A visit to Cairo’s Repair Café

Omneya Yousry, Tuesday 10 Oct 2023

By fixing ordinary items at no cost and helping their owners in the process, Cairo’s Repair Café is reducing landfill and increasing the sense of community, writes Omneya Yousry

Cairo s new repair event
Cairo s new repair event


The first event of Cairo’s new Repair Café took place in May at the Faculty of Engineering at Ain Shams University, when volunteers helped visitors fix the devices they had brought in for free, dedicating their time, efforts, and knowledge for this purpose. The café was hosted by the Dynamic Systems and Digitisation Cluster at the Acoustics Building at the faculty.

In order to help communities in Egypt move towards a more circular economy and reduce waste, the Repair Café, a British-supported organisation, is undertaking other events and offering training and advice. It aims to address the critical issue of the unsustainable expansion of landfill as a way of disposing of waste and to promote a culture of repair and reuse. 

Its activities are designed to promote skills development, reduce waste, and boost community resilience. Its events are run by volunteers, who will try to fix anything that is brought to them.

“The initiative encourages the idea of repairing household appliances rather than the culture of “throw it away and purchase another one” because doing so will reduce two types of pollution: first, electronic waste, which ultimately ends up in waste-incineration facilities, adding to carbon emissions; and second, pollution caused by making new devices,” Ahmed Hesham, the initiative’s organiser in Cairo and an assistant professor at the Faculty of Engineering at Ain Shams University, said. 

“I was inspired when I was living in Cardiff in Wales during my PhD by what the volunteers at the Repair Café Wales were doing. I liked the idea of helping the community to be greener by helping them to embrace the ‘reuse – repair’ philosophy instead of simply throwing things away and purchasing others,” he said.

“After I returned to Cairo, my idea was to spread such initiatives and ideas in my own society.”

The story continued through a partnership with the British Council in Egypt. “I succeeded in obtaining a UK-Egypt Partnerships for Climate Change grant from the British Council’s Going Global Partnerships Programme,” Hesham said.

“I partnered with my former PhD supervisor at Cardiff University, Professor John McCrory, and we worked together on a project entitled ‘Condition Monitoring for Sustainable Technologies and Climate Change Mitigation.’ A key element of that was launching the Repair Café at Ain Shams University in order to promote a green culture among the students and then more widely among the society as a whole.”

“The British Council in Cairo funded this work, and Director of the Dynamic Systems and Digitisation Cluster at the Faculty of Engineering Professor Tamer Al-Nadi supported it by providing equipment and hosting the Repair Café event. We also received positive feedback from students at the Faculty of Engineering, Breyhan Shafai, Education Programmes Manager at the British Council, and various professors at the Dynamic and Digitisation Systems Cluster.” 

Changing people’s mind-sets is not always easy, however, especially when it means asking them to revise their ideas on consumption. “However, I believe that all great things start out as ideas, and very soon our community will be a greener one as a result,” Hesham said. “We are only at the beginning of our programme, and there are now only two volunteers working with us at the faculty. We hope that more volunteers will soon join our efforts.”

The overall project started in March 2022 and ended in June 2023. As the earlier objectives have been fulfilled, it is now planned to hold repair cafés regularly every three months in Cairo. “We have applied for new funding from the British Council to sustain and promote the initiative and continue the Repair Cafe activities, which include training students how to fix things and volunteering to repair electronic equipment,” Hesham said. 

The Repair Café in Wales aims to help people recognise the unsustainable nature of a throw-away society. The team there are committed to eventually opening repair cafés in every town, village, or city and are also concentrating their efforts on creating inclusive and safe communities where people of all ages and backgrounds can come together to share knowledge and skills. 

They upcycle items as different as toasters, coffee tables, or dresses or jeans, rebuild confidence in those who lack it, teach new skills to those who need them, and serve as a constant reminder of the value of open dialogue, teamwork, and camaraderie. The local enthusiasm for the repair cafés is proof of their social and environmental advantages and the overall success of Repair Café Wales. 

They have shown the growing public concern about the climate emergency and that society is motivated to band together and take concrete actions to find solutions to the problems of a throw-away society. Hesham’s hope is that a similar culture can be built around his trail-blazing repair cafés in Egypt.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 12 October, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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