Breaking down barriers is an integral part of The Eve Branson Foundation’s work – with a key area of focus addressing communication and language barriers.
The Eve Branson Foundation’s (EBF) aim is to enrich the lives of Berber people in the Atlas Mountains and to work collaboratively to preserve their cultural heritage. Our team have many exciting projects and programmes focused on doing just that.
The Berbers of the Atlas Mountains of Morocco – or the ‘Imazighen’ meaning ‘free people’ – have a deep-rooted sense of community and their traditions have endured through their rich history. Over the past ten years EBF’s ethos has been to work hand-in-hand with each village to help people thrive, creating opportunities to revive local crafts (through training programmes) and developing initiatives to improve community wellbeing and access to education. Since the very beginning, EBF have worked with the team at Kasbah Tamadot – they employ over 90 per cent of their staff from the local community to enhance living standards in some of the most impoverished communities surrounding the property.
EBF delivers skills-training in embroidery, fabric weaving, carpet-making and woodworking. Each programme is provided for free and the door is open to any local who wishes to join at any time, whatever their age or ability. We achieve success through the careful set-up of each centre, working with the teachers to develop their own skillsets, and providing bespoke and supported learning to each participant.
By focusing on smaller numbers at each centre, we help them to discover new talents and confidence in a trusted and safe environment and over time, they can earn a small income to support themselves and their families. Ages range from 16 years to 27 years of age and older girls often assist the training of the next generation.
Since 2005, EBF has:
- built three craft centres
- trained more than 75 young women in artisanal crafts
- provided eight young men with skills training to earn a living
- helped local people sell 1,000s of their handmade items
- created employment for five local men and women
- constructed three water wells
- provided free dental care to over 2,000 children
- supported the education of 90 teenage girls
Early on, it became apparent that language skills were a barrier to employment for many local people, with tourism being the second largest employer after agriculture in Morocco.
In the Atlas Mountains, Berber or Amazigh is the primary spoken dialect. Morocco recognises both Modern Standard Arabic and Berber or ‘Amazigh’ as its official languages. Between 60 to 80 per cent of Morocco's population are Berber speakers and Amazigh has many spoken sub-dialects. Morocco also has its own variant of Arabic, Darija, the most spoken language in Morocco – with strong influences from other languages such as Andalusian, Amazigh, Catalan, Spanish and French.
By focusing on smaller numbers at each centre, we help them to discover new talents and confidence in a trusted and safe environment
French is the country's primary language of economics, commerce, medicine and sciences and it is used in government administration and the educational system. It is therefore hardly surprising that many Moroccans are bilingual if not multi-lingual, particularly in urban areas. It is also not surprising that ability to master and transition between each language facilitates greater opportunities in both education and employment.
For families living in the often remote and rural villages of the Atlas Mountains, who converse only in a blend of Berber and Darija, many young girls leave education after primary school, and teenage boys will often drop out of high school, without any path to vocational training, exposing them to a high risk of unemployment.
Those who continue in school will find that a lack of language proficiency can become a barrier to learning. Trying to master new subjects in a new setting taught predominantly in Arabic and French when Berber is the native tongue used in their home and village life, means some students inevitably struggle in lessons and get left behind. Language barriers can have an impact in other areas of day to day life, such as simply obtaining a prescription or being aware of maternal health issues.
EBF tries to alleviate these barriers in several ways. When the craft centres were set up, EBF ran English lessons to help participants connect with visitors and give them more confidence in showing their skills and the range of handmade products on sale. All programmes are accompanied by a Berber translator and printed materials are explained verbally and translated into Arabic.
This year, EBF began offering free English lessons to over 90 teenage girls studying their third year of the Baccalaureat at Asni Secondary School. Tuition is open to any girl interested in getting some extra support at the local state boarding house and we hope to include French in the offering from 2019. We have already observed an increased confidence in using English and strengthened communication skills.
Similarly, we have a woodworking programme training young men who have developed a high standard of carpentry and artisanal woodworking skills, but also wider business and life skills through the cultural exchanges they have experienced, deepening connections to other cultures and sharing design ideas and the pride of showcasing their Berber traditions to visitors from across the globe.
Last year the young men welcomed a team of artists from London, and carpentry specialists from Ireland, to drink cups of English and Moroccan tea – new ideas emerged and soon a brand new product design was being created and sold in the nearby Berber Boutique. The trainers were provided with iPads so they could share prototypes and ideas with the London designer and engage with EBF’s social media channels. This group had a challenging experience academically, but soon thrived in the centre where the lead trainer had a grasp of their individual learning profiles – they each had the chance to be encouraged and mentored, whatever their ability.
Greater awareness and cultural knowledge can be achieved through breaking down language barriers. When traditions are preserved the wider creative sector is enriched and local people feel a renewed sense of pride. Staff at Kasbah Tamadot continue to expand English skills through bespoke language programmes, and many families have prospered through a careful focus on retaining and championing local staff. Learning a new language can help break the cycle that young people often find themselves in – opening up the tourism sector and the ability to pass knowledge to a new generation.