The Association for the Protection of the Environment - Egypt Today/Yasmine Hassan
CAIRO – 2 November 2017: Every day, around dawn, tens of thousands of hardworking men leave their homes in the far southern end of Cairo’s Manshiyat Naser slum area to start collecting tons of garbage from all over the capital.
They go from door to door for hours and then head back to the “Garbage City”, at the base of Mokattam Hill in Cairo, where their wives and kids sort out the trash and prepare it for the recycling process.
The same chore has been going on for over 70 years, passed on from one generation to another.
Although they have been doing a remarkable job, filling in for an inefficient garbage collection system in Cairo and establishing a highly functional recycling industry, garbage collectors still have to endure very poor living conditions and a lack of basic services.
Acting as a safe hub for such self-enclosed community, the Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE) has been working for almost three decades to offer much needed care to over 70,000 residents of the Garbage City.
Deep in the heart of that city, one would see dozens of women and children standing at the gate of the APE every afternoon.
The women are either bringing in their children for after-school remedial classes or they are coming for their own literacy lessons. They might also be going for their weaving, quilting and paper-recycling training, or bringing in their final products to be sold in the association’s gallery.
The association has at least a hundred employees who are present every day, 140 women who produce hand-crafted products at home and 20 volunteers who dedicate their time and efforts to develop the community.
One of the most senior volunteers in the association is “Tante Samira”, as everyone calls her, who has been working with the dwellers for over 30 years.
Once we arrived at the APE, everyone was guiding us to speak with her, saying that she is the “godmother” and the best spokesperson for the association.
“When I first came here, there was only one building in the association, where women were taught rug making…and the three founders, Laila Iskandar, Marie Asaad and Yousreya Sawiras, were the only volunteers who came to help out, along with two nuns,” Tante Samira tells Egypt Today.
“When we first established a nursery, we uncovered that girls here did not even have birth certificates. I remember I helped issue over 35,000 certificates for young girls who were already four and five years old,” she recalls.
Many women in the community are now the primary breadwinners of their families, after receiving proper education and trainings, Tante Samira says proudly.
Tante Samira has also been responsible for the health unit at the association for 12 years. The unit offers treatment and essential nutrition to the residents, focusing mostly on Virus C and liver infection.
“We started in 2017 with an infection rate of 17 percent, now we are down to only half a percent,” she says.
We visited APE on a Monday, a special day when the volunteers are there with the dwellers and employers. We took a tour of the workshops, classes and clinic as well as having a nice chat with some inspiring women:
The products of the association are all made of factories’ leftovers and patches, which women of the community use creatively to produce carpets, pillows, rugs and even puppets.
The volunteers come up with the designs and supervise the process all the way until the marketing process, which they take responsibility of. They sometimes go as far as opening their houses to serve as galleries for the products.
The association also has a permanent shop at the Fustat handicraft market in Old Cairo, and it is usually invited to present its beautiful hand-made crafts in various exhibitions.
In addition, the products can be found in periodical galleries, such as during Christmas and the fasting month of Ramadan.
The APE is currently preparing to head to the World Youth Forum that will take place in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh staring November 4.