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Prince Harry, Meghan back education for girls in Morocco

Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, visit the "Education for All" boarding house in Asni Town in Morocco, on Feb. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)

ASNI, Morocco (AP) -- Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, flew up to a village in Morocco's rugged Atlas Mountains on Sunday to visit a school and encourage girls to pursue an education no matter what the obstacles.

Harry and the pregnant Meghan landed in the mountain town of Asni on Sunday morning on a brief official visit to Morocco. They arrived by helicopter from the capital of Rabat and were welcomed by pupils from a school run by the Moroccan foundation Education for All.

The school educates girls from rural communities whose parents would not be able to afford secondary education, and houses them in a boarding house since some come from villages 50 miles (80 kilometers) away.

"They made us feel like they are normal people just like us, like people we knew from before," said high school student Asmae Mennani, 17, describing how the royals inquired about her academic ambitions and encouraged her to continue studying.

Girls' education in Morocco is hindered by high rates of child labor and child marriage. In rural areas, especially in the Atlas Mountains, the distance to schools presents another significant challenge to getting an education.

"They know that our families live far from us. They asked me about how far my village is and if I miss my family," said 17-year-old Samira Ouaddi, whose village, which has no school, is 30 miles (48 kilometers) away.

She performed a traditional henna ceremony on Meghan for good luck during her pregnancy, tattooing her hand with a flower drawing and giving herself and her friends the same tattoo.

"It will make my parents really proud when I tell them the story," she said. "It was so much pressure to do henna on a princess. I was shaking, but she comforted me and said that it's all okay. She gave me hope."

Many of the girls said Meghan and Harry were very humble and urged them to aim high.

"It's great that they have a princess to look up to. They thought that they would be lofty and arrogant but were pleasantly surprised to find out that it's the opposite," said Khaoula Aittoufkirt, who had studied at the boarding school five years ago.

Hundreds of the village residents swarmed out of their homes to catch a glimpse of Meghan and Harry, who left waving at the crowd.

The brief visit to Morocco is expected to be Meghan's last international trip before she gives birth to the couple's first child in April.

Later Sunday the royal couple will attend a reception by the British ambassador to Morocco, where they will meet women activists, disabled athletes and entrepreneurs.

They plan to return to Britain on Tuesday.

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