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!

 

Come on Amal center, almost there!

 

 

After a good 2.5 months, work at the Amal center is finally wrapping up!  Every week, the contractor takes a look around and says “all right, I’m going to put more workers on this site and we’re going to finish this thing.  One week max, we’ll be out of here”. This is the first time that I think we might actually have a chance.  Let me show you a few of things we’ve been working on.

I’m very happy with these windows we found at Souk el Khmiss, the huge covered flea market where no tourist dares set foot. The windows are so very quintessentially Moroccan and they’ve got soul, that’s what we want for this place.

DSC_0234

 

 

Do you see the wooden posts there?  They are the beginning of a picket fence that will be installed tomorrow, insha Allah, around the kids’ garden.  And that color of paint, it’s so Marrakesh, we had to stick with it.  It’s called Rose Mamounia.  DSC_0225

 

Just got aluminum windows put in the kitchen today.  It looks so bright and airy with the nice cream colored paint and tile work.  The industrial sink is also from the flea market.DSC_0227

 

 

Here is the reception area. Salam alaykum and welcome to Amal, how many are in your party?  Also it will be a display area for all the cupcakes, brownies, cheesecake and assortment of Moroccan cookies that the ladies will make…DSC_0231

 

 

Part of the indoor dining area.  Planning to put some nice Moroccan banquettes here.DSC_0230

 

The kids’ room!  The circles on the wall are chalkboard, so the kids can draw with chalk straight on the wall.  The chairs are also locally made, painted by our very dedicated volunteers.DSC_0232

 

The main dining room, all painted.  These chairs were also a flea market find. I was having such a hard time finding something wooden, comfortable, durable and inexpensive, but when we came across these chairs I was just thrilled.  They need a good sanding and oiling…volunteers….DSC_0229

 

And this is a view from the front door…the garden has been tiled in Moroccan brick called “bejmat”, and we actually opened up a new entrance from the street that is in line with the front door.

DSC_0235All in all, it’s turning into a beaautiful place.  And although I get overwhelmed by the weight and responsibility of it, I just have to remember to ask for help from all the people who believe in the project.  And most of all, asking for help from the One who sends forth all the we have.

In case you haven’t read my previous posts, the Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant is a non-profit organization whose aim is to train and employ underprivileged women in Marrakesh, Morocco.  We plan to serve breakfast and lunch daily, and hope to open in March 2013.  For more information please email me at amalnonprofit@gmail.com 

 

Pics of the new place

Here are the pictures of the space we rented for the Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant.  We went on a Sunday, a few of the actual women who will be training there, their kids, and a couple of volunteers, to see the space together.

Here is the front entrance.  The glass bricks are nice but will be replaced with glass windows for more connection between indoor and outdoor.  There is a lot of garden space, some of it will be paved with bricks to make a larger outdoor seating area.

Amal Women's Training Center

This is part of the indoor dining area.  We don’t have electricity yet, and this was at the end of the day, so I could only take pictures of this front room. The other room that is visible there will have a display area for the baked goods.  In addition, there will be another dining room, an office, and a classroom where the ladies can learn to read/write.

DSC_0050

Detached from the main villa, there are some rooms in the back.  We’re thinking that these would be the ideal place for the training kitchen.  Little Si Mohamed discovered a rickety old ladder, we had a hard time getting him down from there.  He’s right in the terrible two’s all right.

DSC_0046

DSC_0055

Little Chaima climbed the orange tree and picked as many as she could reach.  In the end her family went home with a bag full.   I smiled to think that this place is already yielding “fruits” and that seems like a good sign.

DSC_0051Fatiha, a dear friend and future trainee, with Melissa, a dear friend and volunteer.

DSC_0057

That patch will  turn into an herb garden (inshAllah Godwilling):

DSC_0048

A little orange party:

DSC_0053

There’s a bit of work to be done.  Some of the place was well-kept and some of it is in disrepair.  Tomorrow I have a meeting with a builder to start in on the alterations.  I’m excited because I connected with the perfect person to help out with this project.  I was talking to Meriem, the young woman in the picture above (holding a shoulder bag).  I was telling her how I want to put together Sponsor Packets to present to potential sponsors.

Then she said “Oh, I’ve done that for a few projects at the University”.

I said “Wait, what did you study again?”

“Economics”

“And now you’re done with school?”

“Yes I have my Bachelor’s and I’m taking time off now”.

“Um, would you like to work on this project…for free?”

“YES!”

I’m so happy, both for the project’s sake and for Meriem’s.  I know she’s a smart, resourceful and hardworking person and will bring a lot of energy to this venture.  I’m much relieved to have someone of her caliber and skill set on board.  This project has been like this, serendipitous connections and unfolding of new things.  It’s so beyond what I might do or dream for it, it’s so much bigger and more beautiful.

