In Egypt the garbage system is a bit special. There is a special place in Cairo called, “Zabbaleen,” or the garbage city, where all the trash is collected and brought. Here families living in this city, sorting the trash, and then sell it back to different places through recycling. There is a long complicated history with this group of people, who were primarily Christian and had moved to Egypt looking for work. They ended up collecting garbage door to door from city residents for no cost and then re-using these materials, feeding the leftover food waste to pigs (an animal not eaten by Muslims). Their camp and space was set up camp on the outside of Cairo, past the city of the dead. There was a recent problem in 2009 when the Ministry of Agriculture ordered the culling of all pigs because of the fear of H1N1. This changed things for the Zabbaleen, but that is a whole different story. What is amazing is that in this community 85 % of all the garbage is recycled and has a new life.
I found myself in the Zabbaleen to visit the Association for the Protection of the Environment, (APE) an amazing NGO that empowers women from this community to create crafts from clean recycled materials. They have a crafts training program, a nursery / supplementary school, a clinic, a protected environmental area with indigenous plants, and a store. The training program teaches the women how to create recycled paper from fabric and old office materials, weave carpets and bags from old factory fabrics, and quilt. At APE there are looms and sewing machines for training and once the women and girls have completed their training at APE, they work in their homes sell what they create to APE, which becomes a shop and distributer. I was shown around the campus by the amazing Hoda Shukri, a board member, and very active volunteer. She used to direct the nursery that provides education and literacy to the young children, and also adults in the community! When I visited the nursery I was so surprised to find possibly the most disciplined, cute, and well behaved children I have ever seen in my life. There was a row of tiny 4 year olds sitting along the wall silently eating their lunch from tiny silver bowls. They were all smiling and happy, but with a sweet sense of shyness. This was wonderful.
I think many people in the United States are familiar with Ten Thousand Villages, the fair trade store in the United States. My familyespecially buys gifts things from this store during Christmas time. On the tags you always see where the object came from in the world but this was always sort of a distant thought — how could this object have once been held and created by a woman in Vietnam and now are in my hands too? APE sells to Ten Thousand Villages and it was amazing to see the people and place where these crafts are being made.
If you want to learn more about APE you can check out their website here: http://www.ape.org.eg/.
A view from the Clinic offices of the protected environment area with indigenous trees in the middle of Zabbaleen. A woman working a the loom creating a very complicated design with four pedals instead of two. Some of the paper crafts made by the women. They grind old fibers to pulp and use strainers / presses to create new paper. Jewelry from old magazine paper and nespresso capsules. Just a sample of all the quilts and bags they have in their store room.