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Spotlight: Saadia, H2O Maghreb Trainer

April 30, 2020, Rabat

“I didn’t choose my career, my career chose me,” confided Saadia, Trainer in water sanitation at the International Institute of Water and Wastewater (IEA) at the National Office of Electricity and Drinking Water (ONEE) in Rabat. Being a woman in this technical, traditionally male-dominated field did not discourage Saadia, who has always thrived on overcoming the challenges of an ever-evolving industry: “I was attracted by the water sector because we are always learning. Every day we learn new things, and the next day we realize that there is still so much to learn.”

After starting her career as a young Engineer in Sanitation Works Studies in the Oriental region, Saadia joined the Engineering Training Department at the IEA in Rabat. Instead of just developing new teaching methods, Saadia was also asked if she could also deliver the trainings. Though initially anxious about whether she would meet the high expectations of her trainees and herself, Saadia finally realized that the only way to find out was to try. “Our trainees are professionals, so it was a huge challenge. I had to make sure that I was capable, that I am able to understand their problems, satisfy their expectations, and find solutions. I have also given trainings to colleagues from other regions and wastewater operators from other countries.”

Saadia is now a key member of the H2O Maghreb team. She played a role in designing the wastewater training programs, and she trains students who aspire to enter the sector, using primarily teaching tools and educational platforms designed by project partner Festo Didactic. “Our teaching method is based on participation,” affirms Saadia, “and that’s why we prefer to call ourselves facilitators instead of trainers. That’s H2O Maghreb’s strength: we bring in new techniques and technologies to improve how we work. Our training programs go beyond just teaching the right techniques; we motivate our students to be passionate about what they do, how to organize themselves, and that comes from my experience working in the field.”

Over the past two decades, Saadia has witnessed a major increase in the number of women working in water sanitation, a trend that is also observed in the high number of women applying to H2O Maghreb. At the beginning of her career, Saadia was one of the few women working in this sector in Morocco. “At meetings in the Oriental region, I remember always being the only woman at the table. When I joined ONEE, a female water network technician didn’t exist; it was a job for men. It’s a real revolution.”

Today, an increasing number of young women are joining the ranks and the majority of H2O Maghreb trainees and graduates are women. Though the project had always sought to promote women’s participation through a cross-cutting gender approach, Saadia believes that women are attracted to H2O Maghreb because of the quality of the training and the hands-on experience it provides, which helps them prepare for their careers ahead. Most female graduates from the first cohort were hired at ONEE. “We are so proud that so many of our former trainees from H2O Maghreb have become our work colleagues,” exclaims Saadia.

Despite the wave of women entering the sector, “women [working in the sector] are often underestimated by their male colleagues, some of whom think that we are not capable of working in the field.” Saadia sees this as a worthy challenge to overcome: “I would not call this a struggle – it’s a reality and it is up to women to work to change perceptions. That takes time and effort. A woman should be judged by the quality of her work. If you work hard, if you are serious, you will make people forget their attitude [towards women] or even help change their ideas.”

Currently on its third intake of trainees, H2O Maghreb continues to receive high marks of satisfaction. “One of the strengths of H2O Maghreb is figuring out how to transform students without field experience into effective workers in the field,” explains Saadia. This starts with implementing a participatory approach from day one, where trainees are encouraged to take an active role in their learning by asking questions, interacting, and trying out new skills.

H2O Maghreb has also been a formative experience for Saadia, who is motivated by the need to stay ahead of the curve in learning about the latest trends and technologies in the field in order to keep the training relevant for her trainees. “It’s a new experience for me and we have a lot of challenges. But when I see the satisfaction of the trainees, who in the beginning had limited knowledge and at the end have mastered lots of new skills, that makes me very happy.”