 

Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant

Doesn’t that sound good!!???  I’m so very excited and happy to announce that this dream is finally coming into reality.  I’m in excitement overdrive right now about the whole thing so bear with me.  

Last time I wrote about how we had decided to establish this project as a non-profit.  We had a general assembly, elected a board of 7 members from among the women.  Naturally, it made sense for me to be the president or director of the non-profit, Lalla Khadija is the treasurer, and a lovely woman named Meriem is the secretary.   After we did all this, we had to iron out our statutes.  We stated as our basic goals:

To establish a training center in Moroccan cooking and pastries for at-risk women to rescue them from poverty.

To establish a simple restaurant to sell the products of the training center.

Then we put together a dossier that contains the statutes, the list of board members, the minutes from the general assembly, and photocopies of each of the members’ ID cards.  All of this of course in seven copies, each page notarized, as is the custom here in Morocco.  A person’s signature here is worthless unless it is notarized.

But we still needed one crucial document to establish this non-profit, and that was a rental contract.  That’s right, to register any kind of business or non-profit in Morocco one first needs to have a rental contract.  If a person is a homeowner then they can use their home address temporarily.  But none of us are, so the final step of renting a place was crucial for us.

I’ve been looking for spaces to rent since about May/June.  I’ve hired samsars (kinda fly-by-night agent that helps locate rentals), knocked on doors, found places that I got excited about but that weren’t meant to be, and spent probably 100s of hours day-dreaming and obsessing about “our space” (and the project in general, I even had very realistic dreams that we rented such-and-such a space).  I made a lot prayers, especially the prayer of asking for God’s direction in making a decision salat al istikhara.  It goes something like this:

Allah, if you know that this matter: renting this house for the women’s center, is best for me in my spiritual and worldly affairs, in this life and the next, in the immediate and the long-term, then will it for me, make it easy, and then put blessing in it for me.  And if You know that this matter: renting this house for the women’s center, is bad for me in my spiritual and worldly affairs, in this life and the next, in the immediate and the long-term, then drive it away from me and drive me away from it, and will goodness for me wherever that may lie.

A beautifully simple and liberating prayer.

Everyone I met and told about this project also would make prayers of ease and blessing.  Allahumma yassir, Allahumma barik.  We work and strive in this world of cause and effect, but ultimately where things are truly determined is in a realm far beyond us.  I never know who’s prayer is being answered or if it is a confluence of collective prayer…

Finally, the right space for our project materialized.  It’s the downstairs of a villa in the Gueliz area.  It has a wealth of light and all out good vibes.  The street is lined with trees, the house is south facing so receives good light all day, there is a nice garden for outside dining and an herb garden, and plenty of space inside to create a great training kitchen, dining area, and display area for the pastries (I’ll try to post some pics soon).  Thanks to private donations, we were able to pay the first year of rent in advance!

We are overjoyed with the space.  The villa is old and needs some work, but the general feeling there is that it’s a safe and beautiful place for these women to learn and grow.  Honestly it feels like a haven.  The next phase is to make the necessary alterations and aesthetic improvements.  An architect friend is kindly donating his time to draw up a plan of the space and make suggestions on how to proceed.  Then next week we will bring in a builder to start tearing down some walls, putting a few doorways and windows in, etc.  By the end of December, inshallah, we’ll be ready for equipment and furniture.  Then the actual work and training can begin, yeah!

At this point, like I said, we’ve received some very generous support for the rent and repairs.  We are now looking to raise the funds needed for the equipment and furniture.  I’m appealing to you, dear readers and blogging community, for this support.  I’d like to invite you to be part of this project with any donation that is possible to you.

I’m planning on asking some of the major equipment companies in the Food Service industry if they’ll sponsor our training center via some kind of donation of equipment and/or discount.  I’m talking about Promark, Arcade Equipment and Foyelec.  We don’t need a lot, but there are minimal pieces of professional equipment that we need like a big refrigerator, good range top and oven (I could go into great detail about what we need, I’ll save that though for a future post).  Maybe one of my readers is somehow connected to one of these companies.

Here is the bank info for the Amal Women’s Training Center and Moroccan Restaurant:

Bank name: Attijariwafa Bank
Account number (R.I.B) 007450000806500030059496
SWIFT code: BCM.AM.AMC

Here’s our name and address:

Association Amal pour la Cuisine et les Gateaux Marocains
Villa Simone
Angle Rue Allah ben Ahmed et Ibn Sina
Quartier l’Hopital
Gueliz, Marrakesh, 40 000 MAROC
 
Phone number: +212 613 10 84 60
email: amalnonprofit (at) gmail (dot) com 
(website coming soon!)
Facebook: AmalNonProfit 

Please support these needy and at-risk women with whatever donation is within your means.  Peace and blessings to you all.