My entire life I’ve grown up with the consistent pressure to figure myself out. As I near my final semester in university, I naively thought I’d have all my questions answered by now. I don’t. This pressure of urgency has always loomed over me, and as I transition into an adult, I’ve always felt like time is running out and I’m far behind on the path to figuring myself out. Little did I know that attending a High Atlas Foundation IMAGINE workshop in Ighil n’Oumgoun would bring an enlightening change in perspective to these concepts.
I approached this program a bit nervous because I wasn’t sure what to expect, but excited to visit Tinghir Province and experience a new side of Morocco and Amazigh culture. We were welcomed with open arms and affectionate hospitality by the residents of Ait Daoud. The countless hugs and cups of tea eased any anxious thoughts or uncertainties I had and made me feel right at home, surrounded by caring women.
For the next four days, we gathered with our group of about 25 women, huddled in a circle around a small heater, and bundled in blankets and jackets to withstand the cold. I observed IMAGINE leaders Safae Ben Karroum and Fatima El Mrini guide and support the village women through concepts of positivity, confidence, motivation, and self-love. They effortlessly connected with the local women, creating a beautiful space of trust and vulnerability; sharing their own stories and in turn giving others a voice to share theirs. The fervor and passion that Safae and Fatima spoke with was contagious, an incredible display of the potential young women hold to be leaders of change in the community.
Throughout the week, women of all ages stood up to share their dreams in life; visions of becoming a pastry chef, a teacher, a seamstress, a wedding coordinator. When asked why they hadn’t taken the next step in these aspirations, the women described the only role they knew and were conditioned to fill; the role to maintain the home, raise their children, and obey their husbands. When the concept of starting a women’s co-operative in the village was proposed, they expressed feelings of inadequacy and hesitation in the possibility that they might not succeed. Touched as the women shared their worries, their vulnerable honesty reminded me that when it comes to considering our present and future roles, feelings of insecurity and fear are universal.
As IMAGINE spotlights, these emotions are catalyzed by the worldwide barriers women encounter in social, economic, and political spheres. However, what is also fundamentally universal is the strength of the feminine experience and the innate ability of women to understand and support each other through community. Safae and Fatima emphasized that personal growth through confidence and self-love is intricately linked to the external support of other women who can guide, encourage, and advocate for each other. They explained that a women’s co-operative would help break gender norms by increasing representation of women in spaces outside of the home and shift the idea of “strength in unity” into an economic reality for the women of Ait Daoud.
The observation that struck me most significantly was the wide age range of women attending the workshop. Each woman, young and old, had the opportunity to detail her ambitions and was given guidance on how to move from stagnancy to fulfillment of her dreams. Discussions were a level playing field regardless of life experience or the number of years lived on this Earth. It really struck me; there is no age limit to understanding your potential and the journey of self-actualization has no expiration date. Watching women decades older than me find the spark to change their lives, verbally manifest their goals, and commit themselves to a new journey made me realize it’s never, ever too late to grow into yourself and your purpose.
My week at the IMAGINE workshop in Ait Daoud certainly created a paradigm shift in what it means to me to figure myself out. Watching young women enthusiastically outline their aspirations inspires me to continue experiencing life in its most energetic and dynamic state. And watching older women excited to finally commit themselves to their goals reminds me that it’s impossible to fall behind on the path of self-discovery. I have no doubt that women around the world have encountered the same stifling beliefs as me. But the strength found in a community of like-minded women who have the courage to forgo societal rules and achieve their goals is emboldening. To observe and experience the transformation IMAGINE initiates is important for all women, no matter what stage of life you are in or how far you may feel you feel from fulfilling your purpose.
Rachel Bartkowski is an Intern at the High Atlas Foundation in Marrakech and an undergraduate student at Northeastern University studying Biology, Human Services, and American Sign Language.