Summer Centered: Karen Aubourg ‘18 Teaches Moroccan Women at a Craft Co-op
With funding from the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, the English major is splitting her time between the Cherry Buttons Cooperative and the Golden Buttons Women’s Empowerment Center in Sefrou, Morocco.
These days, Karen Aubourg ‘18 wakes up to the sunlit streets of Sefrou, a town situated on the edge of the Middle Atlas Mountains and dubbed "The Garden of Morocco" for its breathtaking scenery. She starts her day with breakfast, which she eats with only fellow intern, Matison Hearn-Desautels BMC ‘18, until the end of Ramadan on July 6. (During that holy month, her host family and other colleagues fast from sunrise to sundown each day.) She then heads over to her workplace to teach English and computer literacy, and wraps up her day spending time with her host family.
Thanks to funding for the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, Aubourg is interning at two different organizations that both work to empower the women of rural Morocco. Cherry Buttons Cooperative helps women who make beautiful jewelry using traditional djellaba buttons make money from their craft. Although the jewelry-making is a common skill among women in the region, the craftswomen traditionally have had much less freedom in managing the sale of their own products, which is where Cherry Buttons Cooperative comes into play.
"This is particularly important because before this was established by Amina Yabis in 2000, women would make the jewelry but couldn't sell it for themselves—men would do it," Aubourg explains. "Women wanted to travel and sell their buttons in cities far away like Casablanca or Marrakesh, but weren't allowed to. In this Coop, women can do just that."
In addition to the Cooperative, the English major also teaches at the Golden Buttons Women’s Empowerment Center, which offers free classes for women, including sewing, pastry-making, and hairstyling. Given that the illiteracy rate among women in the region was as high as 80 percent the year Golden Buttons Association was established, literacy classes are one of the most important components of the Center.
"It's been wonderful to see so clearly how empowering it is to learn new things, and it reminded me of how special and important education is," says Aubourg, who has also declared a minor in education.
The internship opportunity, which, as Aubourg says, combines all her major interests from crafts to gender studies, comes with challenges, too. Although French, her second language, is widely spoken across Morocco, most of the women she teaches speak a Moroccan Arabic dialect called darija. Aubourg had a short intensive darija instruction prior to starting her work, but the language barrier is still considerable. This doesn’t stop Aubourg from feeling inspired by the women she meets.
"Despite language barriers, I'm starting to feel really close to the women I work with," she says. "They're so funny, sweet, and they're really inspiring figures."
Because of the reduced work hours during Ramadan, Aubourg has had time to pursue an independent writing project about the social forces that lead women to take advantage of the Empowerment Center. She hopes to use her insights about the differences in education and its accessibility in the U.S. and Morocco for her future studies in education.
-Katya Konradova '19
"Summer Centered" is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.