It's the dream of every social-issue documentarian: to inspire a happy, ongoing epilogue to one's work, whether through dialogue or action, or improved conditions or relations, or funding for the cause. Mai Iskander's Garbage Dreams, which follows three teenage boys involved with the Spirit of Youth Association, the Cairo-based organization of Zaballeen (Arabic for "Garbage People") as they embark on a journey to turn their century-old recycling trade into a 21st century job, has been the toast of the festival circuit, landing, among other kudos, the 2009 Al Gore REEL Current Award at the Nashville Film Festival, and screening to great acclaim at IDA's DocuWeeks. But this past week at the International Sustainability Conference in Cairo, Islander and her film hit the jackpot: Following a screening of Garbage Dreams, Melanie Walker of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $1 million grant in support of the Spirit of Youth Association.
"This year, since we heard about this film, we invited Mai to come screen the film [Garbage Dreams] for us at our foundation," Walker explained to the audience. "It [Garbage Dreams] is very eye-opening. Because you can hear about it, but then you see it and it becomes very much more real and you can start to think about ways to try to help and be involved. We are privileged to have had that opportunity. . . Our goal is to try empower groups such as these and others around the world."
Ezzat Naem Guindy, executive director of the Spirit of Youth Association, responded, "We are honored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for honoring us as Zaballeen. . . We will use these funds to build the capacity of our team, the capacity of our people, and to spread income generating projects and awareness such as the source segregation campaign . . . So that Garbage Dreams becomes a reality."
The Spirit of Youth Association runs the community-based Recycling School for Zaballeen youth; spreads the concept of waste segregation, recycling and renewable energies; and advocates for the garbage collectors community, in particular their integration into the formal sector of Cairo's solid waste management.
For an interview with Mai Iskander in conjunction with DocuWeeks, click here.