IT skills for an alternative living for Cairo's former underclass
CAIRO, EGYPT, 28 April 2004
Living on the fringes of society, the Zabaleen (a colloquial term for rubbish collectors) have been making a living from recycling what Cairo’s more affluent throw away for generations. However, two years ago the government decided that the Zabaleen’s method of collecting waste
in donkey-pulled carts was neither hygienic nor efficient and now foreign companies specialized in waste-disposal have been contracted to clean up Cairo’s refuse, cutting off the livelihood of the Zabaleen who until now have had no other income-generating skills.
ArabDev, APC member in Cairo, has been working with the Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE) in the Mensheyat Nasser area of Greater Cairo for over three years to provide employment alternatives for the Zabaleen. After having assessed the community, ArabDev found that the recent generations of Zabaleen are educated – most have finished high school and some have university educations. However, many of these young people have not able to find work due to their lack of marketable skills and the fact that their education is not related to actual market needs. These youths also lack self-esteem and hold themselves back from going outside of their traditional surroundings. To build up their confidence and their marketable skills APE asked ArabDev to train the youths (both women and men) in office-related IT skills.
ArabDev provided the trainer and APE provided a computer lab with six personal computers. The training has been ongoing. To make the PC lab financially sustainable the project is assessing the possibility to use it as a business centre and internet café when it is not needed for training. It was interesting that a surveyed sample of the local community demanded that they pay for their own training, as they believed that training for a fee will be of higher quality than training obtained for free. The Zabaleen are also a proud community who do not like to accept things "for free".
An unexpected result of the training has been the high demand from young women. These women have often defied patriarchal restrictions that would have prevented them from attending the training due to its being a public place. These restrictions were in place despite the fact that ArabDev, sensitive to the issue, has been giving gender-segregated training. "Some of the women attending face severe punishment if their fathers and/or brothers find out that they attended the IT training," said ArabDev director, Leila Hassanin. ArabDev and APE are now negotiating with male household figures to make them aware of the benefits of the training.
"The one issue that we are still struggling with in this highly successful project is affordable internet connectivity," explained Hassanin. "The fixed line we are using right now is not working reliably, is ultra-slow and expensive. The alternative, a leased line, is out of the financial realm of APE and the local community."