Sama’an Nazmi, a Coptic Christian from the garbage slums of Manshier Nasr, jumped up off the couch and sprinted out the door upon hearing gunfire and screams in the streets outside. Coptic youth had been staging a protest, causing enough racket that village priests urged them to stop before they attracted the attention of radical mobs who may use violence to forcefully halt the demonstration. The protestors – agitated over a church that had been burned to the ground by Islamists days earlier in a nearby village – refused to back down.
Villagers knew the protests were getting out of hand once the military arrived. Still, they could not convince their sons to come home. Instead, families gathered together, locked their doors, held hands, and prayed. When gunfire was heard, no one was surprised. In fact, many, like Sama’an, had been expecting it and were waiting to respond, knowing that help would be needed.
“Don’t go!” Sama’an’s mother shouted after him as he fled out the door. “I’m not afraid,” Sama’an replied on the run. “I need to protect my church and family.”
“We didn’t want to see him go,” Sama’an’s mother told ICC. “But he wanted to help those who were injured.”
Bullets still flying, Sama’an hurriedly searched for the injured and offered whatever assistance he could give.
Sama’an’s efforts were short lived, however. His wife, Rasha (not real name), had followed closely behind him before stopping at the top of the hill where she could see the upcoming events unfold. “I saw Sama’an helping an injured youth to his feet,” Rasha explained through a translator. “And then Sama’an dropped to the ground.”
A shrill scream pierced the village. Rasha tried to go to her husband, but her legs locked and she fell desperately to her knees. Crawling toward him and toward the battle that pressed on, villagers had to grab her to hold her back.
“I couldn’t get to him,” she lamented. “But when he fell, I knew he was dead. I knew there was nothing I could do.”
“They take our children, our money, our power. They take everything,” Sama’an’s mother continued. “What do they want from us?”
Sama’an’s family lives off less than two dollars a day which is earned by collecting and recycling Cairo’s trash. With Sama’an’s death, the family lost their only provider. Sama’an’s father is also out of the picture, having been arrested a year earlier for owning a pig, which became illegal in Cairo after the swine epidemic of 2009. It will be another four years before he is released. The women and children are now left to fend for themselves.
Sipping tea with Sama’an’s family in their home, Rasha took a framed wedding photo from the wall and handed it to me. A beautiful bride and handsome groom, in love, posed confidently for the camera. I looked at the bride and hardly recognized her. Rasha’s face, though still young, had aged quickly over the past few months by the stress and hard labor that a poor widow must bear in Egypt. How could Rasha have known her life would turn out this way?
Still gazing at the photograph, Sama’an’s five-year-old son Hany and two-year-old daughter Mariam chased after baby chicks scurrying across the living room rug. Amongst the chirps and laughing children, Rasha broke down in tears. The group I was with came to her, prayed, and offered what little comfort we could. “What will she do now?” I asked myself. “How will she raise her children on her own?”
Today, ICC continues to seek a solution to these questions. Upon our visit, ICC was able to bless Rasha and eight other families who lost loved ones in the protests on March 8 with a gift to help their immediate financial needs. Now, ICC is developing a small business for Rasha and providing the support needed to ensure that her children will attend school. Lastly, we have connected these families with a local church that will visit them monthly and continue to ensure that there spiritual and physical needs are being cared for.
Please consider partnering with ICC by praying or sending a donation for families in Mokattam. If you would like to give a gift to improve the lives of our brothers and sisters in Egypt, please make a donation to our Hand of Hope Fund for the Middle East and include a note designating your gift for “Egypt.” You may also give by check or by calling us at 1-800-ICC-5441.
To learn more about families in Mokattam who lost loved ones on March 8, please sign up for our newsletter to read a full article in our September edition.
Among Egypt’s most impoverished people are Coptic Christians living in the garbage districts of Cairo. Entire families live off less than $2.00 a day which is earned by collecting recyclables from the city’s refuse. Most disturbing of all is that the cycle of poverty has been near impossible to break. The craft of trash sifting, which has been passed down from generation to generation, is the only ‘skill’ these communities know. Any bid to help these families establish an alternative business – which ICC proposed – is quickly rejected. Though poor, these families stick to what they know, afraid that a new vocation might leave them penniless.
