Here at Mushmina, we jump at the chance to highlight strong women who are at the forefront of making ethical, positive change for our globe. Amal Zniber runs on the fitting Moroccan saying that ‘one cannot clap with one hand alone.’ In other words, teamwork is how anyone accomplishes goals. For Amal, this collaborative spirit of heart is a key element to the mission and the success of the non-profit that she co-founded in 2006; Amis Des Ecoles (ADE). As Amal puts it, ‘The core and soul of this organization is people working together towards a goal.’ On any given day of the week, one can find Amal Zniber thinking ahead-planning, observing, and of course, dreaming of meaningful, compassionate collaborations.
So what is this bold non-profit and who is this gutsy woman at the head of its heartfelt mission?
The Mushmina Team set out to discover. Read on to hear the fascinating interview of the intrepid Amal Zniber and Amis Des Ecoles (ADE)…….
Mushmina: What is Amis Des Ecoles and what was your inspiration for starting the non-profit?
Amal: From the time I was a little girl growing up in Casablanca, I never saw myself running an NGO. My dream was to become an opera singer. So perhaps the opera singing part didn’t pan out, but service was in my blood from the beginning. It was always a part of our curriculum at the American School in Casablanca and it was also embedded in my family’s values. I volunteered at various non-profits from a young age so it seemed natural for me to fall into this role as an important part of my adult life. I have also been profoundly affected by witnessing extreme poverty in my beloved Morocco. I have always been driven to make a difference. And I still love singing.
Mushmina: What makes ADE different from other foundations and non-profits?
Amal: We focus on long-term, sustainable projects in Morocco when we create our plans for improvement. We also commit to investing in authentic relationships with local organizations as well as people who are devoted to genuine, positive change. We feel that this hands-on approach is the only way to engage in progress. We pay particular attention to projects that highlight women’s empowerment, as well as the support of rural Moroccan girl’s education. However, it is just as essential for ADE to be environmentally-friendly in our ever-changing world; therefore, small gestures are just as vital as supporting the bigger-impact projects. Since 2006, we have planted over 8,000 trees in Morocco and our goals are to continue supporting sustainable partnerships.
Mushmina: What makes you tick?
Amal: (without pausing for a beat) My family. My pride and joy are my children, and their entire life has had an impact on me from when the moment they were born until now, and this will never change. They inspire me. I want this world to be a better place for them.
My husband is the co-founder of ADE. He is the man behind the scenes, always discretely in the background, but without whom I could have never been able to manage. He does all the official paper work and runs up and down to the various official offices. My children have joined me from the first ADE trip. My daughter was four and my son, six. All throughout their school years they went on an ADE trip and helped me whenever possible. ADE is a vital part of our family.
Mushmina: Where do you envision Amis Des Ecoles over the course of the next few years?
Amal: My next goal for Amis Des Ecoles is to focus on renovating rural Moroccan schools with the goal of creating more sustainable structures. Currently, village schools tend to be extremely frigid in the winter and unbearably hot during the summer months; the quality of the building materials is not good. My vision is to work with our partner architect, Eva Klewno, in order to find innovative ways to build sustainably, using modernized local materials that also are financially affordable. This way ADE can sponsor more schools and have more of a widespread impact all over Morocco. We are also always looking for meaningful, sustainable collaboration with other like-minded non-profits. We have a dynamic team of professional volunteers, but we are always looking for new talent.
We particularly have a need for grant writers, executives, lawyers, event-planners and those with fundraising backgrounds. Also, creative, open-minded, organized, driven professionals with specific, targeted skills for our field projects. Architects, engineers, product designers and even artisans to train the women in the villages with which we engage regularly and with whom we have long-term collaborations. We excited about our future!
Mushmina: What specifically is your vision for ADE?
Amal: I am aiming to build ADE into a professionally-run NGO (non-government organization). It is a complicated and lengthy process, but I am determined. If I get the necessary funds, I plan on hiring skilled staff and partnering with likeminded institutions. I believe in working together hand-in-hand. I want to create a unique platform where NGOs can share their experiences and learn from each other; work closely together on projects rather than each in his (or moreover her!) own corner. Together we are always stronger, we just need to get rid of the ego that once too often leads us to forget what our goal really is.
Mushmina: Tell us about the Amis Des Ecoles successes. What are you most proud of?
Amal: Our small-but-gutsy organization has funded the renovation of over 300 classrooms in the rural provinces of Tata, Azilal and Marrakech in southern Morocco. We have equipped over 26 libraries in small villages throughout Morocco, we have built two roads in remote villages that provides access to schools for Moroccan children as well as improvements to quality of life in rugged villages, we’ve provided 45 well pumps in collaboration with local communities, we have distributed over 10,000 books to needy Moroccan schoolchildren, and we have created more than 370 sanitary facilities. It is important to remember, however, that all of these projects engage local people and communities to encourage ownership and sustainability within the sites. This is our mission.
Mushmina: How has ADE evolved and grown over the years?
Amal: Since early on in our days of being a non-profit, I have had the privilege of meeting extraordinary people from whom I have learned so much. My favorite encounter in the NGO world was Mohamed Mjid, who passed away in 2014, at the solid age of 98. He lived and fought for his country till his last breath. His NGO, La Fondation Mjid, helps thousands of people across the country. What I loved most about him was the fact that he wasn’t afraid of anyone. He said it as it was and told people exactly what he thought! I learned from him, including to never give up, and never to let anyone tell me that I couldn’t do something. I now know exactly what I want to achieve, I just need to figure out how.
Mushmina: We would love to hear a story that tugs at the heartstrings.
Amal: I remember one of the first trips in the Ait Bougmez Valley in 2005. It took us five hours to get to an off-road path, then two hours to drive through a 15 km rugged stretch, then another six hours on a mule and then finally on foot to a village called Tajgagalt. This tiny village could not be reached by car, and the inhabitants had barely ever had any contact with the outside world. When we arrived, we distributed heavy winter coats to the villagers. I remember putting a jacket on a little girl, and watching the girl embrace herself; tightening her arms around her waist, staring at me with haunting eyes that I will never forget. They had a look of fear and disbelief in them. The fear of me taking back the jacket and the disbelief of finally having something warm to wear in the bitter cold. This look has stayed with me ever since, and has been one of the reasons for my mission and drive. I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing, when so many were in need of help. I had the tools and the motivation; I just needed to put them in motion.
ADE is all about sharing and giving. I strongly believe in teamwork and in group efforts. I long for the day when all the NGOs share their expertise and that we can help each other to make a stronger unit. Tackling poverty is a hard task, and a task that the government alone cannot manage. Our country needs NGOs that are willing to help in this battle. We need the right people to come together and we need a willingness from others to give up old habits that should be replaced by new, more efficient ones. We can change the world if we want to, even if it is only one small step at a time.
Amal often thinks of the young girl in the pastoral village of Tajgagalt, with whom she gave a winter coat almost 20 years ago. Where is she now? What were her hopes and dreams? Amal is thoughtful and even emotional as she explains, ‘I wonder if she has children of her own, with whom she has longings for the future; just as I did for my children. This is why I do what I do.’ Clearly, the universe is listening to Amal’s bold vision. One clap at a time.
By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina Director of Social Engagement
More info: Amis des Ecoles
Give a gift! Visit the Amis des Ecoles donate page here> Choose to donate books, building supplies, a teacher’s monthly salary, a well for the community, and necessary supplies to help rural schoolchildren. Fiscal sponsor Breakthrough in the US makes US donations possible. In the “Leave a Comment” section on Breakthrough’s donations page, please indicate that your donation is for “Amis des Ecoles”. Many thanks!