So you want to start a non-profit…

Starting the Amal Center was a difficult endeavor, I can’t explain why exactly I did it, I did not have a very clear plan on how it would all develop, I did not have answers to people’s most basic questions, like “how long will the women train there?”  I would freeze up and give vague answers like “well, we are still in the experimental stage trying to find a successful formula…”

I did not anticipate also the strain it would have on my family, of course no one could foresee that my daughter would develop a bone cyst that we discovered about 10 days after I signed the lease for the Amal Center, and that would put her on crutches for the next 5 months.  I would never wish it on anyone to undertake a major remodeling job AND have your daughter need emergency surgery and a metal plate inserted.  I felt that I had made an internal promise and engagement to help women who have had lives much more difficult than my own, but ultimately found myself often torn between the responsibility I felt to honor that promise, and the responsibility I felt to honor the more fundamental promises I have towards my husband and children.  My husband is a good and patient man, and I feel like he has been just as responsible for the manifestation of the Amal Center as I or anyone else has.  He works long hours to allow me to follow this weird and inexplicable dream to create, from scratch, a massive institution to empower women.  He supports me in this, and often provides a realistic perspective to counter my “woman’s intuition” approach.  Did I also mention that when you are the president of a non-profit, you don’t get paid.  But you get the cool perk of being the president of something, which is totally worth the blood, sweat and tears (please pick up on the sarcasm).  Just time-wise, the Amal Center needed as much as I could give it, and so did everything else important to me.  Valuable relationships and friendships suffered damage because of this.  My management and communication skills (my least developed skill set) were tested to the extreme.

However as you can see all these sentences are in the PAST tense, not because the Amal Center fell apart, au contraire.   At the most crucial time, deliverance appeared.  Help came in many forms: an experienced board of directors came together (which would have been so valuable from the beginning: don’t work alone is a big lesson learned), volunteers took over chunks of the work (delegate!), and a life-saving grant was awarded to the Amal Center by the Swiss Drosos Foundation (apply for any and all grants, sooner or later someone will believe in what you are doing and want to help!).  All of a sudden, a very skilled and experienced director was hired to run the Amal Center.  Another talented and gracious person came on board to take care of communications, which is basically telling the story of who we are and what we do to many audiences through many mediums. over and over.  Soon we will also have a social worker (!!!) to screen potential trainees and monitor their progress.

Now if you ask me all your trick questions like “how long will the women stay at the Amal Center?” or “how are the women selected?” or “what happens to them afterwards?” I no longer need to bob and weave through them, there are actual solid, well-thought out answers. The women will spend 4 months in training.  The candidates are selected either through our partnerships with other local non-profits, or based on an application and interview process to determine socio-economic need.  Priority is given to mothers who are the primary support of their families (widows, divorced, single mothers) and to women who were child maids.  The women also need to demonstrate a degree of motivation and the desire to enter the job market.  While they are at the Amal Center, the trainees will learn: Moroccan cooking, “Cuisine Internationale” (will show you photos in a bit), baking and pastry-making, waiting tables.  And they will pick one language-based course to study: either Arabic literacy, French or English.  In addition, we are going to be having workshops on what is referred to in the field as “soft skills”, such as life-planning, empowerment, non-violent communication, reproductive help, and this thanks to a working partnership with Search for Common Ground, a Rabat-based international NGO.  Simultaneously, our Amal Center team will be networking with potential employers to facilitate job placement for the women once they graduate from the Amal Center.  Insha Allah!

Right now we are in transition mode full-swing.  The entire team is getting used to the new structure and putting everything in place to ensure that when the new trainees come in, they get a really top-quality training experience.  5 of the women who started out as trainees and made it through some of the rocky transition times are now full-time staff members with work contracts and benefits.  And also we saw that it would be impossible to move forward without a clear leader in the kitchen, so we hired a very capable chef (male, I think that also makes a difference and helps balance dynamics).  On the one hand, we’ve come a long way and are now working with a very clear objective.  On the other hand, I’m impatient to actually get down to the training and job placement!  We have not even gotten to the real work.

And in the meantime, we also have a restaurant to run.  The restaurant has been a huge success (alhamdulilah).  In November (pre-grant) we served an average of 13 people a day.  In December that number went up to 29!  I think January’s going to show even more of an increase.  Friday is by far the busiest day: couscous day!  The number of customers on Friday has been gradually increasing until we broke 100 recently.  Here’s what some of them have to say on tripadvisor  Mostly people love the place/food/social concept (a few people were not feelin the love though).

Speaking of links, the Amal Center is having its (annual?) fundraiser, an effort that is spearheaded by some of our volunteers.  Anyone who wants to be a part of our humble endeavor here in Marrakesh can use this rockehub link  which will be up only until the end of January.

New garden couches:

DSC_1075

Tea time cookies:
DSC_1076

The ceramic teap-cups are part of a donation from a local artisan businessman.  He gave us hundreds of pieces.  Those are the kind of amazing heart connections that happen.
photo 4 (3)

 

It tastes like deviled eggs, and salad nicoise.
DSC_1072

 

This is what I want to eat for every meal:
DSC_1074

A “light snack” for the mothers and toddlers weekly class.

snack

 

Traditional Moroccan cookies:
DSC_0440

 

Wow. I don’t even know what this is:

raspberry

 

 

 

 

The team that is behind all this amazing yumminess:
team

 

Kitchen looking good:
photo 2 (4)

 

And this!  I could also eat this…a lot.  Seafood bastila:
photo 5 (3)

 

Again, no idea what any of this is, sigh…
photo 3 (4)

Cooking lessons happen in a sort of informal way:
photo 1 (2)

 

The Amal team had a booth at a local fair, another opportunity for the women to display and sell their goods and mostly to become confident in a rather intimidating setting (a good number of the fair-goers were European).
DSC_1024

And here is that donation link again http://www.rockethub.com/projects/35895-expansion-efforts-for-moroccan-women-s-center-working-to-employ-empower .  If you made it to the end of this post, thank you dear ones near and far for reading first draft material!