Sadly, this attitude is passed onto their children. Kids as young as five are encouraged to begin collecting trash to contribute to the family’s income. Being the case, the child’s education is often overlooked or ignored. Without it, a child’s opportunity for a better life vanishes and the cycle of poverty continues. Click here to learn more about education in the garbage slums of Cairo.
ICC recently visited nine families whose loved ones were killed in a March 8th attack on Coptic protestors in the garbage district of Mokattam. When approaching their homes, the mothers, wives and children of the young men killed sat among heaps of trash; their hands and feet covered in the gunk of rotting food, their shirts stained by putrid waste. These families were still in mourning two months after the death of their household’s primary caretaker. Now, they must work twice as hard to buy food and pay rent. The prospect of sending their children to school has faded. Every hand is needed if the bills are to be paid.
I found the wife, mother and daughter (right) of Mihani Ezzad Farouk, a Coptic Christian killed in the protests, digging through a heap of trash (pictured below) to find recyclable plastics. When extending my hand to shake theirs, it was met by the slimy leftovers of someone’s decomposing dinner that was thrown out a week before. Their hands were stained and calloused. Their feet were black from dirt and filth.
My heart mourned for these families. We sat in their homes, prayed with them, offered financial assistance, and connected them to a local Christian group who made a commitment to visit them once a month to bring both spiritual and physical relief. Their situations appeared utterly desperate and helpless, yet we looked to the Lord to heal and provide. Please pray for the families of Mokattam and the other garbage communities spread across the suburbs of Cairo.
ICC is developing projects in these communities with local ministries that will educate their children and provide sustainable incomes. To learn how you can get involved, please contact ICC at firstname.lastname@example.org
Coptic Christians in the garbage district of the Mokattam Hills of Cairo protested in the streets on March 8 to condemn attacks on Christians and the destruction of a church that had occurred days earlier in a nearby village. The Coptic protestors were met by a Muslim mob, both of whom threw stones at each other. At 4:00 pm, the Egyptian military intervened by firing live ammunition at the Coptic protestors, according to eye witnesses.
Hearing gunfire, Sama’an Nazmi went to the site of the demonstration to see if anyone needed help. “I’m not afraid,” Sama’an told a friend. “I want to protect my church and my family.” The gunfire continued after Sama’an arrived on the scene and it was he who became the next victim. “The Egyptian military killed my son,” Sama’an’s mother told ICC.
The family took Sama’an to the hospital, but the doctor said nothing could be done. Sama’an was 28 years old, and left behind his wife, five-year-old son Hany, and two-year-old daughter Mariam.
“They take our children, our money, and our power. They take everything. What do they want from us?” Sama’an’s mother lamented.
ICC recently visited Sama’an’s family and eight other families who lost loved ones on March 8. ICC is giving financial assistance to these families and helping some of them begin a sustainable business. Sama’an’s family lives in an area of Cairo known as a ‘garbage community.’ The family’s lone source of income comes from collecting and recycling Cairo’s trash. Please pray for Sama’an’s family (pictured) as well as the eight other families who lost loved ones in this tragic attack.
On March 8, sixteen-year-old Shenouda Adly heard gunfire on the road approaching his neighborhood in the Mokattam Hills of Cairo. When he asked what it was, Shenouda’s friends told him that the revolution had reached their doorstep. In actuality, however, a group of young Coptic men were blocking the road in protest to show their solidarity with other Coptic Christians across Cairo who were demonstrating over a church that had been burnt down by a Muslim mob days earlier. Listening to the crackle of gunshots from his home, Shenouda could not resist the urge to see the protest for himself. At 4:00 pm, he went to join his friends on the street.
When Shenouda arrived at the scene, his father was already there and told him to return to the house immediately. Eyewitnesses said that the protestors had been confronted by a Muslim mob, and that both sides were throwing stones at each other. When the military arrived to disperse the protestors, they first shot into the air and then opened fire into the Coptic crowd. This was no place for a sixteen-year-old boy.
