It was 2001 when American humanitarian Maryam Montague moved to Morocco and noticed the drastic discrepancy in the different ways boys and girls were brought up. She would drive through Douar Ladaam, a semi-rural city outside of Marrakech, and only see boys outside playing or walking to school.
“Where [are] all the girls?” she asked herself.
Across Africa, women are chastised for things they cannot control, such as menstruation, and are rarely given support for going to school or participating in athletic activities. This lack of support leads to high dropout rates and instills low self-esteem and a poor sense of self-worth in young women. In some areas, only 26 percent of girls attend school, and more than 83 percent of women are married before their 18th birthday.
“Girls weren’t getting a chance at a future. Girls are extremely vulnerable to a cycle where they drop out of school, marry early, and become a young mother,” says Montague. “In adolescence, we feel so awkward in our own skin and sports are a way to deeply connect with your body. The physical activity helps combat anxiety, depression, and stress, and the camaraderie builds teamwork and leadership.”
This is why Montague and her husband Chris Redecke created the nonprofit organization Project Soar in 2013. Project Soar is a curriculum of 50 lessons that intends to empower teenage girls in the developing world. Each program is based off one of the Five Pillars of Empowerment: value, voice, body, rights, and path. Different programs offered include those involving sports and fitness, art, leadership and life skills, and health.
Project Soar is intended for girls from grades 8-12, and includes high school exam prep classes, language classes, and tutoring. For girls to take part in the organization, they have to make a pledge to stay in school. This is an incentive for girls who excel athletically to stay motivated in their studies.
”I’ve always liked soccer. I watch it on the TV but it’s usually just boys who are playing,” said 14-year-old Fatima Zahara Satour. “It’s been so fun to be part of a team and the girls picked me as team captain which feels good.”
“In my village, the boys would never let us use the field, but now it’s our turn to play,” said Jasmine Boucetta, who is also 14.
Project Soar has worked with over 400 Moroccan girls so far, and has provided over 1,000 hours of after-school programming and support to their various sites around Morocco. The organization hopes to expand their programs to five more countries in 2018.
”Empowered girls lead to empowered women, who lead to uplifting families and communities, creating a more equal and prospering nation. We view our role as guides and the girls are the heroes. This is their story. We’re the vehicle for these girls to have the brightest, most productive futures possible.”
The world needs more women like Maryam Montague to support other women and girls in leading their best possible futures. We can only hope more programs like Project Soar will open around the world.
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