 

20 thoughts on “So you want to start a non-profit…

  1. Ann Lopata says:

    Nora, This looks incredible. I can’t want to see everything up and running when I return to Marrakech in a few months. Will write under separate email to see what you need that I can bring with me or contribute there. Congrats on such a job well done!!

  2. Judy says:

    I have followed your blog for a long time, since before my daughter and family moved to Rabat. I am so moved by all you have done. We will be visiting our family in late February and home to spend a couple of days in your lovely city. I hope to come and eat at your restaurant. Although we plan to pack light, let me know if there is something you need from Texas!

  3. I am so hungry just looking at that food! And so impressed at your dedication Norah, Mashallah…my own attempts at running anything other than a ten-metre sprint to the car when it’s raining are generally a complete failure. I cannot wait to come to Marrakesh and see it in real life! Ya Allah, make me a bestselling author so I can send thousands of dollars to these amazing women…

  4. Sara says:

    Brings tears to my eyes, it is SO WONDERFUL! Amazing and Grace in action. Thank you Nora, and for your movingly real, clear and engaging way of writing. Plus mouth -watering food photos, and heart-opening women working…

  5. Meriem says:

    May Allah continue to put blessing in the work. Al hamdu lillah you got the ball rolling (well, you MADE the ball then got it rolling :)). May the barakah of the work you put into it reflect back on you and your family.
    BTW this is my favorite line in the post: “and often provides a realistic perspective to counter my “woman’s intuition” approach”.
    Yup, btdt🙂 every day!
    love you sis.

  6. towardbeginnersmind says:

    Nora, It strikes me that this is one of the strongest pieces you’ve written to date. It was worth the wait!!! Glad to know what you’re thinking about these days love:) You continue to be a truly amazing being on this planet who inspires and creates so much beauty wherever she goes…Thank you for sharing it!!!

  7. Nora, I’m so happy to read this update. Everything looks wonderful, great photos! Insha’allah, I’ll be able to see it for myself one day.

  8. Hello/Salam Nora,

    I am so glad I found your website. It is wonderful what you have been able to do in Morocco, and I hope the Amal Center continues to succeed. I am a half Moroccan half American woman who is studying film in California, and I am currently working on a project proposal for a documentary in Morocco about Moroccan food culture. If I could collaborate with the Amal Center to learn more about Moroccan food, and how cooking skills are being used to empower women, it would be a great addition to my project and would shed light on the situation of these women. I aspire to follow in your footsteps someday and travel to Morocco to help those in need.
    Wishing you the best, Safiya. (sbouhouch@scu.edu)

  9. Casamenara Kech says:

    Assalamou3laykoum Noora,

    Alhamdou Lilah it is looking better and better with every e-mail. I just want to let you know that I do need a person to cook and clean for my guests at Casamenara on a part time basis. Sometimes, I have hard time finding a reliable person to work. My long time employee got married last summer and end up quitting and having to stay home. If you have anyone who is willing to give it a try, I pay 100 DH a day. It is mainly housekeeping work but it could at least give them an chance to learn to work in Ryiads or small hotels. Just a thought to help out with part time job placements. Also, if you have any handouts/brochures to place in the rooms, I will send my manager to pick them up and have them ready for the clients. let me know.

    Regards,

    Khalid

    Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2014 17:44:47 +0000 To: casamenara@hotmail.com

  10. Casamenara Kech says:

    Assalamou3laykoum Noora, Alhamdou Lilah it is looking better and better with every e-mail. I just want to let you know that I do need a person to cook and clean for my guests at Casamenara on a part time bases. Sometimes, I have hard time finding a reliable person to work. My long time employee got married and end up quitting and having to stay home. If you have anyone who is willing to give it a try, I pay 100 DH a day. It is mainly to housekeeping work but it could at least give them an chance to learn to work in Ryiads or small hotels. Just a thought to help out with part time job placements. Also, if you have any handouts/broshoors to place in the rooms, I will send my manager to pick them up and have them ready for the clients. let me know. Regards, Khalid Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2014 17:44:47 +0000 To: casamenara@hotmail.com

  11. salam aleikoum sister and Ramadan moubarak

    mashaallah I am very impressed about what you establisehd there tabarakallah. may Allah grant the woman success and pleasure.
    I have to visit you next time I am in marrakech and taste that yummi looking food inchallah… whats the exact adresse of the centre?

    love to you and your family

    • Salam dear Itto!
      Thank you for your kind words. The Amal Center is in Gueliz near Polyclinique du Sud, and behind patisserie Paul. the number is 0524 44 68 96. I hope you are doing well as well as your lovely children ma sha Allah. Much love to you all.

  12. emma says:

    norah,
    not sure if you remember me but we met at lama foundation, im a friend of latifa and sara.i so appreciated our brief connection years ago.ive been reading your blog for some years now and look forward to the next posting! many blessing to you,your family and the beautiful work you are doing at the center!-in light, emma

  13. Wonderful cause! I just added your place to the wish list for my next trip to Morocco. Sadly, don’t know when it will be. Wish you satisfaction from your achievements!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s