The purpose of the community workshops is to develop an understanding of different neighborhoods in Cairo from the perspective of those who know it the best: their residents. The community workshops start with a brief introduction of TADAMUN and a showcase of success stories of some local initiatives. The participants are then divided into small groups and are asked to draw a map of their area.
Eighteen residents participated in the ‘Izbit al-Haggāna workshop and were divided into three mixed groups. No instruction was given to influence the type of information or format used. The groups were then asked to comment on their own maps to highlight the following:
* The five most important landmarks of the area
* The five most important problems in the area
* The best and worst spots in the area
* The services and facilities available in the area, their location and quality
This community workshop was conducted in partnership with Al-Shehab Institution for Promotion and Comprehensive Development.
Map Your Neighborhood
The map drawing exercise showed that the participants’ relationship with the area is strictly grounded in practicalities and shaped by safety concerns. They were quick to map the entrances to ‘Izbit al-Haggāna, transportation (microbus and tuk-tuk) hubs, streets/areas with concentrations of shops and services, and unsafe areas but did not, of their own accord, pinpoint locations holding religious or personal significance. To mark the area’s borders, participants indicated the locations of nearby desert cities, namely al-Shurūq and al-Riḥāb and identified neighboring military-owned land.
The maps produced featured the streets of al-Ṣā‘qa, al-Warsha, and al-Mazra‘a. Al-Ṣā‘qa was identified as a main street connecting ‘Izbit al-Haggāna with one of the main transportation hubs on the Cairo-Suez Road. Al-Warsha (The Workshop) street, as the name reveals, is home to a number of workshops and shops and al-Mazra‘a is another main commercial street highlighted by many residents. Participants identified al-Hagg Sheḥāta Mosque and al-Tabba, atop of which the Coptic Church of Virgin Mary and Abū Sayfayn is found, as landmarks; both are transportation hubs. Participants described al-Hagg Sheḥāta Mosque as old but were not aware whether or not it was of historical significance. No particular spots stood out as being the best in the area but there was consensus among the participants that both al-Mazra‘a and al-Zuhūr streets are, by and large, good areas. With regards to the worst spots, these were clearly identified, without the slightest hesitation.
Two of the three maps included, between them, additional features: bakeries, a mechanic, and Caritas.1
Only one group referred to areas on the map, using numbers e.g. “al-manṭiqa al-thāltha” [3rd district]; this is a division often used to navigate the vast area.
‘Izbit Al-Haggāna’s Problems
During the workshop, the insufficiency of public services emerged as one of the main problems; there are only two schools serving a population that surpasses a million (as estimated by workshop participants). Participants also complained of a lack of safe and suitable spaces, whether for adults or children. The youths among the participants mentioned that they led their social lives outside the area. According to them, one cannot even hangout in local coffee houses as they are, reportedly, hubs of drug use and violence.
Other matters of grave concern for the participants were the high voltage cables running over a particular area within ‘Izbit al-Haggana, putting the health and lives of those living under the cables at serious risk. This is in addition to the military-owned desert land bordering the school, which remains vacant despite the area’s urgent need for more services and the potential danger this deserted space poses to the schoolchildren. The vagrant community, popularly known as “ghajar”, constitutes yet another problem for the participants. The participants regard the “ghajar” as an incomprehensible group of people, alongside whom they do not envision living amicably and deem the area where this community is settled to be a dangerous area.2 It is important to note that the vagrant community’s place of settlement is close to the aforementioned military-owned land -this may further explain the participants’ wariness of that area in general. Furthermore, some areas (such as the entrance leading into al-Ṣā‘qa street) are not well-lit and so women feel unsafe in these areas at night. Indeed, most of the problems raised by the participants revealed a profound sense of insecurity in their surroundings. Safety issues aside, the removal of “Sūq al-Tabba” [Al-Tabba Market] before the month of Ramadan (June 2014) has, according to the participants, been a great inconvenience. Since its removal, they have had to go to the Friday market at al-Shurūq for affordable goods.
Finally, the area’s negative image featured among the problems. Children, especially, were said to be extremely embarrassed to tell their schoolmates where they live. The workshop participants confirmed that they wish to see the name changed, in hope that this would encourage a stronger affiliation with the area and kindle commitment to solve its problems.
Opportunities for Improvement
Most participants initially found difficulty in identifying positive aspects of their area but as they discussed amongst themselves, they came to the conclusion that the residents of ‘Izbit al-Haggāna are one of the area’s main assets. The area is home to well-educated, hardworking youth who aspire to help their community and bring about changes themselves. In times of need, residents of the area rush to help one another, helping create a spirit of cooperation and solidarity. Residents also consider the geographical location of their area to be an advantage; ‘Izbit al-Haggāna is close to Naṣr City, Heliopolis, al-Rihāb and Madinty.
Towards the end of the workshop, participants discussed why problems in ‘Izbit al-Haggāna remain unsolved, although there are people such as themselves in the area who have good ideas. Unlike several areas, post-revolutionary enthusiasm did not manifest itself in the form of new initiatives or movements in ‘Izbit al-Haggāna. One initiative targeting the area’s garbage problem was very short-lived. Youth pointed to the lack of suitable spaces for youth as a possible cause behind low community mobilization.
If I were Head of the District, I would…
At the end of the workshop, participants were asked what would be on their agenda if they were district heads. Participants gave the following answers:
* Install a police station in the area, no matter how small.
* Fix and pave roads to minimize disruption and damage caused by sewage flooding (a common occurrence in the area).
* Install street lighting to ensure the safety of women.
* Launch and implement projects such as Miṣr bil alwān [Egypt in Colors] to beautify the area and improve its image.
* Make use of empty spaces to build schools and facilities for the residents such as a club or a youth center.
* Bring youth on board as volunteers to build houses and plant trees.
* Encourage cooperation between public and private sectors as well as voluntary efforts to present solutions for the problems in the area.
1.Caritas is an international non-profit confederation of charity organizations. Caritas Egypt has, among other things, established medical and social centers in marginalized areas; a medical and social center was founded in ‘Izbit al-Haggāna in 1988.
2.As regards the issue of the vagrant community, the view expressed herein is that of the workshop participants, none of whom identified themselves as being a member of that community. Thus this view is biased and does not necessarily reflect the actual situation in ‘Izbit al-Haggāna.
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