So, what is it exactly that Morocco needs more of? Creative solutions to problems, for one. That’s where Nora Fitzgerald comes in. Nora is an American-Moroccan who walks through the streets of Marrakech daily, noticing all of the details that we like to try and push to our peripheral: kids selling tissues beginning around age 4, mothers nursing babies on the side of the road with one hand stretched out for change, men begging for just a few dirhams to feed their families…anyone who has been to a large city anywhere in the world knows the general caricatures of “the unfortunate” who populate the streets. The difference for Nora, however, is that these people– the women especially– weren’t anonymous. She actually took the time to get to know many of them, their names, and their stories. Sa’eeda, for example. And others. Instead of simply giving them something– money, food– Nora got creative. She figured out a way to get the women to give to themselves.
This is where the idea for the Amal Center took root. According to the center’s website, this is their mission:
The aim of the Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant is to support women from disadvantaged backgrounds (including illiterate women, women who are the sole support of their families, and those who have worked as child maids).
The Training Center functions in the following ways:
- Training disadvantaged women in Moroccan cuisine, traditional and modern baking
- Real life work experience in the Amal center restaurant for internships of 4 months.
- Job placement, while not guaranteed, the Amal center makes every effort of place the trainees in the workplace after their internship is over.
The creation of the Amal Women’s Training Center comes as a response to the difficulties that many Moroccan women encounter in their social integration because of difficult pasts, precarious family situations, or lack of qualifications for profitable employment. To rectify this and restore their dignity, the Amal Women’s Training Center aims to provide these women with a comfortable, friendly environment where they will be trained and mentored in an accessible, rewarding craft. In addition to courses in traditional cuisine, the women will benefit from literacy courses (Arabic), and for some, language courses (English or French) and basic management training (simple accounting skills, hospitality services). The goal of all of this is to give them the skills to improve their standards of living and reintegrate them as full, productive members of society.
At the end of their training, the women will potentially be able to find work in a restaurant or hotel in Marrakech, and at the same time they will be participating in the conservation of Moroccan heritage and culinary expertise.
The idea took shape and form at a rapid rate. People were so enthusiastic and ready to help, a location was found and secured, many essentials were purchased and donated, and the Amal Center opened its doors in Spring 2013. Women were learning the ins-and-outs of cooking and working in a restaurant, getting English and French lessons, and just learning a lot in general. However, as the Center’s popularity grew, the framework of the initiative had to be readjusted, as with most humanitarian-focused ventures that still need to make a profit! Recently, Nora hired a manager and a marketing specialist to aid in the operations of the center. The next step is to create a training program to give more women the opportunity to gain skills and employment.
There are currently eight women staff members at Amal and this year will see the beginning of a four month training program for 10 women. Trainees will earn a certificate of completion and receive language training and “soft skills” such as counseling, life coaching and empowerment to plan their lives. During their training, Amal Center’s newly hired Job Placement Coordinator will work on finding the interns jobs in restaurants and hotels in Marrakech. A recent partnership with a Swiss foundation has contributed to capacity building within the Amal Center and a crystallization of its methodology and goals.
The Amal Center’s restaurant now has a regular clientele, serving an average of 30 people daily. Friday is usually the busiest day, with over 50 guests. The customers are both locals and tourists who heard about Amal Center from its high ranking on tripadvisor.com. To keep up with the growing demand. Amal has to increase its serving capacity.
This is where you, my loyal readers, come in. I know many of you have other things to spend your money on, but the Amal Center needs your help. Donations of any size are welcome and will, in every way, make the difference in the lives of these Moroccan women. There are only 11 days left for the Center to meet their goal. What will your donation go towards?
- New tables and chairs effectively doubling our serving capacity (currently at 38, there is nothing more embarrassing than having customers come in and no where to sit, which happened on a particular Friday)
- An outdoor covering which will increase outdoor seating during the warm months
- Equipment for a breakfast service–lunch only service has been so successful that we will begin serving breakfast in 2014
- Remodeling to create a “take-out” area in order to create a contact point between the kitchen and the outside
- Uniforms for the trainees
- More flatware and silverware (who knew that plates and glasses break very often in a restaurant kitchen?)
Dollars go far in Morocco, and everything that you give will be reinvested in the women of Morocco. If you’ve been looking for a way to make a difference in someone’s lives, I can tell you myself– this is a great opportunity. If you really can’t spare some change (trust me, I’ve been there, no hard feelings)– help us out by spreading the word. Like Amal Center’s facebook page. Email your friends and family and ask if they can donate. We are appreciative for good karma and kind thoughts as well.
Amal means “hope” in Arabic. The center would like to help another 30 women per year by giving them training and then help them find job placement. Your support will go a long way. If you’d like to learn more about the women the Amal Center or delicious Moroccan food, here are Nora’s own words (and a recipe for one of the tastiest Moroccan dishes there is). So please, give whatever amount you can spare– and thank you for giving the gift of hope to these women.