Mokattam Revisited: Environmental Progress in the ‘Garbage City’

Mokattam Revisited: Environmental Progress in the ‘Garbage City’

In one of my earlier posts I described a visit to Mokattam with its awesome cave churches. I had always wanted to go back to visit one of the projects there, and when I heard that Nazli Rizek, one of the members at St Andrew’s, was taking a few people, I just had to tag along.

Nazli had taught English at the APE Project in the past, so was an ideal person to show us round. Mokattam’s other name is the ‘Garbage City’, because it is where President Nasser moved the rubbish collectors, the Zabaleen, in the 1950s. The Zabaleen are primarily Christian, and everywhere you see signs of their faith.

Mokattam has grown and is now a densely populated township with almost every available piece of land swallowed up in building constructions. In most of the blocks of flats, the ground floor is used for bringing in bags of rubbish, which the families sort through, extracting anything which is able to be recycled. After this process, the rest of the rubbish is taken away to a land fill site.

APE, the Association for the Protection of the Environment, has operated in Mokattam since 1984 and occupies an area in the centre of the township. It is one of the only spaces where there is a sense of space and even greenery. It aims to encourage the garbage collectors, and especially the women and children, to become ‘agents of change for a better environment’, and seeks to improve their lives in healthcare, education and also through income generation projects (involving recycling). They also seek to protect the environment by improving waste management systems and indeed have started an eco-garden at Mokattam, planting indigenous trees which produce fruit, thus promoting the concept of sustainability.

On entering the APE compound, we immediately came upon the school, which was made up of a number of brightly-decorated classrooms and enthusiastic teachers. There was a Nursery, where parents (many of them working on APE projects) could leave their babies and toddlers in a safe environment. Then there were several classrooms for children between the ages of 4 and 8, I would say, where they are taught basic reading and writing and generally are given a head start before being integrated in to the government school system.

However, the main part of the APE centre comprises of the buildings where recycling takes place, and where, primarily young women, are taught how to weave and sew and how to manufacture the wonderful rugs and patchwork quilts and bags, for which they are renowned.  The rags they use come from industrial waste (and not out of the garbage, as I had naively thought). Once they learn how to weave, they often have looms set up in their homes to continue to earn a living. They also learn how to recycle paper, which is handmade without any glues and chemicals, and so environmentally friendly. The paper is used to make cards with dried flowers or embroidery.

The healthcare service was unfortunately closed the day we were there, but they run awareness programmes in the community, especially concerning issues such as early marriage and female circumcision. There is also a project dealing with the transmission of Hepatitis B and C and providing both testing and treatment if necessary.

APE certainly makes a tremendous contribution to the well-being of the community, and everywhere we went we were met by helpful people who were obviously enjoying what they were doing.

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The Cairo Book Fair

The Cairo Book Fair

The metro trains on my Abbasiyya line have been crowded recently, because everyone has been going to the Book Fair! The Cairo Book Fair is the biggest and oldest in the Middle East (and apparently the second biggest in the world after Frankfurt!). It happens every year and lasts for two weeks, during which the Showground becomes a hive of activity.

Problems with the economy have had an effect on the Fair this year, as publishers have been hit hard.  Prices of paper and ink have doubled in price due to the Flotation of the Egyptian Pound in November, and this has led to a subsequent rise in the price of books. There were 100 fewer publishers at the Fair than in 2016.

BUT, despite it all, I was amazed at how many stalls and tents there actually were, and the size of the area they covered. I even managed to lose my bearings at one point, and had to be given directions back to the Metro! It was gratifying to see so many people at a Book Fair – it was crowded! (Admittedly there are 26 million people living in Greater Cairo, so perhaps I should not be surprised…)

Many people were there for a day out, and no doubt the refreshments stalls would make a lot of money. But there were some really good discounts on books, and I did see many people buying books. As usual in Book Fairs, there were various talks (almost exclusively in Arabic) and cultural events. Most of the books on sale were naturally in Arabic, but there were enough in English for me to spend a good few hours browsing – and buying!

Indeed I have visited the Fair three times already, and each time I returned with an empty wallet. We are very fortunate to have the American University in Cairo Press, which publishes excellent books, often with first-rate illustrations or photographs. They too were offering very good discounts, so inevitably I came out of their marquee laden with books.

There were quite a number of Christian publishers (though they tended to be all in the same big tent), including the Bible Society who had a couple of stands and who offered Bibles for the equivalent of 10p (to give them away free could be seen as proselytizing, which is against the law). There was also super material for children and teenagers, but again these were affected by the price rise in imported materials, so have had to raise their prices, though never by enough to cover costs.

I have always loved books, but when I left both Zambia and the Galilee, I left so many books behind. I thought that in Egypt I would have to use Kindle. However, the Cairo Book Fair has certainly helped to break that resolve.


The Inspirational Story of John Samuel

The Inspirational Story of John Samuel

In Scottish terms, John is a ‘son of the manse’. His father is a pastor of a congregation in the ever-expanding suburbs in the north of Cairo.

Despite studying to be an engineer (he has a Masters in Civil Engineering), John found himself working for the Church in the Synod of the Nile’s 80/800 Programme, which aims to develop 80 congregations as the first phase of a plan to create 800 Presbyterian congregations. There are currently just over 300.

John targeted 21 congregations over the length of Egypt, from Alexandria in the North to Aswan in the South, organising training courses in capacity building for church workers, elders and members. He sought to develop discipleship among the members, especially the youth, but also challenged the congregations to look outwards in community service, in education, health and agriculture.

john1John spent two years on the project. However, along with 90,000 other young people (which seems an incredibly high number, but this is Egypt!), he applied for selection to a training programme for youths initiated by President Sisi. He was successful, being one of only 33 Christians out of the 500 chosen. He has now completed the training and is waiting to be assigned to a position, perhaps in one of the ministries or even in the company setting up Egypt’s new capital, which is being established in between Cairo and Suez.

John seemingly collects degrees, and he is also in his third year of the MAOL programme (Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership) at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. As its title suggests, the degree focuses on specific needs and issues surrounding Christian Leadership. The students take 12 modules over a three year period, and subjects include modules such as Strategic Thinking, Integrity & Finance, Spiritual Formation, Mentoring &Coaching and Conflict Management & Resolution. The students come to the Seminary for a week of intensive classes twice a year. They then continue their studies through distance learning, reading and writing assignments at home.

He has been enormously impressed by the modules he has taken so far, and especially enjoys their practical nature. He values the strengthening of leadership in the church and only hopes that the course, which has been taught in English so far, can be translated into Arabic so that it reaches a wider audience. John hopes to be used by God through what he learns in the course, and to be able to bring about transformation in Egypt.img_0292