Being a garbage collector is not a dream job in any country, but in Egypt it can be a trap that for collectors and their generations to follow. Imagine living on an endless pile of trash. Your daily activities include collecting waste, bringing it back for your children to sort, and then selling valuable materials like plastic to a middle man company who retains 30% of your profit.What is more remarkable is that these entrepreneurial garbage collectors who have a sorting accuracy rate of 80% are not recognized by the formal government for their tremendous efforts in keeping Cairo clean. Instead, many receive a meager household tip as their wage which is nothing when you have to feed a family of up to ten people.
In 2010, I founded A Remnant Remains; a volunteer based nonprofit organization committed to sustainable development in the garbage villages of Egypt. The goal of the organization was to improve the livelihoods of these garbage collectors by providing them access to essential resources such as water, electricity, and income generation. To accomplish this goal, we installed a first of its kind solar node system powering 3-5 homes at once. Garbage collectors are not only accessing sustainable electricity but are learning the power of community based solutions and environmental sustainability. This initiative led to the creation of an income generating recycling program where waste is recycled, granulated, and then sold to plastic companies, turning trash into cash for garbage collectors. The goal of A Remnant Remains is to provide a model for sustainable development to those at the bottom of the pyramid who cannot find a way out. By providing individuals with options for improving their livelihoods, people can become active contributors to society, turning something as seemingly valueless as trash into income.
The Arab Spring started off as an outcry against this type of economic frustration. Take a look at the man whose fury sparked the Tunisian Revolution and in turn the Arab Spring itself –Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi. This 26 year old Tunisian man was trying to provide for his family by selling vegetables on the side of the road. When Bouazizi’s vegetable cart was confiscated by the authorities, he realized that his livelihood was threatened and he could no longer provide for his family. After being publicly humiliated and told to pay a 10 dinar fine, he refused and set himself on fire in protest of his livelihood being robbed from him.
Today, A Remnant Remains is trying to catalyze on the recent activism of youth by providing them volunteer opportunities in the garbage village. Some of these opportunities include children’s fairs, soccer games with youth, putting on puppet shows, face painting, conducting food distributions, and engaging with one of the most overlooked people groups in Egypt.
The goal of all these efforts is to provide youth an outlet to volunteer and take part in making the lives of others better. In January 2015, A Remnant Remains is partnering with Global Unites to invite youth across the Middle East to participate in a conflict transformation conference in Sri Lanka. This conference will be mobilizing youth from across the world, inspiring and equipping them to become a generation of peace builders across the world for youth led conflict transformation. For more information about the conference or to apply please sign up here: www.globalunites.org