The face of En Shalla is the same smiley one of some of the women you can see pictured on these pages. With their very colourful clothes, they are ready to pose in front of the camera, proudly
displaying the bags they have created with care and creativity. To help them in their path of improvement there is a Foundation, whose heart and mind sit astride Morocco and the UK.
This solidarity project was sparked by Maryam, a woman born and raised in Casablanca, who with her London-based husband, Daren, gave life to an entrepreneurial project. This was a cosmopolitan challenge that took her around the world, and then back to her country of birth. Her attachment to her roots and to her marvellous people brought, four years ago, to the creation of
the Food Bag Foundation.
The project has an environmentally-conscious heart that is also full of solidarity. In what does it consist? In giving a second life to the sacks used in Morocco to store foodstuffs. Transforming
them into something new and enticing, that can be re-used as colourful and decorated food bags, very useful for daily or weekly food shopping. It is the women of Marrakesh who create the bags. At a certain point, Maryam felt the need to do something for these tireless workers, helping in their training.
Was the Foundation the fruit of an increasing awareness?
I realised that the women needed to be educated. They needed to learn to read, write and count: a fundamental requirement to improve their lives. I wanted them to pass such learning on to their children, and at the same time to learn to take better care of themselves.
Where did you get the idea to use the sacks used to transport foodstuffs, and how do you find them?
I realised that around Marrakesh there was a multitude of abandoned plastic bags, it was certainly a sore for the eye! I supposed they had a potential that could be
developed. As a matter of fact, these bags are made with a grill pattern on which we work, weaving and inserting coloured threads: we can then make very simple and yet
fun designs. Now we get hold of them by buying them directly in the markets. And we can then give them a new life.
Your project revolves around training and education. How did the women react?
The women we involved in this initiative responded in the best way possible: they were absolutely enthusiastic at the idea of starting to learn. Initially, they were a
bit doubtful of leaving their villages, but now they have increased their self-confidence and have acquired new abilities.
Did you receive support from the government?
Not for the moment, but we hope to be able to involve institutions as well in the project. For the moment, we are working on it…
When did you realize that your Foundation could make a difference?
As soon as we understood that for these women, once a certain amount was reached, the numbers became too difficult. And it is not difficult to understand why: they have never owned anything. It is their fathers, and then their husbands, who take care of them! Roughly 6 months ago, while we were right in the middle of the delivery of the collection, Hayat, chief of a large number of women, came to the office to get paid. We were busy and she had made a lot of bags on that particular month. And so, when it came to paying her, it was quite hard because she couldn’t understand how the numbers worked. We had to count and explain the money together at least five times.
And so you planted a small seed of female empowerment in your land…
In Morocco, 40% of women can’t read or write. It means a lot to me to think that I have contributed in reducing this injustice, improving the life of women.
How did you build the team that works for the Foundation?
Through one of the most ancient and tested systems in the world: word of mouth. Food Bag Foundation attracts the sisters, neighbours, friends…
What was the most touching moment in this project?
When we try a new design and find it lovely it is an exciting moment, for us and our workers. In any case, there are endless unforgettable moments… and seeing a finished work always makes us happy.
Any critical moments?
At a certain moment we had difficulties in finding women who would be able to realise the bags with more complex decorations. It was Fatima, a pelt weaver who has worked with us for a long time, who put us in contact with the right person. We went to a village and met a group of truly intelligent and energetic women who were able to take the challenge. Everything seemed to go well, but when I went back to the village with Daren, my husband and partner, we found barred doors and windows. It took us a while to realise that they were hiding from him: a man, and a foreigner. This Foundation wants to empower these women, giving them the instruments to think and protect themselves on their own.
What are your objectives for the future?
To continue to grow the Foundation and ensure that more and more women and girls learn to read and write. Currently there are only three villages involved in the project, but I like thinking big.