US first lady promotes learning to empower Moroccan girls

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MARRAKECH, Morocco (AP) – U.S. first lady Michelle Obama met with Moroccan teenage girls on Tuesday to promote education in the North African kingdom, where only 36 percent of girls continue school beyond the primary level.

Actresses Meryl Streep and Indian star Freida Pinto also took part in Obama’s encounter with a group of two dozen young women to discuss the challenges facing girls in getting educated. Like the first lady, both women are advocates for girls’ education.

The first lady’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, joined their mother in Marrakech but did not take part in the event.

The “Let Girls Learn” initiative, launched in March 2015 by President Barack Obama and the first lady, is to be extended to Morocco, the White House announced Tuesday. It said the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. foreign aid agency working with the U.S. government, in partnership with the Moroccan government is investing nearly $100 million to transform secondary education in the country. USAID is also giving $400,000 to create five new girls’ dormitories that will improve educational opportunities for girls from rural areas.

“I’m looking forward to adding more voices to this conversation,” the first lady said to the group of young women.

“We need every one of our citizens, boys and girls, to be empowered,” Obama said.

She said that 62 million girls worldwide do not have access to education for an array of reasons, from lack of resources to cultural norms.

The group met in the courtyard of Dar Diafa, a historic riad converted into a restaurant.

One young woman taking part, who identified herself only as Karima from Ouarzazate, in south-central Morocco, said her parents ensured she had a primary school education but discouraged her from focusing her secondary education on a field dominated by men, science technology.

“Every single person’s story is different,” said Streep, who told the young women she was the first in her family with a university education.

Obama was to attend a traditional Moroccan iftar – the sumptuous dinner to break the fast during Ramadan – on Tuesday night with Princess Lalla Salma, the wife of King Mohammed VI, then travel to Spain on Wednesday.

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