Eatery serves up a helping of hope

MOROCCO • It is an initiative so successful that it's struggling to keep up with demand.

The Marrakesh-based Amal for the Culinary Arts association offers Moroccan women aged 18 to 35 from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to learn the restaurant business and gain hands-on experience at the association's own restaurant, before finding them a job through its network of partners.

Amal (the Arabic word for hope) helps its beneficiaries achieve financial independence, in a country where women are worst hit by unemployment.

Word spread about the good work it was doing, and today, it doesn't have enough trainees ready to fill all the positions that potential employers are willing to offer.

Theory meets practice during the classes, since everything takes place at the association's restaurant, which is open to the public and welcomes around 100 customers for lunch and dinner.

The trainees run the kitchen, wait on tables, take care of maintenance and manage the accounts and budget.

 From waiting on tables (above) to running the restaurant's kitchen (right).
Theory meets practice: From waiting on tables (above) to running the restaurant's kitchen. PHOTO: AMAL

Since the programme's launch in 2013, around 200 women have attended the courses. Most of them have found employment thanks to the association's partners, one of which is a home for orphan girls and the other a shelter for single mothers and battered women.

Some women have even opened their own cafes and bakeries.

For Amal's founder, Ms Nora Belahcen Fitzgerald, opening this restaurant was a way of fighting the economic insecurity faced by women in Morocco.

"I never imagined it would be such a success," said Ms Belahcen Fitzgerald, who was born in Morocco to American parents.

These days, the association is a hub of ideas for new projects.

 From waiting on tables (above) to running the restaurant's kitchen (right).
Theory meets practice: From waiting on tables to running the restaurant's kitchen (above). PHOTO: AMAL

"Amal version 2.0 will be a structure that mentors women and supports them on the path to entrepreneurship, in the form of community business development," she said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2018, with the headline 'Eatery serves up a helping of hope'. Print Edition | Subscribe