In the centre of Cairo, at the foot of Mokattam, there lies the ‘garbage
village’ of about 20,000 people. These people, referred to
as zabbaleen, live off garbage activities. As a result, they are
effectively excluded from the rest of society, which has meant that
in the past most zabbaleen children had no access to formal education.
Instead, from a very early age, they would accompany their parents
in sorting waste in the home, or going on the collection routes around
Cairo – since it’s estimated that the zabbaleen handle
about a third of Cairo’s garbage.
Since 1984, the Association for the Protection of the Environment
(APE) has been working with the zabbaleen in improving their living
conditions and making a real business out of their recycling work.
APE has been involved in implementing projects which mix literacy,
numeracy and health with practical skills and programmes such as
rag and paper recycling units, an organic compost plant, neighbourhood
upgrading schemes but mention but a few. This not only gives practical
skills to the people, but equally importantly, a sense of dignity
in their own worth.
An early project was the organic composting plant, which was then
able to fund the rug weaving and patchwork centre.
women who missed out upon their education, as they had been involved
in the garbage route as children.
They were recruited into a ‘learning
and earning’ school, which incorporated all the elements
of school learning within a recycling project turning clean rags
into marketable products such as rugs.
The women build upon existing
skills, whilst also developing new ones including literacy. Once
they have graduated, the women continue to produce items in their
Spreading the knowledge
The women are able to use their education and skills within the wider
community upon graduation, and as the products generate income,
this too can then be re-invested into the community.
textile centre teaches more than 250 women. It has also had a
positive impact upon the health and nutrition of families as the
their new knowledge.
It has also had a wider impact in that APE
is now using the experience and knowledge gained to develop
similar schemes in Tora and Sinai, thereby helping others to improve
their lives and communities.