Trash Hack Campaign in Egypt: Build for Sustainability, Build for Education

Driving out of Cairo’s outskirts, the vast arid monotonous plains comes into view. The car full of young passengers is on its way to a village in Fayoum, a city two hours’ drive from the capital. Inside the car, the group of people are talking about an eco-classroom they have designed, which is built from plastic bottles, situated deep in a village at their destination.

On the other side, the classroom is under preparation in an intense manner. Some volunteers fill the bottles with sand and pile them up one by one, while some explain to the people and kids gathered around how such materials can be turned into solid walls and a classroom sheltered from the rain and wind. Upon the completion of the construction, the classroom can hold 35 kids, and more than 250 kids will use the playground built together and have access to the open learning space.

© UNESCO

In Egypt, discarded plastic bottles are not always disposed of properly and pollute water resources. The plastic waste usually accumulates around algae in the rivers and along their banks. This is where Rasha and Ola, as two main project leaders, and their team got the idea for building an eco-classroom of plastic bottles. The Eco-Classroom Inside Out Project falls under the UNESCO Trash Hack Campaign, which focuses on small actions to reduce waste, leading to big ideas for the planet. It is funded by Japanese Funds-in-Trust (JFIT), and implemented in collaboration with UNESCO ESD Youth Leader and BENNA Foundation.

Ola and Rasha are both youths from Egypt. Ola is a UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) youth leader and an education and research expert. Rasha is a local engineer from BENAA Foundation and a part-time lecturer for Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport and Misr University for Science and Technology.

For them and the team behind, this project is a chance to rethink building materials and environmental education. “In Egypt, the education situation is not very optimistic. There is always a lack of equipment and places for students to study, especially in remote areas. We thought that it is an opportunity to make use of plastics, turning them into treasure, into usable and sustainable constructing materials to build classrooms.”

© UNESCO

The whole project brings this concept deep into the community. The collection of plastic bottles was promoted through online platforms, and through the efforts of Ola, the team was able to get a donation of around 2,000 bottles from Marriott international Hotels in Egypt. In the preparation phase, the project received 8,000 plastic bottles and recruited 150 volunteers from different cities in Egypt.

As the leading designer and constructor, BENAA Foundation initiated introductory sessions in the community. As an NGO intended to improve the community’s living conditions, “for us, it is not only about building a classroom for kids, but also establishing a channel for communicating the idea with the community,” as introduced by Rasha. “Kids always surrounded us. They asked so many questions and were so excited about the project. They even got their hands ‘dirty’ and participated in the construction.”

© UNESCO

This project also brings together many youth people sharing the same beliefs on sustainable development. “It makes me feel happy to do all this. I can implement my engineering professionalism concretely on the ground with a group of people sharing the same ambition,” Rasha said with a smile.

This project is completed by people with an average age of less than 32-year-old. “As a youth, I am always inspired and motivated by my peers. Like the enthusiasm that everyone has put into this project, it makes us see the possibility and hope for change,” Ola added.

Not only did this initiative raise the community’s hopes, but it also built local capacities. Shaban, one of the locals who were involved in the construction process from the beginning, has learned how to build walls using plastic bottles and is now a local plastic-bottle builder. At the heart of the Trash Hack campaign is Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), aiming to transfer the learning to give people the tools to tackle the problems of the present and future, to fight the climate crisis and change the world.

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