Ever since the Egyptian NGO Shagarha (Tree) started, it has made enormous efforts for the sake of the community, eventually receiving the recognition it deserves from the Environment Ministry.
It was awarded Egypt’s Environmental Excellence Award last week among other activities held to celebrate National Environment Day, declared on 27 January each year by the Ministry of the Environment in cooperation with the Arab Office for Youth and the Environment to mark the growing commitment in Egypt to environmental issues and the role of civil society in preserving and protecting the environment.
Shagarha is an Egyptian youth environmental initiative established in April 2016 by Omar Eldeeb, a 33-year-old engineer. “The main objectives were to spread a culture of planting fruit trees in streets, schools and public places in Egypt and planting balconies and rooftops using established and new agricultural technologies. The larger goal was to follow the UN Sustainable Development Goals to protect the environment from pollution,” he said.
Eldeeb had always been interested in environmental issues. After he received his degree in petroleum engineering, he got a diploma in environmental engineering in 2014 and sought opportunities for positive action. He came up with the idea of Shagarha in 2016.
“The idea came into my mind when I saw people eating blueberries from a tree in front of my house in Obour east of Cairo. I asked myself why I shouldn’t plant other trees for people to benefit. Three days later, I decided to start the initiative and announced it through a page on Facebook,” he said.
“You just need to believe in your idea yourself to make others believe in it too. Since 2016, we have received lots of support as well as seen various challenges. Contrary to what some anticipated, we found all the backing we could dream of. At first, the main impediment was the lack of awareness. We had to find volunteers, hold awareness events and not give up on our persistence and enthusiasm,” he added.
Thus far, Shagarha has planted more than 100,000 fruit trees in 15 Egyptian governorates and some other Middle Eastern countries. These have produced more than 7,000 tons of free fruit and massively reduced air pollution. It has planted more than 8,000 balconies and rooftops with vegetables, fruit trees and aromatic plants, with one square metre helping significantly to reduce surrounding air pollution.
Moreover, the NGO’s activities have helped to provide jobs for approximately 50 people. It has reduced water consumption through the use of hydroponics systems and reached more than 300,000 fans on social-media channels like Facebook and Instagram. It has held more than 300 successful events in almost four years, averaging six per month, and participated in events at 50 schools and universities in Egypt and a school in Yemen.
It has also organised five events in cooperation with the Environment Ministry and worked with special-needs children on adopting a tree and teaching them how to plant and care for fruit trees. It has successful partnership agreements with the Ministry of the Environment, the European Union, the American University in Cairo, the German University in Cairo, the Goethe Institute in Alexandria and Cairo and Ain Shams Universities.
Along with planting trees, with the aid of 15 volunteers Shagarha has also launched activities like publishing posts on planting, irrigation, fertilising and pest-control methods online. It has collaborated with private-sector companies to raise social responsibility and develop positive initiatives among employees. The roof of the Environment Ministry has been planted by Shagarha using hydroponic techniques. Currently, Shagarha is participating with five workshops at the Cairo International Book Fair, showing adults and children how to plant balconies and rooftops.
“Having challenges is always a good reason to push us forward. Firstly, it was a challenge to get the trees for planting, but after launching our ideas we received a lot of trees from volunteers, schools and associations. Now, where to plant the trees safely has become our main concern,” Eldeeb explained.
Eldeeb was at first ridiculed by colleagues for his ambitions to turn Egypt green, and he endured the sarcasm until he had proved the success of his ideas, by which time his managers had joined him. “I even convinced the company to plant the oil tanker I was working on. It became the first of its type to be planted using hydroponic techniques. This was my gateway to encouraging the company to practise community responsibility,” he said.
The Tanta, Beheira, Luxor, Minya and Beni Sweif governorates are next stops for planting trees, having the double aim of both greening these areas and providing free sources of fruit for their people. Shagarha has developed simple and well-rounded initiatives that benefit all, while at the same time spreading a culture of sustainable development and the importance of protecting the environment from pollution.
Al-Ahram Weekly readers can join the cause by participating in Shagarha events listed on the group’s social-media platforms. They can plant fruit trees in front of houses or in the nearest street and send photographs through the group’s Facebook page.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.