Douar Ladaam is a traditional village, and many mothers of girls in the program wear the all-covering niqab, which reveals only a woman’s eyes. According to questionnaires the girls in the program filled out, a majority of their mothers were teenagers when they married.
So it was no surprise that there was pushback against some of the program’s goals.
“This work is controversial,” Ms. Montague said. “I think of it as a quiet revolution, but a revolution nonetheless.”
Project Soar, which Ms. Montague hopes to have integrated into the curriculum of all Moroccan public schools, also helps teenage girls to cope with another significant hurdle. In Morocco, as in many developing countries, girls start to miss school around puberty because they cannot afford supplies for their menstrual period.
Though it is a highly sensitive topic, Project Soar distributes period kits and teaches girls how to manage menstruation.
“There is such a culture of shame,” Ms. Montague said.
A half-dozen Project Soar girls interviewed all said the program gave them confidence and helped them learn how to better express themselves and be their own advocates.
One of them, Khadija Satour, 15, was forbidden by her father from initially joining. But she went back a year later and pleaded with him, saying she really needed it, according to a program administrator, Wafaa Afkir. Other family members also lobbied the father and eventually he relented.
When Khadija first came around, she stuttered, sat in the back of the room and never talked about herself, Ms. Afkir said. Now, she is communicative and proud of what she has achieved.
“I now understand myself and know myself better and that made it easier to understand other people,” said Khadija, wearing a black-and-white dress with her short, curly hair uncovered. “Knowing myself was the biggest takeaway of my empowerment journey,” she said, choking back tears.