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8 January 2014 / NHamilton

Slums? No sir, these are self-built communities

Mohamed Adel is involved with TADAMUN: the Cairo Urban Solidarity InitiativeTakween Integrated Community Development, and Global Voices Online.  This post originally appeared on and is reposted with permission. 

“The Right to Housing” is a documentary series and a part of the“Right to Housing, a Socially Just and Sustainable Built Environment” initiative. This project aims to link urban issues and challenges with the right to housing: it proposes that this right should be respected in the constitution and in laws and that adequate urban policies be put in place to reflect the needs of the people.

This initiative was launched by Shadow Ministry of Housing, a blog owned by the Egyptian blogger and urbanism researcher Yahia Shawkat, in association withMosireen, a citizen-journalism collective, and the Arab Digital Expression Foundation, ADEF.

The first short documentary, titled “Slums? No sir, these are self-built communities,”is an introduction to the series, highlighting informal communities’ experiences in building their own communities and adapting to the absent right to housing, carrying out the role the government should do.

The documentary presents Ezbet El Haggana, one of the largest informal communities in Cairo. The community is located on the Cairo – Suez road, east of the Nasr city district, is approximately 3.15 square kilometres, and has extremely variable estimations regarding its population. The Al Shehab institution for Comprehensive Development reports over one million residents, while Caritas Egypt reports half a million, and officials studiesshow less than 40 thousand.

Despite its location between two affluent residential districts, Nasr City and Heliopolis, Ezbet El Haggana shares other informal settlements’ tragedy. Consisting of four areas, only one benefits from basic services, while the other three areas have very few or no services at all.

One of the organizations presented in the series is Schaduf, a social enterprise launched in 2011 by two brothers, Sherif and Tarek Hosny. Schaduf refers to a tool used by ancient Egyptians to lift water from a low level to high one. The organization aims to move low-income families out of poverty by providing them with the opportunity to own urban rooftop farms, also known as micro gardens, that produce healthy and sustainable crops. Schaduf provides the urban farmers with technical training and with supplies.

A rooftop garden system can cost anywhere from LE 7,000 to LE 15,000 (approximately US$1,000-2,100). Loans to obtain the system help the farmers to eventually repay through a small portion of their monthly produce sales, while they also receive free training. Schaduf also offers to buy the produce from low-income families to solve sales issues.

Last May, Schaduf collaborated with Caritas Egypt to hold an urban rooftop Farming Training in Ezbet el Haggana, supported by BMZ and GIZ, thereby providing training for 20 participants regarding planting techniques and using hydroponics. By the end of this year, the goal is to train 180 participant to own their own profitable rooftop urban farms.

Schaduf’s urban rooftop farm is one of the solutions working to solve the challenges documented by the Right to Housing initiative, and it has indeed been successful in empowering communities to improve their lives in the absence of government assistance.

Photo credit: Schaduf

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