On the outskirts of Cairo lie so called “garbage-cities”, areas in which informal garbage collectors (zeballeen) make their livelihoods by collecting, sorting and recycling the city’s trash. Though these communities boast an enviable 90% waste recycling rate, it comes at a high price. These settlements are among the poorest in the world. Because most of the sorting and recycling is done by hand or with low-cost technologies and without appropriate safety equipment, the residents suffer high rates of health issues, including Hepatitis and Tetanus.

Children from these families often drop out of school because their families are too poor to pay for any school expenses. Due to poverty, children are forced to work to help support their families. They mostly work with garbage sorting and recycling, which is done in a very hazardous way, mostly by hand, without any protective equipment. Because they never learn how to read and write, these kids remain locked in a cycle of poverty, unable to attain a better future for themselves.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has provided a five-year grant to HANDS to help the efforts of our Egyptian partner organization, Spirit of Youth, to improve livelihoods of zeballeen communities in Cairo. The grant will finance several large activities, including the integration of informal waste collectors into the city waste collection system. It will also support recycling activities by SMEs (small and micro enterprise) and NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), including modernization and consolidation of recycling workshops. Important part of this project will also be awareness raising campaign to encourage Cairo residents to separate waste into organic and non-organic. Organic waste will be collected and directed to composting plants and non-organic waste will be taken for recycling. Other activities that provide economic opportunities for the informal garbage–collectors’ communities and further encourage recycling practices in Egypt will be implemented as well.