Last February, I had the great fortune of spending an entire week with my husband and our daughter in bustling, vibrant Marrakech, Morocco. It was my first visit to the country and I was thoroughly impressed.
We spent most of the week wandering round the medina, getting lost in countless alleys meandering through the buzzing souks, and eating carefully spiced & crafted local delicacies. One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to Amal, a local non-profit organisation/training centre for disadvantaged women in the Gueliz/ Ville Nouvelle district, which is Marrakech’s hip & modern ‘new town’.
A few streets north of the modern shops, boutiques and McDonalds & Starbucks (however unfortunate their presences in Marrakech may be 🙂), we wandered through some residential streets & found ourselves greeted by a sleeping cat soaking up the sun, but still cautiously guarding the entryway, as if he knew the importance of Amal’s mission.
Amal, which means hope in Arabic, has a mission which is clearly about empowering disadvantaged women. They accept applicants to their training programmes each year from women who have little or no income, and essentially train them to work in the culinary industry, even providing living costs, language training, and so much more.
The first thing I notice when I pass through the gates (aside from the sleepy cat cautiously guarding the entrance) is the motivational Rumi quote hand-painted on the outer clay walls: ‘Notice how the stars vanish when the sun comes up‘.
An excerpt from Amal’s website about their mission:
‘[Amal is] a Marrakech-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the empowerment of disadvantaged women through restaurant training and job placement. Amal’s goal is personal transformation through job and life skills development for our trainees, a stepping stone to economic and social stability.
Our program offers women from disadvantaged backgrounds a platform where they can enhance their capacities and learn new skills. When trainees are selected they start a six-month training program to learn all aspects of work in a professional kitchen in order to secure a job. At completion, Amal graduates gain financial independence through their skilled work in restaurants, hotels, riads and private homes.’
Amal helps women who have been disadvantaged by various means, including women who have no means to support themselves or their children, those who have been made homeless or who have been disowned, or even those who are recovering from lives led in forced labour. The training programme is rigorous, and applicants have to meet certain criteria. Once accepted, the trainees are immersed in a six-month long programme which teaches them all aspects of the restaurant industry, to include catering and hospitality training. Up to 40 women are taken on each year as new trainees, who emerge full of self-confidence, and professionally qualified to provide themselves with economic independence and stability.
According to their intake information: ‘Amal is focused on uplifting women from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Many of our trainees face social stigma, rejection or disability that impedes their ability to earn a living to support themselves and their children. Amal trainees share these qualities:
- are between 18 and 35 years old
- have no income or very low income
- are in a difficult social status, such as divorced, widowed, single mother or orphaned
- have little or no education
- are motivated to learn and work
- are ready to take advantage of the tools available at Amal to improve their skills.
Amal also trains women with cognitive and physical disabilities. Women who are deaf, mute, and who have Down’s Syndrome are successfully enrolled in Amal’s training program.’
Amal is making great strides in empowering local disadvantaged women who wouldn’t be given opportunities to improve their professional and social skills otherwise.
It was truly an inspiring visit, and so lovely to meet some of the wonderfully charming women there. Oh, and the food they were cooking smelled absolutely incredible. I only hope I can pop in for a cooking class and a proper meal the next time I visit Marrakech.
How you can support Amal and the women they empower:
- Visit the Restaurant at Amal Gueliz: Breakfast: 8:30am-10:30am, Lunch: 12pm-3:30pm, 7 days a week. Dinner: by reservation only, minimum 20 people.
- Take a cooking or baking class at Amal Targa – classes are given in Arabic, French, English, and Spanish
- Make a donation on their website
Find out more about all the fabulous work (and their culinary workshops!) being done by this exceptional non-profit. #AmalForWomen
All photos taken by Jitna Bhagani, unless stated otherwise