Garbage Dreams

The showing of the movie Garbage Dreams initially caught my eye because of a gift I received last year from one of my friends. During her semester abroad, she spent time in one of the garbage villages and was so moved by their situation that she bought handwoven bags made from recycled fabrics as souvenirs for some of our friends. Hearing about her experience visiting the villages and the gift made me want to learn more about what had made her so passionate for their cause.

Garbage Dreams was shown by EcoHawk, a student organization within the College of Public Health, last Thursday (November 11th) evening, followed by a brief panel discussion and open forum.

This documentary, with few words spoken in English, focused on the stories of the three boys who lived in “garbage villages” found in Cairo, Egypt. As members of the Zabeleen, a group of Coptic Christians whose name literally means “garbage collectors”, they have collected garbage in the streets of Cairo for a hundred years. Following the aspirations of three boys who have grown up collecting and recycling garbage, the film documents their daily life and how that changes once a private garbage collecting organization is hired by the City of Cairo.

My favorite part of the film is that it focuses on character development, not just so that the viewer pities their situation, but so that they see them as bright young people with dreams and realistic goals to better their lives. Additionally, it provides an interesting juxtaposition between the methods of the Zabaleen in recycling and the approaches of “modern” companies throughout the world. This is emphasized when two of the boys have the opportunity to travel abroad to see how other countries recycle. As the boys stand in a landfill, they see it as a gift and are disturbed that so much recoverable material is not recycled. Seeing our trash as a gift was very eye opening. Additionally, it was interesting that through their “primitive” recycling techniques, they divert 80% of trash from landfills while most of the developed world can barely claim rates of 20%. For me, that put a whole new spin on the meaning of the word “progressive”.

At the end of the movie, I could easily see why my friend was so moved by their story. Presenting a new perspective on a service we take for granted, I found it fascinating how these boys were genuinely interested in pursuing their dreams through garbage collection.

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