Shenouda’s father returned home soon after, but could not find his son. “Where’s my son? Where’s my son?” the father shouted. Shenouda’s friend told the father that he had found him in the hospital. When Shenouda’s family arrived to see him, they learned that he had been shot through the chest and was already dead. “It was the army who killed him,” Shenouda’s uncle, who was at the scene, told ICC. “They shot at many Christian people.”
ICC visited Shenouda’s mother, sister, and uncle, as well as eight other families who lost loved ones, to offer financial assistance and to help them begin a sustainable business. Shenouda’s family lives in an area of Cairo known as a ‘garbage community.’ The family’s lone source of income comes from collecting and recycling Cairo’s rubbish. Please pray for Shenouda’s mother and sister (pictured below) as well as the eight other families who lost loved ones in this tragic attack.
Cairo’s garbage districts are notoriously populated by Coptic Christian families who have been shunned by the Egyptian government. This three part documentary explores the life of Cairo’s poorest Christian communities.
“There’s no water here,” I was told. “You can pay for it, but these people can’t afford that. They walk or ride donkeys in the desert heat for three kilometers for water, but the well is often dry. They don’t bathe, they don’t wash their clothes. There’s hardly enough water to drink.”
We drove to this isolated slum to visit a school ran by a Christian group in the area. Trudging up the hills, we passed five and six-year-olds on donkey carts filled with massive sacks of the city’s refuse. The stained pants of street-side boys with feet in the air and faces in dumpsters, searching through the filth to find a recyclable treasure caught our attention. For generations Cairo’s poor have served as the city’s garbage collectors. Today 50,000 garbage-area dwellers do much of the work. Ninety percent of them are Christians.
We approached a Muslim cemetery less than a kilometer from our destination. Ornate red-brick walls enclose the tombs of Cairo’s dead. The graves, erected high atop the hills, were less than a kilometer away from the vast slum, literary hugging the valley floor under desert cliffs. “This valley floods when it rains,” said my guide. “But, the government wants to hide the garbage collectors from view. They’re an embarrassment.” These homes, in contrast to the flamboyant graves, are built of mud with iron sheet roofing. “These are the poorest families I’ve ever seen,” he continued.
Arriving at the schoolyard, also within range of the ditch’s foul odor, children were happily playing. “My parents took me to these slums when I was a child to show me how fortunate I was,” my guide said. In the classrooms, children recited Psalms, and said their ABC’s in both Arabic and English. Flies swarmed the room and nestled on the children’s faces; they hardly flinched.
Outside the classroom, a teacher scrubbed a girl’s feet and washed her face, an act of love and servitude. “This is the only place children can wash,” the teacher said. “Many diseases are spread through cuts in the feet when sorting through trash. We must keep them clean and treat their diseases. Christ tells us that the greatest leader must also be the greatest servant.”
Education is the chief method to reverse the cycle of poverty for the community’s children. “Garbage collectors have existed for generations. Unless you give these kids a chance at something better, they too will collect garbage,” said the school administrator. “To be very poor is to have no decisions. We offer these kids the opportunity to make a decision.”
The school also seeks to instill a firm foundation in the children’s faith. “After kindergarten, these kids will go to a state school and be forced to memorize the Quran. We want them to have a personal relationship with Christ first.”
Cairo’s garbage districts are notoriously populated by Coptic Christian families who have been shunned by the Egyptian government. Mokattam, one of the city’s largest and oldest garbage communities, is a historical area for persecuted Christians. Also known for its famous Cave Church carved out of a chalky mountain-side, the church’s Coptic clergy essentially govern the area. While the government works to keep the Christians poor, as it did during the swine flu endemic by slaughtering the community’s pigs which were used by the collectors to dispose of organic waste, the local church has stepped up to provide aid. They now aim to address virtually every need of Mokattam’s 30,000 inhabitants, from fund raising to fixing sewers, to making sure that homes has running water.