My third year as a Peace Corps Volunteer looks significantly different than my first two and half, binding them together is my focus, based on the community need, of providing opportunities for women and girls to embrace their potential. Last Spring, I accepted a position to serve as the Field Manager for Project Soar, an NGO that seeks to empower girls to stay in school by providing after school programming. I made the move from the seaside town of Essaouira, to a small village in between the High Atlas Mountains and the bustling city of Marrakech. The mission of Project Soar aligns directly with what I find most important in development, education for all. For me and for Project Soar, it’s urgent that girls are encouraged and supported to both continue their studies and to have opportunities that allow for them to express themselves.
Project Soar currently serves over 100 beneficiaries between the ages of 12 and 16. The flagship is located in Douar Ladaam, on the outskirts of of Marrakech. Although only a 5 dirham (50 cent) bus ride away from the hustle and bustle of a big city, the drop off of resources happens almost immediately. Schools are spread out, making a two hour round trip walk often times the norm. The classrooms themselves can have 50+ students in them, where many students can’t even read the board (vision impairment is a big issue among PS girls) let alone concentrate over the noise of their peers.
As a response to the deficient education in school, Project Soar provides weekly academic support in Math, Science, French and English. With a student teacher ratio around 15:1, the girls experience a participatory approach to learning in a safe space. Along with immediate academic support, the longest running program offers the girls weekly enrichment opportunities in art, empowerment and leadership, health education and sports. These activities provide some of their only opportunities to engage, educationally, in creative thinking and self‐expression. Where some excel more in sports and others more in the arts, they all have access to programming that embraces a well-rounded girl.
Since officially starting with Project Soar in August, things have moved fast (with a quick trip to the White House in October) and we have expanded on a number of fronts and to be part of a small, growing NGO is exciting. Learning by doing, I wear multiple hats and have seen how multi-faceted the interworking of a non profit can be.
I manage everyday operations at the Project Soar headquarters by overseeing programming, responding to the needs of the beneficiaries, supervising local staff, corresponding with contributors and donors as well as developing and managing the expansion program, Project Soar in a Box. Project Soar in a Box is designed to bring Project Soar’s principles and curriculum (art, empowerment, English, sports, health and wellness) to adolescent girls in varying regions of Morocco. Partnering with the Peace Corps, Volunteers and their Moroccan counterparts will be trained and supported in order to implement Project Soar with girls in their communities across Morocco.
Last month, we launched the pilot program for Project Soar in a Box. Five Peace Corps Volunteers came to PS Headquarters for a three day training and will be testing the curriculum with their counterparts in their communities. They play a crucial role for they will be providing feedback on what works and what doesn’t in order to carry out our official roll out in April of 2017. We want to serve hundreds more Moroccan girls in the most effective way. Partnering with PCVs is an ideal way to do this and I am happy to be part of the collaboration from both sides.
Through my experience at Project Soar, I have gained invaluable experience both professionally and personally. I am encouraged to be a self starter and provide insight that I gained during my first two years of my Peace Corps service as well as collaborate with all of the people who put so much effort into Project Soar. Supervisors and staff to volunteers and instructors, to gender and development specialists, photographers, designers, accountants, and on and on–Project Soar has an incredible network wanting to support girls empowerment and education. I have such a better understanding of how an NGO functions and play a part in almost every aspect of Project Soar. Wearing many hats, my days are filled and offer a balance of keeping up with a fast pace, deadline driven schedule, and the slow pace of life living in a small Moroccan village. This dynamic has provided me with an invaluable combination of knowledge and field experience that has allowed for me to grow professionally as well as continue to serve and capacity build the next future leaders of Morocco.
Follow Project Soar on social media for lots of excitement in 2017!