Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 October 2009
Issue No. 969
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Maadi Clean Up

Nadia Salem* writes about how the initiative of a group of volunteer residents of Maadi turned into a positive experience for improving environmental conditions

In 1997, a group of volunteers with a common interest in improving environmental conditions in Maadi formed an NGO "The Maadi Environmental Rangers" (MER). This NGO organized a "Clean Up Maadi" campaign. Maadi is a suburb of Cairo with unique characteristics and which as been well preserved, and the event was part of the global "Clean Up the World" campaign launched on September 20, 1997. The campaign, which aims to promote the message " think globally, act locally" is an annual event supported by "Clean Up the World" in Australia and the United Nations.

MER's philosophy is that the protection and preservation of the environment is every person's responsibility. By becoming more aware of our surrounding environment and taking responsibility for our own vicinity, improvements can be made and sustained.

The aim and objectives of MER are to initiate, implement, support and assist projects directed at improving the environment in Maadi and actively promote cleaning it up. To implement this, MER collaborates with existing NGOs currently working to improve the solid waste management system in Maadi and with the local authorities. MER also promotes environmental awareness and encourages local schools and local community groups to take active responsibility for the environment.

Since 1997 MER has organized 11 Clean Up campaigns in different locations in Maadi, and established clean-up stations in midans (squares). Approximately 850 volunteers from the general public participated to collect over 2000 bags of trash from the Maadi streets in a 3-hour event. The success of the event was encouraging.

Since 1998, MER's Clean UP campaign focused on local schools and 10 campaigns in 20 local elementary and middle schools were organized, both private and public. With the cooperation of the Maadi Board of Education, the children, accompanied by their teachers, cleaned inside their schools and areas surrounding the schools. In addition to collecting trash, the children with the help of numerous volunteers participated in improving their school environment by painting murals on the walls, repainting doors and trash bins and planting their sidewalks and yards MER provided all necessary supplies and the logistics for the campaigns and worked in conjunction with other local NGOs, including the "Tree Lover's Association" and the "Association for the Protection of the Environment" to implement activities in the schools.

MER worked with the local Board of Education to pilot a series of environmental activities in 5 schools. A program was designed to cover topics covering environmental issues: the Web of Life, Solid Waste Management, and Air Pollution. In conjunction with the Maadi Board of Education, workshops were organized for teachers to familiarize them with the aims of "Clean Up the World", the objectives of the Maadi campaign, and with the role and responsibilities of teachers in the process.

MER worked with the local municipality to develop a Community Trash Can project. The association provided 100 trash cans installed on sidewalks and midans.

With support from the Ministry of Environment, MER distributed posters, books and pamphlets related to environmental issues. The libraries in the schools welcomed the addition to the "Green Corner" program.

A drawing contest was organized among 15 elementary and middle school level public schools. The drawings were framed and displayed in the Maadi Public Library. Prizes were distributed for the best drawings. The contest opened the way for students to uncover their talents and to foster environmental responsibility into the next generation

The major success of the MER campaigns has been the ability to rally the interest of the public, young and old, in Maadi. Participation in all 11 Clean Up campaigns has been substantial and inspiring. However, the most important achievement has been the educational value of the activities accomplished.

MER encountered challenges. The main difficulty was in communicating to the local authorities suggestions for improving the Maadi solid waste management system. Valuable time was wasted in meetings and discussions, with no follow up by authorities. Furthermore, the turnover of municipality authorities has constrained continued cooperation and thus sustainable solutions to the garbage problem. Another challenge was the lack of response to attempts made by MER invitations to open channels of communication with the board of the Europe 2000 Company, the contracted cleaning company that has been operating in Maadi for the past 10 years.

Based on its experience in Maadi, MER recommends the following

á Create and manage a system of solid waste management that is transparent and comprehensible to the public, two critical ingredients for the success of any system.

áDivide the city or town into manageable areas and employ one cleaning company for each area to be responsible for household, commercial and street garbage. This way accountability and responsibility is clear. This system would replace the current fragmented system that is not working.

áEnsure that contractual agreements between local authorities (the government) and the cleaning company involve inputs of professional expertise as well as civil society organizations.

áCommit greater resources to create a sustainable system of waste management by reassessing service fees.

áCreate a system of voluntary monitors from the community (organized by street) and linked to a hotline to immediately report violations and ensure that sanctions are applied.

* The writer is chair of the Maadi Environmental Rangers (MER)

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