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In Morocco, Building Dreams
This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
Dominique Miles ’11 arrived on campus packing ambitions to be a pioneer of change. “I was always told that I could be anything I wanted to be,” she recalls of growing up in Atlanta, Ga. “Nothing was impossible.”
That message of empowerment is one that Miles aims to deliver to women elsewhere in the world. She already has a well-stamped passport, thanks to global programs at Bentley.
Her journey started with a short-term study abroad program in the North African country of Morocco.
“I was surprised by the connection I felt with the people and culture,” says Miles, who was a freshman at the time. “What I realized as a minority and an American in Morocco was that although I wasn’t privileged, I could offer something special simply because I believed in myself.”
Another discovery was Morocco’s openness to change. For example, reforms in traditional family law have granted women more rights and protections in recent years.
“I was particularly impressed that this non-western Arab-African country was putting women first,” observes Miles, who knew early on that she wanted to return to the country.
With that return in mind, she committed herself to learning French – the language widely spoken in Morocco alongside Arabic. She spent a semester at the University of Nantes in France in spring 2009, and the following semester at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. The latter helped her learn Arabic vocabulary and offered a new perspective on Arab culture outside Morocco.
While pursuing her studies, she forged a connection with Jane Tchaïcha, professor and chair of the Modern Languages Department. An international internship held special interest for Miles, a Global Studies major with a minor in Entrepreneurial Studies.
“Dominique was driven and had prepared for the internship experience by taking full advantage of Bentley’s global education opportunities,” notes Tchaïcha, who has long studied the interplay of women’s empowerment, business and technology in Morocco and Tunisia. “It’s something you don’t see every day.”
Vision of Empowerment
Tchaïcha tapped connections from a Fulbright scholarship in Morocco to arrange an internship at Association Ennakhil, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Marrakesh. In summer 2010, Miles traveled there with a vision to help women change their lives through education and political activism.
Her work included interviewing 15 female artisans about their education, and personal and professional history. She also observed workshops on communication and public speaking, designed for rural women who are current or aspiring politicians. Another of her duties was helping NGO staff translate marketing materials from French into English.
Miles networked with women at all levels of government, and lived with Zakia Mrini, a pioneer for women’s rights in Morocco.
“Dominique is successful because she is able to put herself into the center of a culture,” says Tchaïcha, who visited Miles in Morocco. “She becomes part of the family and is committed to finding ways to benefit society. Thinking outside the box allows her to create opportunities.”
These plans include starting an NGO in Morocco focused on entrepreneurship.
“The American dream is so enticing to young people there,” Miles observes. “I would like to educate youth about the reality and possibility of success within Morocco. I want to engage them in the Moroccan dream.”
The Yawkey Foundations have recognized Bentley University’s longstanding commitment to service-learning and awarded the university $500,000 to educate students to effectively lead nonprofit organizations and expand student efforts to help community groups.