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Transforming Lives in Cairo’s Garbage Villages

By Glenn Smith
February 2008

 Overview of Cairo, Egypt

One of the oldest cities in the world, Cairo (Egypt)
has a rich history and culture that dates back to
biblical times. Whereas the pyramids, the Nile and
the rich culture may appeal to foreigners, such
romanticism may not be prevalent among the nearly
twelve million people who live in Cairo.

Every ten months, the country’s population grows
by one million; every day, this capital city sees an
influx of one thousand new residents! Fifteen
percent of the city’s population does not have
access to portable water, 4.2 million residents live
without access to a sewage system and Cairo’s
poor air quality accounts for over two percent of
all deaths. Cairo boasts to having one of the
poorest air pollution levels in the world.

Often considered the “Jewel of the Nile,” Cairo may
preach elegance to the world. But for the millions
who live in abject poverty and in wretched conditions,
Cairo is less of a gem and more of a rock.

(Taken from Urbana’s Global Urban Trek.)  

While he revolutionised Bible missions in Egypt, she became “Mother Theresa” to the untouchables of Garbage City outside of Cairo.

The husband and wife team of Ramez and Rebecca Atallah allow God to inspire them to help people know God better and express Jesus’ love in Cairo. Ramez was born in Egypt; he immigrated to Canada as a child in the 1960s. In 1980, the couple took their children and moved from Montréal to Egypt. Since 1990, Ramez has headed up the Bible Society of Egypt. His desire was to see scripture become relevant for Egyptian Christians, so he began finding new formats and styles in which to present God’s word. Both Ramez and Rebecca work closely with the Coptic Orthodox Church in their respective ministries.

Touching Untouchables
Rebecca is a key worker at the St. Simon Coptic Orthodox Church in the Mokattam garbage village. Over the last twenty-five years she has helped with church planting and providing Christian education among the lowest of the low, Egypt’s untouchables. Her gentle, compassionate way of ministering and befriending people has helped hundreds of untouchables realise their potential and value in God.

Villagers collect garbage from city apartments and recycle it. They are not paid by the government; however, they receive small tips from the people whose garbage they collect. The rest of their income comes from recycling garbage. 

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Glenn Smith is senior associate for urban mission for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and is executive director of Christian Direction in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He is a professor of urban theology and missiology at the Institut de theologie pour la Francophonie at the Université de Montréal and at the Université chrétienne du Nord d’Haïti. He is also professor of urban missiology at Bakke Graduate University in Seattle, Washington, USA. Smith is editor of the Urban Communitees section.