First to respond to the question: I got in touch with The National through an alumnni friend. He found out about my blog and suggested that I write an article.
I came back to my site after 12 days away to find out that "the children are on strike against the teachers." This demanded more explanation.
The quality of education that kids get in my site (and much of Morocco) is bad compared with American education. There are two classrooms for six grades. In the morning, 1st and 2nd grade share one classroom (and one teacher) and 3rd grade gets the other teacher. 4th gets its own classroom in the afternoon and 5th and 6th grade share the other.
That was last year, when there were 4 teachers. This year there are three. Two of those remaining teachers do not speak Tamazight, only Arabic. The young kids don't speak any Arabic, so they mostly are just learning Arabic in the first two years.
Beyond the cramped learning conditions and language barriers, another issue is the pedagological methods used. Rote memorization combined with capital punishment for mistakes make learning difficult. Last Spring I tutored some 6th grade kids in basic math and they had a very difficult time. They were unable to think creatively and apply rules they had learned to real world situations.
The teachers don't have it easy either. They live several hours from their homes. The female teachers spend all of their time in the classroom or home; they have few friends in town. For someone from a modern city like Azrou or Khenifra, this would be very difficult. So the teachers leave frequently to go home. The director who oversees them is not around very often either.
Which brings us to the strike. Two of the teachers had left town without permission, leaving one teacher in charge of six grades. Impossible to accomplish anything so the kids "went on strike" in response. They were directed by their parents to take this action. This got the attention of the director, who came back to town. He is helping with teaching duties until the other teachers return.
It's a sad situation. In order to continue school past the 6th grade, kids have to go to Tounfite, an hour away. Of the few kids who get their parents' support to go to Tounfite, most fail out. They haven't been prepared. Parents in town complain about how bad he teachers are, but they invest little energy in their kids' education themselves. I wish the teachers were a little more invested in jobs, but I also understand their complaints. It all adds up to another generation of sheep herders.
Winter is just around the corner. Nights around 0 degrees Celsius, but days are still warm - often very sunny. This fall is definitely warmer, and less rainy, than last year.
I've spent this week organizing meetings in 4 different communities. It's time to put the plans made during the workshop into action.
Early returns from the workshop are very encouraging. While I was away in Marrakech, seven pregnant women came to the health clinic for pre natal visits with a referral card from one of my trainees. In one week. Compare that to six visits for the previous month (which was unusually high) for the four clinics in my region combined. After a week there is already measureable success. The referral cards turn out to be an effective motivator in addition to a measuring tool because the trainees know their work is being monitored.
This surge of referrals is certainly due to post-workshop excitement. Hopefully community meetings can institutionalize the behavior change.
Arranging the post-workshop community meetings has been a headache. Here is what I've gone through in my village (one of four). I returned from Marrakech on Saturday evening. On Sunday, the association president asked where/when we were going to do the meeting. I told him I wanted him to make those decisions. He told me we should have it in the school on Thursday; I should go to the school director's house to seek permission. Monday at 10 I went to school; the director was not back from his weekend vacation. Tuesday at 10, I found him. He told me I couldn't have the meeting in school, so I went to the association president. He told me to try the Commune. I went to the Commune; the person in charge was not there. On a whim, I told the Khalipha (local Ministry of Interior figure) my problem. He told me that he would talk to the director and get me permission. Wednesday I went to another town. Thursday I went to the Khalipha's office, but he was gone. So I called him. He said that the director had given me permission, but not at the time I had suggested (now moved to Monday morning). A teacher had told me the classroom would be free then. So I went back to the director and asked what was up. He told me I could use the classroom, but only Sundays or after 5 pm. So I went to the association president and we decided on this Thursday at 5 pm. Then back to school for final permission from the director.
I'm doing well. The work is exciting, if frustrating. I'm getting questions from other volunteers who want to replicate the training, which is cool. On November the 12th, a new training group of volunteers swore in. The next time a new group swears in, that group will contain my replacement. This means that my training group are "seniors" - the "oldest" volunteers in country. I also found out my COS date - the date that our service is over: May 19th. I leave Morocco in just over six months.