more likely the kid’s father, waved hello at me, smiled, tapped him on his school backpack as if to say it is ok to ride with me, and simply left without uttering a word. Trusty!!
I unlocked the door and pushed it open. The kid simply pulled it from the handle, got in, and put his hands together on his lap barely looking at me.
“Hello,” I said with a smile while extending my hand to him.
“Hi,” he replied smiling back and accepting my handshake.
“Put your seatbelt on so we can get going” I instructed him.
He did so right the way and reverted back to his initial position.
“So what’s your name?” I asked.
“Mohamed.” he responded.
“How old are you?” I followed up.
“I am 11 years old” he said.
“Where are you headed?” I asked in a soft tone of voice.
“To school” he answered.
“How far is it from here?” I continued.
“It’s about 8 km” Mohamed replied.
I digressed and said to him, “Oh, I am playing this jam “36” by Hatim Idar, I will turn it back on.”
He gave me a smile as if I was teasing him.
I asked “You know who Hatim Idar is right?”
“No” he said.
I am puzzled initially. Hatim Idar and his hit “36” are all over the airwaves and the artist is a household name. Then I remembered that I am driving in the country side, pretty much in the middle of nowhere.
“Are you sure you don’t know who Hatim Idar is? He is all over the place?” I persisted in disbelief.
He shook his no and immediately I decided to probe no further as to not put the kid on the spot.
“So why isn’t there a school bus to take you back and forth to school?” I inquired.
“There is one but we don’t have money to pay the fees” he responds in a low tone of voice.
“Ah! So it is a private bus” I asked.
“Yes” Mohamed responded.
“So how do you get to/and from school then?” I asked with a curiosity on my face.
“I hitchhike sometimes, other times I may share a taxi with other kids if our parents got paid, other times we walk. For the most part, we hitchhike when it is dark and walk during the day.” he said.
I felt as if I had just crossed over to the Twilight Zone between fiction and reality.
Despite the persistence of my inquisitive desire, I decided to drop it and shift the conversation to pleasantries as to make Mohamed feel comfortable. “Let the kid enjoy this ride,” I thought to myself.
Soon after, he motioned to me that I could drop him anywhere near an upcoming small cluster of buildings as that is his final destination.
Once at those buildings, I stopped, tapped him in the back, slipped him some money, and said to him “I am rooting for you, stick with school.”
He simply smiled at me, closed the door, and walked off.
My head started spinning with all kinds of questions. What can I do to help? To raise money? More awareness?
Wait, wait!! How do girls deal with this? Do they even get go to school here?