Cairo is an amazing place. I lived and went to school in this city of over 9 million in the early 1990s. On top of the recent governmental conflict and unrest, it’s a city that has for a long time been devastated by pollution and environmental problems. The smog alone is a constant irritant to the senses.
During my time in Cairo, one of the most dramatic and life-changing events was visiting “Garbage City.” This neighborhood is where many of the Zabaleen people live and they have been sorting the trash in Cairo and using their entrepreneurial skills for decades. To see so many people living in that kind of poverty put my own life and blessings into perspective. When I heard that they were a Christian community, at that point their plight and just the blessing of being an American became very clear. I’ve talked about the Zabaleen people before on the PowerBlog. Because of their Christian faith, they have also been maligned and marginalized in Egypt. They were even forced to destroy their vast drove of pigs (300,000) because of a swine flu outbreak, even though the pigs had no role in the outbreak. The pigs were instrumental in the garbage recycling process for Cairo. Their absence has been detrimental to the excessive amounts of rotting food in the streets.
A few weeks ago, The Guardian ran an excellent story on what the Zabaleen people mean for Cairo and how the new government is aiming to finally give them official status for Cairo’s cleanup. It explains why they are so essential to the success of Cairo. Below is an excerpt from the piece:
“It’s an aberration. Over the years the Zabaleen have created an efficient ecosystem that is both viable and profitable, with a recycling capacity of almost 100 percent. It provides work for women and young people who are the first to suffer from Egypt’s unemployment. We need to use this local organisation,” said Leila Iskandar, who became minister of the environment after the fall of Morsi in July. She has worked for years with organisations in the working-class neighbourhood of Manchiet Nasser, where about 65,000 Zabaleen live. (more…)