Leena-Maija Talikka: Linking Finland and Morocco
-Interview by Yasmina Mrabet, Connection Point Director
Leena -Maija Talikka, our Connection Point Award honoree is founding president of Friends of Morocco in Finland. The association promotes intercultural exchange and mutual education between Moroccan and Finnish women as well as economic empowerment for Moroccan women.
Can you tell us about your personal background and inspiration for founding the association Friends of Morocco in Finland? Why was it important for you?
In 1995 I traveled to Morocco with my mother and my friend. It was a holiday season. I immediately felt a connection with the nature, women at the well washing clothes and spicy air, the people and the food. I bought a caftan and a scarf to protect my head from sun and felt perfect. I came back again to Morocco, bringing my children and more friends. I became familiar very well with the Moroccan family life, and spent most of my vacations there. I began to search for a cultural association in Finland that would support my interests. In 2005 I was invited by the Moroccan embassy to a dinner by Mr Abdellah MŚahi. The dinner was connected with a Moroccan women’s project coordinated by our current vice president Saara Ruokonen and current MP in Moroccan Parliament Latifa Jbabdi. At the dinner I talked about my longing for a Moroccan –Finnish association. Mr MŚahi encouraged me to start one, and so I did! It has been active for seven very fruitful years.
In what ways does the association promote intercultural exchange and mutual education between Finland and Morocco, especially related to women?
We have a number of projects, all of which are funded by Finnish authorities, including the Ministry of Education and Culture, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Anna Lindh Foundation, and the Finnish Embassy, and jointly carried out with our Moroccan partners.
Our projects are related to democracy and community development, gender issues, cultural relations between Finland and Morocco, education for youth, and sustainable development. We have hosted a number of dialogues, seminars and trainings, as well as cultural events such as exhibits at the World Village Festival. We include women and men together in many of our activities, though some of our work focuses specifically on advancing women’s education and women’s entrepreneurship efforts. For example, I have interviewed teachers and girls in Tarfaya as a part of an effort to start a training center and cooperative there. We are continuing to work on the execution of the idea with Essalka Elomari, the president of the Women’s Association Ashouraq.
We have also conducted a lot of research to collect feedback both in Finland and Morocco on our programs, and to assess future needs and next steps. Out of this research, new ideas have emerged for work on developing skills of women entrepreneurs, combating poverty, and empowering women through mentoring.
Can you tell us more about the work of the association in terms of economic empowerment for Moroccan women?
Our work has resulted in increased self-empowerment by Moroccan women, and has created new job prospects. For example, our project “New Skills for Women Entrepreneurs” has resulted in many opportunities brought to the region – cooperatives such as one producing spices, for instance. The Finnish women who participate have brought skills in administration that Moroccan women learned from, and Finnish women gained skills themselves through meeting and interacting with Moroccan women. For women from both regions, interacting with new cultures allowed them to learn new ways of thinking and new ways of approaching entrepreneurship and running businesses.
Is there anything you would like to emphasize about the role of women in social change, and the importance of cross-cultural exchange as an important tool for peacebuilding?
Women have a great opportunity to be catalysts in creating opportunity for one another in peaceful and constructive ways. We need both men and women to work together toward equality. Women have been set aside for long enough – I want to see women as key actors working to build a peaceful social economy.
Finnish-Moroccan Cultural Exchange Activities in Photos
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