ROOTA: Generating Income and Restoring Dignity for the Zabaleen of Egypt

 In Under the Spotlight

Rising Out of the Ashes (ROOTA) is a non-profit with a mission to support one of Egypt’s most marginalized groups – the Zabaleen. Zabaleen translates to garbage collector in Egyptian Arabic, meaning this group is in charge of almost 80 percent of the recycling done in Egypt. ROOTA works closely with the Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE), an Egyptian non-profit that teaches the women in the Zabaleen community to repurpose the garbage collected into beautiful handmade products. Then ROOTA brings these products to the Canadian market!

We asked Nevine Yassa to tell us a bit more about ROOTA’s impact in Egypt.

Tell us about the work of APE.

APE’s motto is learning through earning. APE teaches women in the Zabaleen community various crafts using recycled materials, allowing them to work from home. APE teaches these women a trade like spinning and weaving of carpets, quilts, and bags. The home producers are then free to sell their products wherever they choose. IMG_3511 (2)The purpose of these income generating projects is to empower the women to help their families. APE also helps women and young adults by providing adult literacy classes and remedial classes for kids. APE also provides health services through their clinic which provides support for Hepatitis C patients, addiction and diabetes. At ROOTA our mission is to promote their products to help these women become independent.


What inspired you to start this business?

When I saw how the Zabaleen are living, it touched my heart and I decided I would like to help them.  So the idea came to me that I could promote their products and give back to this marginalized community to improve their education, teach them a trade and eventually independence.

There is one story that I always think of – my visit to Mina’s apartment. It was very touching. He is an 18 year old boy married to a 16 year old woman.  He told me how grateful he was to APE for teaching him how to read and write.  He remembers that as a child, his dad was sick and his mother could not find the way to the hospital. She had to ask for help from a cousin who knew how to read and write to help them read the streets names. 


Are they any particular challenges you have faced so far?

There are lots of challenges working with the Zabaleen as they live in their own world. Helping them to understand the vitality of literacy for their empowerment was and is still a challenge. Explaining hygiene precautions was and still is another hurdle.

Not only are ROOTA and APE offering the Zabaleen economic opportunities, but they are helping to restore their dignity. By bringing positive attention to this deeply marginalized group, they are reminding the world to appreciate the individuals who are left to deal with what is left behind from our consumption-driven economy

You can also check out ROOTA online or meet them in person at Oak Park Neighbourhood Centre (OPNC) on Sept 20, 2016. 

You can read more about the work of APE here.

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