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Beyond One Summer Zainab Abiza ’19 studied at Princeton and spent time in Rabat, Morocco, with a Davis Projects for Peace grant. This semester, she's working to expand her Davis project.

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Any student would be thrilled to secure a Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute Fellowship or a Davis Projects for Peace grant, both of which are highly selective programs that provide students with opportunities to study, research and devote time to their passions. This past summer, Washington and Lee University student Zainab Abiza ’19 experienced both of these opportunities, which allowed her to study at Princeton and implement the Dar Taliba project, which is aimed at increasing educational attainment among girls in rural and remote areas of Morocco.

The Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute at Princeton is a seven-week program designed to prepare students from diverse backgrounds for graduate study and careers in public policy and international affairs. Abiza took four classes, including an international policy workshop that was taught by James Irvin Gadsden, former ambassador of Iceland. She also attended professional workshops and went to Washington, D.C., for a weekend to meet officials from the State Department and experts at think tanks.

For the Davis opportunity, Abiza designed and implemented a project in her home country with a goal to increase educational attainment for girls in rural areas of Morocco. For this project, she organized an English summer camp at a dormitory about an hour from Rabat that houses 40 girls — mostly junior and senior high school students preparing for their English baccalaureate exam.

“The majority of the girls living at the Dar Taliba dormitory come from rural and remote areas of Morocco. If it wasn’t for this dormitory, a lot of these girls would not be able to attend high school,” Abiza said. “The quality of the Moroccan public educational system is very bad. A few rising seniors mentioned that they never had an English class, although they were supposed to start learning the language in ninth grade.” Due to the lack of teachers, many students struggle with their end-of-year English exam, so Abiza designed this program to help them catch up on their English courses.

Zainab Abiza ’19

She also used her Davis funding to renovate the dormitory, which only had one solar panel to heat water for all of the girls to take showers — and winter is cold in Rabat. Abiza bought an additional solar panel and fixed the broken washing machines so the dormitory residents would no longer need to hand wash their clothes. This saved valuable time for them to study at the school. The grant money was also used to renovate other parts of the dormitory to create a better learning environment for the 40 girls staying there. In addition, Abiza provided all girls with school supplies, including backpacks and textbooks, for the coming school year.

“Now their families don’t have to worry about that,” she said, “especially since that creates a very big financial burden for a lot of these families.”

Abiza was very impressed by the drive and ambition of the students she worked with during the summer. She said the parents and siblings of these girls are uneducated, so it is unusual for these students to attend high school.

The hard work of the students motivated Abiza to continue her project. Even after the summer camp ended, she heard from students who reached out to express a desire to remain a part of the program because they had learned so much from it.

“Now, I’m currently working on creating a mentorship program that pairs up every girl at the dormitory with a bilingual Arabic and English speaker who will serve as a mentor for them,” she said. These mentors will help the girls practice their English-speaking skills for at least an hour every week and guide them in mapping their future.

“My hope is that by the end of this school year, we will be able to match up all of our 40 girls with mentors,” she said.

Abiza is also working to grow her program countrywide. She is now creating a website so people will learn about the program and spread the word. She also hopes to use the website to solicit donations that will continue to support the residents of the Dar Taliba dormitory.

“My hope is to be able to expand this program to all Dar Taliba dormitories across the country,” she said. “The Dar Taliba project is a first step in increasing educational attainment among girls in rural parts of Morocco. However, the real power of the project lies beyond the walls of the classroom. It lies in reshaping the cultural and social norms that often prevent girls from reaching their full potential and dreaming of a better future for themselves.”

After attending the Princeton program, working with girls from rural parts of Morocco and getting greater exposure to poverty issues in her home country, Abiza has confirmed her goal to attend graduate school and pursue a career in international affairs. She also wants to encourage fellow W&L students to apply for opportunities such as the PPIA fellowship and the Davis Projects for Peace grant.

“I did not think I was going to get into the highly selective Princeton summer fellowship, but I just applied,” said Abiza. “If you don’t apply, you don’t get anything.”