Every year at Christmastime, we reflect on those who are the most needy and how best to help them. Part of the spirit of the holiday is not just giving gifts to friends and family, but providing for those in distant lands who perhaps need our help the most.
It is difficult for many of us here in the United States to realize the poverty can sometimes be the product of social upheaval, political unrest, or government mismanagement. A look at the international news demonstrates that much of the world is in a state of flux, and that the most vulnerable – women, children, the poor or the uneducated – are usually the first victims.
I recently received word from Nimet Habachy, a host on WQXR, New York’s premier classical music radio station, of conditions in Egypt. The revolution there continues to wreak havoc in the lives of the poorest of the poor – especially in the community in the Moqattam hills near Cairo’s Citadel. This community produces many of the carpets, quilts, bags, rugs and paper goods that are purchased by us here in the West. Ongoing violence, demonstrations and curfews have restricted normal activity, and Cairenes are not venturing out to purchase the cottage-industry goods produced by the Zabbaleen people, and their survival has become dependent on the sales of their goods in the US.
For generations, the Zabbaleen supported themselves by collecting trash door-to-door from the residents of Cairo for nearly no charge. Notably, the Zabbaleen recycle up to 80 percent of the waste that they collect, whereas most Western garbage collecting companies can only recycle 20 to 25 percent of the waste that they collect. Living conditions for the Zabbaleen are very poor, as they live amid the trash they sort in their village, and with the pigs to which they feed their organic waste.
As trade for these simple people withers away, the Zabbaleen will suffer – the efforts to advance hygiene and literacy in the community will languish and the two schools which have been established will disappear.
Education has been crucial to the advance of the Zabbaleen women and children – one school teaches literacy and provides job-skills training, and the other cares for the workers’ children, leaving them free to produce to the goods that so many New Yorkers have come to appreciate.
To help bring relief to the Zabbaleen people, Calvary-St. George’s Church will hold its annual sale of Zabbaleen crafts. The Zabbaleen produce beautiful materials, following a deeply-entrenched tradition of artisans and craftsmen. The sale runs from Wednesday, December 11 through Friday, December 13, from Noon till 8:00 PM, and Saturday, December 14, from 11:00 AM till 6:00 PM.
“It is remarkable in this season of giving in a glittering New York City to be able to give to the poorest of the poor by buying the cottage industry products of a trash-collecting community in far away Cairo Egypt,” Habachy told your correspondent.
Calvary-St. George’s Church is located at 61 Gramercy Park North, at 21st Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. I will be there – and hope you will, too.