Cooking to Empower Moroccan Women
Impacting women through unique travel experiences.
It is easier than ever for travelers to join the feminist movement through immersive and impactful experiences that empower local women via Visit.org. In October I had the chance to visit three do-good organizations that are making a major difference in Moroccan women’s lives through the power of food. It is a crucial time to support Moroccan women after an uproar last fall when a state-owned television program showed Moroccan women how to cover the signs of battery with makeup. The segment, which aired on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, completely missed an opportunity to provide abused women resources and support regarding how to report domestic violence. Instead, it normalized violence and made abuse seem trivial, as if it can be simply fixed with makeup. This is especially jarring as domestic violence is not considered a crime in Morocco. It has been reported that ⅔ of Moroccan women have suffered physical, emotional or sexual violence.
In the rose colored city of Marrakesh, Morocco I learned about traditional Moroccan cuisine with the nonprofit, Amal Women’s Training Center. The mission of the center is to train disadvantaged women in the culinary skills of traditional Moroccan cuisine. Those impacted by the training program are provided housing, transportation, a stipend and child care free of charge. Once they’ve completed the program they are certified chefs and may seek employment in restaurants, hotels or private family homes. The nonprofit offers job search assistance and maintains relationships with the women throughout their careers. Many come back to teach the next generation of students, share their success stories and mentor new women who’ve taken the first step out of poverty, abuse or neglect by joining the center. After being briefed about the cause and impact of the organization, aprons are donned as one of the beneficiaries, the culinary instructor, offers directions and demonstrations to make a delicious vegetarian tajine. The enchanting scent of herbs and spices mixes with the aura of positivity and perseverance from the trainees. Once the cooking is complete we all sit down to enjoy our meal that we’ve prepared together with love and share stories.
Deep in the Moroccan Sahara Desert in the small village of Khamlia is an organization that is providing free education to children and developmental programs for local women. The Khamlia Association teaches handicraft skills to the the village women providing vocational training in sewing, clothing manufacturing, embroidery and rug making. As a fashion enthusiast I was eager to learn about Moroccan textiles, ceremonial garments, weaving techniques and color processing. I was mesmerized as I watched one of the beneficiaries tie hand dyed wool onto the loom at lightening speed. Within moments the red thread and formed the shape of a heart and was decorated with sparkly adornments. The nonprofit is a sustainable business for the women where they can sell their handmade goods. It was a true joy to be able to purchase a customary Berber dress directly from the artisan who created it. After demonstrating the various craftswomen skills I was entered the family kitchen where barrels of garden fresh vegetables, couscous and spices were being transformed into delicious meals for the Association’s Bivouac camp guests. I was invited to help bake bread in the outdoor clay oven. The dough rose and bubbled into fluffy perfection. After dinner I was the canvas for a henna design of desert flowers and learned about the process of making natural henna from scratch and typical Moroccan henna designs from one of the women impacted by the association.
In my favorite Moroccan city, the beautiful coastal medina of Essaouira, I met with El Khir to learn, and indulge in, divine Moroccan pastries. This nonprofit supports the economic empowerment of local women through culinary training at their two centers located in the ancient UNESCO medina. At-risk women who’ve completed the training program are offered the chance to earn a living wage and lead classes with travelers. These women are very proud of their work and truly enjoy sharing their unique culinary customs. The lessons include various baking recipes and methods for pastries such as the sticky sweet baklava and the delicious almond gazelle horn. The organization’s mission is to provide women the means to gain financial independence and keep cultural heritage alive through cooking and baking. The cultural experience takes place in the organizations rooftop kitchen with views of the Atlantic Ocean and the sounds of waves crashing mingling in the air with the scent of baking treats. The cross-cultural conversations with the female beneficiaries is the cherry on top of this experience but not to worry, dessert was still served.