In the weekly meeting of the High Atlas Foundation´s (HAF) Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) team, one of my colleagues told me about an Imagine women’s empowerment workshop with the Msalla cooperative in the north of Morocco and she invited me to conduct it together with her. The event was going to be my second official practice workshop of the women’s empowerment training I am going through. I will officially become an empowerment facilitator and mentor in April. This will allow me to empower women across the country, especially those living in rural areas, whose voices are often not heard.
I was very happy to join this workshop and I was looking forward to meeting all the wonderful women there. What I like most about the women’s empowerment workshops is engaging other women and conducting interesting exercises with them, where they get to know themselves and each other better. There is always a lot of positive energy in these events.
In the second week of February, it was finally time for us to go to the women’s cooperative to conduct the workshop. After our arrival, we were greeted with a cup of tea. We sat down together with the women and the president of the cooperative started asking us questions. Her first question was “How did you hear about us?” She and the other women then went on to explain that their village is usually forgotten and no other NGO or association has visited them before. The women were full of enthusiasm and eager to find out more about the workshop we were going to conduct.
I have attended many empowerment workshops and they have been all unique in their own way and they have all taught me something new about women’s empowerment, but this workshop stood out among all my previous experiences. The president of the cooperative started the workshop with a short speech: “I have been to workshops in many cities and I have traveled through the country to meet with presidents of other women’s cooperatives and they always talk about the importance of conducting training for the sustainable development of cooperatives.
I wished the members of this cooperative had the opportunity to attend some of these workshops, but unfortunately we cannot afford that. So when you contacted us to organize an empowerment workshop in our village I did not hesitate a second to accept your offer. I told the other women about this opportunity and they were curious to find out more about the organization that chose to conduct a workshop specifically for them. We are ready and motivated and I can guarantee you that all the women will give you their full attention for the next four days."
The women were brimming with positive energy and we had an incredible atmosphere during the workshop. The experience was as empowering for me as it was for them and that is very impressive considering I have been to many empowerment workshops before. The women learned several new concepts and corrected certain misunderstandings related to the seven topics the workshop deals with: emotions, relationships, body, sexuality, money, work, and spirituality. At the same time, listening to their stories taught me a lot about dealing with difficult situations in life.
One of the exercises of the workshop is called the “Tunnel Exercise”. There the women get together in pairs and hold hands. One of the women then closes her eyes and she can pour out her heart while her partner is listening, patting her shoulder and comforting her. This is one of my favorite exercises because it really allows the women to talk about their worries and feel that there is someone listening to them and feeling with them. The women quickly found partners and one of them, Lalla Khadouj, an elderly woman, even asked me to be hers.
I felt very honored as this is a very personal exercise and this meant that she really trusted me. I have done this exercise several times before, but only with people my age, so this was going to be a new experience for me as well. Lalla Khadouj told me that she had nothing to worry about anymore in her life. She recounted the many things she achieved in the 70 years of her life. She raised her kids together with her husband and she supported them in reaching their goals. She talked about the death of her beloved husband and that she believes that she will meet him again one day in paradise. Lalla Khadouj is also very happy about her grandchildren from whom she receives a lot of love and she hopes that she returns their affections properly.
Listening to her and feeling the positive energy she radiated allowed me to recharge my emotional batteries for the rest of the workshop. I then asked her for a piece of advice and without hesitation, she said: “Never waste an opportunity to spend time with your loved ones. There will come a time when you will regret not having spent enough time with them.” Going through the Tunnel Exercise together with her changed the way I saw the exercise. I realized that it was not just a way for the woman with closed eyes to pour her heart out, but also for her partner to listen and take something away.
The exercise came to an end, but my conversation with Lalla Khadouj took longer than expected. I talked with her about my fears and she calmly patted me on the shoulder saying that everything happens for a reason and everything will happen at the right time.
My conversation with Lalla Khadouj. Photo Credit: Zineb Laadam, HAF.
On the next day, my co-facilitator, Zineb Laadam, explained to the women that we all derive our personal power from seven sources: commitment, discipline, support system, inner guidance, lightness, love, and finding our own truth. Using these seven precious sources of power correctly allows one to grow as a person. After hearing about the sources of power, the women do an exercise called “The Room”, where they connect with each of the seven sources of power.
The women sit in a room with their eyes closed and with relaxing music playing in the background and they imagine themselves walking through a sunlit forest until they reach a magical palace. After entering the palace through the main gate, they see many different doors, each of a different color and shape. The women pause for a moment to visualize the palace from the inside. The first door has “Commitment” written on it. The women are asked to open the door and enter the Room of Commitment.
They start exploring the Room of Commitment, and the facilitator keeps guiding them: what do you see—what images, colors, shapes, or people? What do you hear—what sounds, words, or music? And what do you feel—what emotions and sensations? The same process is repeated with the other sources of personal power until they finish their discovery journey in the imaginary palace. Once they open their eyes, the women are asked to capture the images, sounds and feelings they experienced on their journey inside the seven rooms of the palace.
Looking at the women’s facial expressions while they are imagining their journey through the palace tells me a lot about their connection with each source of personal power. Smiles, tears, frowns, and relaxation can be spotted while they are walking from one room to the next. In most cases, the women’s favorite room is the Room of Love, where they visualize their loved ones in their favorite places. Speaking of love, what I really appreciated about these women is the love they have for their husbands. In most rural villages we conduct workshops with women who tell us that they got married in a traditional way and that they have to put up with the ups and downs of their marriage for the sake of their children. However, this isn’t the case with the women of Beni Boufrah. Listening to them talk about their husbands showed how much they loved and cared for them.
The next exercise follows the lessons about work and money and it consists of the women recording their ideal work vision. This group of women believed that in order for them to be economically empowered, they needed a community club where they could sew together and an agricultural cooperative where women could prepare meals for tourists using locally produced food. The women split into the two groups and started drawing their visions for their dream work.
The Ideal Work Vision for the sewing group. Photo Credit: Houria Chouhab / HAF
Spending four days with these ambitious and loving women empowered me on a personal level and made me feel proud about joining my colleague in this workshop.
Until the next workshop and stay empowered!