DIRECTOR: NORA FITZGERALD
In Morocco, there are many women born into difficult circumstances – women who are orphaned, widowed, divorced, handicapped, or are single mothers. Few doors are open to these women, and in some cases, they are stigmatized. Life for them can be quite desperate.
Nora Fitzgerald used to pass one such woman each day as she walked her daughter to school. The woman sat begging with her young children, and Nora saw in her a mirror to her own life. “Her children were the same age as my own, but she was struggling to make 2-3 dollars a day to keep them alive. My heart broke, and I couldn’t NOT do something,” says Nora. As Nora pondered how to help that woman, and others like her, to become financially independent, the idea to teach her how to cook and bake took hold. Eventually Amal was conceived and founded – a non-profit restaurant serving as a training center for disadvantaged women. After six months of training the women are placed in jobs in restaurants, hotels, riads (traditional bed-and-breakfast establishments), and private homes.
Three years later a second training center was opened, this time focused on catering and cooking classes. The second center allowed them to expand the number of women they could serve. 30 women now receive skills training and job placement with each 6-month course, with over 200 graduated as of September 2018. Amal is truly changing lives and giving hope to desperately needy women, and the basic program is almost totally funded by restaurant and catering sales. The restaurant has become a popular eatery with locals and visitors alike, who flock there to support the “Amal Champions” as Nora calls them, as well as savor the tasty delicacies they prepare such as couscous, chicken tajine with preserved lemons, and their famous mint lemonade.
However, Nora and the Amal team are yearning to help even more women, aware that even their greatest efforts leave a great many women still living in dire circumstances. The training program receives over 100 applications for every 30 spots, as women have heard about it by word-of-mouth and witnessed its transformational effect on the lives of others. Amal has also recently started several smaller business off-shoots: a small café at a local language school run by several deaf students trained at Amal, and a university campus café run by a combination of Amal graduates and young women with Down Syndrome. There are even fewer opportunities for handicapped women and Amal wants to show positive cases of employing them when literally no other establishment will take the risk.
A partnership with Global Pearls will allow Amal to experiment and expand in new directions. Amal means “hope”, and hope is growing amongst the disenfranchised women of Marrakech.