I had spent all day scurrying around my village’s new Women’s Sewing Educational Training Center assisting the women with their sewing problems such as replacing broken needles, helping remove sewing thread that had been jammed in the bobbin case, changing presser feet, running around handing out scissors, paper, zippers, needles, and fabric, helping with basic sewing, and encouraging them. I was pooped! Women commonly ask me over to their homes at the end of the day to gossip and have tea. No offense to them, but after such a busy day, that was the last thing I wanted to do. I needed some solitude, so I made a beeline to my house, grabbed my headphones, put on an audio of Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming”, and started walking though the farm fields.
“I’ve been struck again and again by both the promise and vulnerability of young women in our world” said Michelle Obama. She went on to describe her “Let Girls Learn” program, which worked with USAID and Peace Corps focusing on young women, the importance of their education, and creating better access to education for them. I felt like Michelle Obama was talking to me!! I started clapping my hands yelling, “YES!!! YES!!! YES!!!” as I was thinking of the 42 women in my village managing to find time for themselves to learn how to sew.
This past January my counterpart and I opened our doors to 42 village women to our six month training program. (Thank you to my family and friends for donating money to help jump start our Women’s Sewing Educational Training Center. Thank you!! Thank you!! Thank you!!)
It was incredible that I was listening to this particular chapter here in a farm field in Morocco, after my long day at the sewing co-op, when I usually end the days trying to convince women about how I’m too tired to come over for tea. Here was Michelle Obama talking about the vulnerability of women and girls, the promise and potential they have, and here I am witnessing it in real time – the importance of giving women opportunities and an education!
Early that day our sewing teacher had the women go around saying how they feel when they sew. Two responses really struck me, almost bringing me to tears.
One woman started talking about how last year she would never leave her house, saying she was too scared and didn’t have a reason to ever leave. She would sit at home all day, everyday cleaning and cooking. Doing her everyday household work. She said, “Now I have a reason to leave my house.” (YES!!!)
Another women yelled out in Moroccan Arabic “9lba 3a9li kant khwia”. “Before my brain
was empty.” That is the literal translation – “Before my brain was empty.” She later went on to say that now all she thinks about is sewing. Examining clothes, looking at how they are made, rummaging through fabric thinking of things she could make. “3a9li 3mra b khyata!!” “My brain is full of sewing!!!” (YES!!!)
Everyday I find myself internally and externally saying, “YES!!!” Clapping my hands at the hard work these women have put in. Clapping to the sacrifices that they have made, to carving time out for them to get an education.
YES to the women gathering in my host sister’s home after the first day of class laughing and yelling, sharing each others notes, gossiping about the teacher and the other students.
YES to my neighbor sitting on her flat rooftop practicing her sewing on an old foot-powered singer sewing machine.
YES to the women who dropped out of school because of an arranged marriage at an early age and later realized the importance of education.
YES to my host sister Fatiha glowing. Her smile reaches from ear to ear as she finishes her first jlaba, saying “I’m a champion. I can sew!!!”
YES to the four young widows who are learning to sew to be self-sufficient.
YES to the women who don’t want to sit at home all day doing household work.
YES to my host sister Fatima saying, “I’m here to learn!!! I’m not here to sit and gossip with the other ladies”
YES to the women living far away and walking in rain, snow or hot sun to get to class.
YES to the women sewing while their babies are wrapped around their back.
YES to my counterpart (who is a man) for coming up with this idea. Because as he said “Women play an important role in rural Morocco and their development and access to education is crucial”
YES to ALL MY LADIES bursting into cheers, hooting and hollering, to recognize their hard work. All the time spent at the sewing machine – sewing, re-sewing, sewing, re-sewing, sewing, and re-sewing. Carving time out of their busy domestic schedules by getting up early and staying up late so they can get their household chores out of the way.
Just like Michelle Obama I have been blown away again and again by my ladies. By their strength, motivation, their desire to learn, overcoming their fears, for saying “no this is my time and only mine!!!” YES!!!