It has been two years since Mohamed Ashraf Abdel Samad founded Shagara – a non profit organization that aims to green Cairo with urban rooftop farms and other carbon-sapping trees and plants – and virtually every day since has been a struggle. After studying for some time in Norway, where his “semi hippie” friends introduced him to the many wonders of nature, Samad completed his MA in Belgium.
He then returned to Cairo, where the overwhelming pollution caused all kinds of health problems. His doctor advised him to leave. Instead, he set out to uproot the problem by planting mini carbon sponges throughout the city – a goal that seemed attainable after Mubarak was ousted. Despite the numerous obstacles he faced, Samad persevered, and the organization’s first rooftop farm is currently being installed on the roof of Hassan Abu Baker School.
Shagara had to wait a full year before their status as a non-government organization was approved, and then spent the second year trying to get permission to work with public schools.
By then, all but two volunteers abandoned the project, which seemed doomed to fail – at least until Samad received an unexpected boost from on high.
“I met the prime minister at the shooting club and told him about the issue, and he helped to push the project,” he told Green Prophet.
“Shagara is fighting on two fronts: a very poorly designed bureaucracy that does not get anything done, and an ill mentality of several civil servants and bureaucrats.”
“Some of them just told me you are doing this to make money out of it or you must be a spy. Unbelievable!!”
With financial backing from the Swiss embassy and an agreement with the Ministry of Education to focus on just one public school to begin with, Samad and his green-thumbed posse could finally proceed with plans to build a small urban farm on the roof of Hassan Abu Baker School in Cairo.
“Because of the relatively scarce space found in the urban areas, employing rooftops and other space on the building is a necessity,” he said.
Using school property seemed like an obvious choice for various reasons.
In addition to being able to utilize large swaths of unused space, teachers are poorly paid, so a revenue-generating urban farm could provide added income.
Plus, most public schools employ maintenance people who can help to maintain the crops and plants.
Indigenous plants and trees will be planted on the ground to help absorb carbon emissions, while various organic vegetables will be raised on the roof and sold.
Only non-toxic and low-carbon materials are being used. The implementation of the school project started last Sunday, February 17th, and the second phase will begin this week Thursday.
“Actually last Sunday the principal of the school told me they were wary at the beginning that I am a foreign spy or something; she even asked me for a copy of my ID,” Samad explained.
“Other than that all the teachers were so happy and the students were amazing. They were really eager to put the things together themselves and know about Shagara.”