The word "Zabaleen" is an Egyptian Arabic word translating to "garbage collectors." The Zabaleen are Cairo's informal garbage collectors that have been living and working in this area since the 1940s. They migrated from upper Egypt to Cairo seeking better economic livelihood and life. Unacknowledged by the government, they are recycling garbage to support themselves.
They are spread around seven different settlements in Cairo and average between 50,000 to 70,000. The largest settlement lives in Mokattam Mountain near Manshiyar Naser, where the population is about 30,000.
ROOTA serves around 30,000 settled in Manshayt Naser and Tora.
Garbage is an asset to the Zabaleen community as they sort through, by hand, about 33,000 pounds of garbage produced daily by the 20 million residents of the city. There, they sort the garbage and sell it to a middleman or create new products from the items they collect.
The occupation of recycling and repurposing trash is perceived traditionally as a family business that is handed down from one generation to the next.
The government school in the district cannot support those aspiring to leave this lifestyle due to the poor quality of education training it provides. There is little money for books and school supplies and no funding for private lessons that students rely on to pass their exams and enter college. In most cases, the successful few who find employment opportunities in the city go back to the community. Mothers are illiterate and their children drop out of school at an early age.
The health of the Zabaleen women is jeopardized as they begin in the very early morning separating and sorting the trash collected by the men in the city all night. Due to contamination, there are numerous cases of trachoma, reproductive health issues, malnutrition, anemia, and Hepatitis C.