Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1153, 20 - 26 June 2013
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1153, 20 - 26 June 2013

Ahram Weekly

Gem of a village

The Egyptian village of Kafr Wahb has been awarded a UNESCO prize for its community-wide development efforts, writes Nesma Nowar

Al-Ahram Weekly

The charming scene of trees greeting visitors when entering and the tranquil streets lined on both sides by roses might indicate the entrance to a luxurious beach resort on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. However, this is the entrance to a small village in Menoufiya governorate called Kafr Wahb.
Kafr Wahb attests to the beauty of Egypt’s villages and to the great efforts of the residents who have made it unequivocally charming. It is a perfect location for painting. Everything is perfectly drawn, with the houses being carefully built and the doors decorated with beautiful ironwork. Paved roadways are bounded by trees and roses, one of them even being decorated with a string of arches made out of trees.
Green prevails, with the building’s façades painted green. “Green sends peace to the soul, so we thought we would paint the buildings green to match the natural green of the trees,” Ahmed Abdel-Hamid, one of the village residents, said.
It is a result of this beauty that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has decided to make a prestigious award to Kafr Wahb as the best village in the world.  
The award came as no surprise to the residents, who have long been making great efforts to develop their village. Ahmed Hassan, the head of the village’s Local Development Association, said development had started more than 20 years ago.
It all started with the planting of the first tree in 1985. As a result of the personal efforts of the inhabitants, the planting process has continued, turning the village into a green and delightful place. Between the village’s tall trees, the roads and sidewalks appear to be evenly paved, and Hassan said that the paving process had begun soon after the planting had started.
Nothing seems to have been left to chance. Fathi Wahab, one of the residents, said that the planting had been done in a particular way and the spotless streets were no coincidence. Instead, they were the result of a long process that people had managed to keep alive until today.
Walking through Kafr Wahb’s streets, one cannot help but be impressed by the clean and garbage-free streets and rooftops, unlike some other villages in Egypt or even some areas of Cairo. Hassan said that the village association had hired employees to clean the streets three times a week, financed by a monthly levy of LE3 on each household.
In addition, the association had a tractor that collected the garbage from the village and sent it to the town’s garbage dump, he said. “We collect fees so we can pay the employees and also for the tractor’s maintenance,” Hassan told Al-Ahram Weekly.
The village’s beauty does not only stem from its delightful scenery, but also from the ability of its people to overcome their problems. The problems of Kafr Wahb do not differ from those faced by other villages across Egypt. The difference comes in the way the residents have decided to solve them.
Local residents have not waited for the government to solve their problems, but instead have opted to do so themselves. In the same way as it did with the garbage problem, the village’s development association has continued to work on finding solutions to the village’s other hardships.
One common problem is access to subsidised bread. Hassan said that before the village’s own bakery was established, people used to go outside the village and stand in long queues to get bread. Sometimes they were lucky to get some, but just as often they failed.  
For this reason, the association decided to build a bakery in the village to put an end to the problems people had in getting their staples. In 2005, the bakery was established by donations from residents and the association took out a bank loan to purchase machinery.
The association’s role did not end at establishing the bakery, however, since it also adopted a distribution system for the bread to ensure that all families had access to it. More impressive still was the fact that the association had a database of the 4,000 individuals living in Kafr Wahb, facilitating the distribution process.
“The association delivers the bread to the houses in return for a monthly subscription of LE3,” Hassan said.
Using the same line of thought, the association has been successful in ending the butane gas cylinder problem the village has faced. Like for other subsidised petroleum products in Egypt, the distribution process for gas cylinders is often inefficient, paving the way for a black market that sells cylinders at triple their real price.
Since there was no gas cylinder depot in the village, Hassan said that the association had asked the government to deliver gas cylinders to the village once or twice a week. The association worked on collecting the empty canisters from the houses and replaced them with new ones, all in return for a LE1 subscription from each household.  
“As a result of this system, we have seen very few shortages of butane gas canisters,” Hassan noted.
Like many other parts of Egypt, Kafr Wahb also suffered from problems in accessing clean drinking water. But the people did not yield in the face of the problem, and they were able to establish a small water-purification plant from which they can get clean water in return for LE5.
Hassan said that the plant was established using donations from one of the village’s residents.
This civilised way of solving common problems could easily justify the uniqueness of Kafr Wahb and it was one of the reasons why UNESCO granted the village the prize. “The civilised attitude of the people came about because they saw good ideas being implemented,” Hassan said. “The association would always become engaged in problems and would try to solve them in every possible way.”
The three-floor association building hosts many activities. On the ground floor, there is a nursery for children. On the second and third floors, there is a women’s club where women work to make different kinds of baked products and a room dedicated to sewing activities.
Like in many other villages across the world, life in Kafr Wahb is plain enough. One goes everywhere on foot, though the village’s roads are wide enough to handle vehicles from tuk-tuks to trucks.
A few miles from the association’s building, a large football ground is in the offing. The playground will be used for the resident’s sporting activities, which they practise in the village’s own youth centre.
The football field will be as neat as any ground in the major sporting clubs in Cairo, and it could be even better. It will be surrounded by trees, “planted as a result of the personal efforts of the residents,” said Mokhles Suleiman, manager of the youth centre.
Inside the centre, there is a ping-pong table, a fitness gym, a computer lap and a library. The latter has a variety of books, including on political, historic, religious and scientific subjects. The gym has a variety of equipment, mostly bought using the donations of the inhabitants, said Suleiman.
However, the computer lab was not operating when the Weekly visited. “We need the government to supply us with an electricity converter so we can run the computers and offer training courses,” said Suleiman.
Despite the fact that the village had been able to overcome many of its problems, it still needs support from the government to solve other problems like sanitation that need government intervention.  
Far from the political conflicts affecting the rest of Egypt, tranquility rules in Kafr Wahb. “This stems from the fact that all the residents are engaged in work, so you see few people on the street after 2pm,” Wahab said, who added that the illiteracy rate in the village was very low when compared to the rest of the country.
Though politics and political conversation do not play a big role in Kafr Wahb, as is the case in Cairo and other cities across the country, the profound effects of the 25 January Revolution are clear in the village’s main square, named “25 January” after the 2011 uprising.
The revolution’s effects can also be seen in the painting on some of the walls, which are painted with the colours of the Egyptian flag.
It is sometimes said that life in the country is sweet, something that can be clearly felt in the village of Kafr Wahb.

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