Guest Post by Larissa Shapiro
I’ve been deeply honored this year to participate in the inaugural round of the TechWomen initiative, a program of the US State Department, as a technical mentor. This program brings technical women from the Middle East and North Africa to Silicon Valley for technical mentorships and also has brought a few of the technical mentors here to Morocco for a week (11 days for me) to further our work in bringing technical mentoring to North Africa and to promote the program, which has been renewed for 2012!
I have been in Marrakesh for two and a half whirlwind days, and have another half a day tomorrow. Morocco has been an intense sensory experience and world of contrasts, so far. Today, I watched cats eat garbage off the ground in a medieval medina, and I talked to a young technical woman at the top of her engineering university class about Fulbright scholarships. We dined near the roof of an elegant restaurant with woman entrepreneurs from AFEM, and we had 5 year old orphan boys sit on our laps – one taught me a trick I didn’t know, about looking at photos on my iPhone. Later we visited a boarding house for girls (also supported by AFEM) who live in rural villages which do not have schools they can attend. The girls listened attentively as Algerian and American technical women talked to them about how and why they may want to keep studying math – and they told us how much they need computers. One of them later told me (in English), that she plans to become a doctor and go and help women in her community deliver their babies. She was so clear in her goal – I just told her to never give up.
Sunday my sister mentor Katy Dickinson and I talked with a women’s handicrafts collective about e-commerce, marketing, pricing, business strategy, etsy, ebay, and paypal. Tomorrow, with luck (or Inshallah, as they say here), we get to do that again at another collective in the Atlas mountains. Sunday night we went out late into the Djemma el fna, the community square of Marrakesh, which is an ancient gathering of musicians, story tellers, open air restaurants (snails, sheep brains, and more) and fruit sellers. We saw a monkey wearing a diaper, and a falconer, and many Berbers playing music together and singing.
The rest of our time will be more business meetings and less medina, I expect, but I know it will remain magical – and the mission is so clear to me here. The girls and women of Morocco are hungry for the technology which they know will give them increased resources for their families and their self-determination. They listen carefully, ask brilliant questions, and I am humbled to meet them. The future of Morocco is bright, if these girls and women can realize their dreams.