“There’s been real progress in recent years with issues such as domestic violence and mental health. For many people these are still taboo subjects, but people are increasingly comfortable coming to us to talk about the problems and challenges they’re facing. It’s all about trust, and we work very hard to maintain this with the local and wider community.”
As Esma Dukali, manager of the Al-Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s Centre, outlines some of the current projects and initiatives, it immediately becomes clear just how important a role the centre plays in the community. Founded in 1985 as a support group for Moroccan women in North Kensington, it now operates for the benefit of all Arabic speaking women and their families both locally and London-wide.
This Guardian award-winning organisation has had its residence situated at the base of Trellick Tower, in the heart of the Moroccan community, since January 1991. Al-Hasaniya provides a wide range of services designed to either help its users overcome any issues they’re experiencing, or to educate and empower them as a stepping stone towards self-advocacy and employment. Emotional support, health issues, information technology (IT) and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses are just a few of the services on offer.
“We’re the only Arabic-speaking women’s service in London offering such wide-ranging assistance,” says Esma, “and we’re very proud to be able to help and support so many people. People are referred to us from across London and the rest of the UK, so the benefits of Al-Hasaniya are felt far and wide.” The centre offers both appointments and drop-in sessions throughout the week, and more recently a Saturday morning project aimed specifically at young Arabic speaking people.
As well as general advocacy and support, Al-Hasaniya also undertakes specific projects, often in partnership with other organisations, designed to target widespread issues in the community, such as the Volunteering Project, working in partnership with the Venture Centre and Meanwhile Gardens, the Inspire Well Women Project, working jointly with Midaye SDN and the 3Es project, launched to Educate, Empower and Engage local women to help them into education and employment with part of the programme being undertaken with the nearby Jobcentre Plus.
Esma originally joined Al-Hasaniya as a volunteer ten years ago, at a time when the centre was under threat from closing its doors. Together with founder Souad Talsi MBE and other volunteers, Esma helped to raise the funds that kept the centre open; today. Al-Hasaniya is as strong as it has ever been, with a number of ongoing projects and six members of staff. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the Big Lottery Fund, K&C PCT and Catalyst Gateway.
Esma adds: “By working closely with partner organisations, we’ve managed to maximise the work we can do, and as a result our funding is going further. As you might expect, funds are always tight and require stringent measures, but we manage to offer services and projects that help every corner of the Arabic speaking community thanks to the support of our funders. Over the course of a week we have around 30 people come into our drop-in sessions for help with a range of problems they’re facing, up to 100 others using our similar telephone service and up to 50 people coming to our Friday lunch club. Add in growing numbers for the Saturday youth programme and the people helped with our older people and domestic violence outreach projects and you start to understand just how vital a role Al-Hasaniya plays.”
Having been a lifeline for many thousands of women and their families, supporting them and ensuring their rights are protected here in the UK, Al-Hasaniya also works tirelessly in its campaign to ameliorate the conditions of women largely in the Arab world. Its expertise is regularly sought by both the academic world as well as national governments. “We are very proud to be part of a driving force to changing laws and influencing decision makers in places such as Morocco and bring about gender equality”.
The name ‘Al-Hasaniya’ is derived from the Arabic word for ‘to do good’. Just one look at the centre’s position within the local and wider community, and the good work it continues to deliver in empowering Arabic women and their families, and it’s clear that Al-Hasaniya is living up to its name.
If you’re experiencing any issues that you need help to deal with, or would like to learn more about Al-Hasaniya and the education possibilities it provides, there’s a number of ways to get in touch:
Drop-in service: 10am to midday, every Friday at Bays 4 & 5, Trellick Tower, Golborne Road, London W10 5PL. Email firstname.lastname@example.org,visit our website at www.al-hasaniya.org.uk or telephone 020 8969 2292.