24 Sep 2018 Story Sustainable Development Goals

Young Champion of the Earth, winner for Africa

Shady Rabab is the Young Champion of the Earth for Africa. The Young Champions of the Earth Prize is powered by Covestro.

Rabab is Founder of Rabab Luxor Art Collective, and Co-Founder of the Malakout music band.

Turning trash into tunes: spreading a universal language

In Luxor, Egypt, I have seen many children collecting rubbish to sell to garbage dealers. They are ordered to climb mountains of rubbish and hand scraps over to the dealers, who then sell the waste to recycling companies. The children do not see the benefits of this work. The dealers have control over them. They often shout at them and abuse them physically.

Children should be free. They should spend their days having fun in a safe environment, they should be in school, furthering their education, and they should be exposed to art and music.

Music is a universal language that unites and moves humanity towards a more sustainable future. As an Egyptian artist and painter, I am passionate about music and I love making instruments. I’m fascinated with instruments from different places and would love to have a big library of them from far-away countries, each with a different sound.

Music is a universal language

When I was younger, I left my family in the Nile River Valley to pursue my academic studies in the Fine Arts in Luxor. It is there that I first noticed the garbage heaps that surrounded the streets. It devastated me that our environment should be treated as trash. Instead of throwing away two or three bottles per day, I started looking at these potential flutes, bassoons or oboes and other reed instruments – and hit on an idea.

Young people aged between 18 and 29 make up a quarter of Egypt’s population: 19 million people. One third of youth 15-24 are unemployed. Many young people have to accept low paid, irregular and insecure work, to try to make ends meet. Although half of all young Egyptians realize that entrepreneurship is a very worthy career option, they do not know where to start.

My realization was: why not show young people that everyone can lead change? Recycling and managing waste brings huge opportunities to local communities. Instead of wading through trash, children could make instruments and learn the universal language of music. With newfound enthusiasm, I decided to make my dream a reality: to form a band with children waste collectors in Luxor, making beautiful music from recycled materials. That is how I turned my house into an upcycling workshop.

Small steps towards great change

I founded the Rabab Luxor Art Collective with little funding. Space was scarce, but we were driven by a common mission: to inspire young people to create community-driven initiatives for a sustainable environment and livelihoods. We were united by our great passion for art, experimentation, playfulness and learning.

We aim to work with underprivileged children across the region, teaching them to make musical instruments out of the garbage – not only creating environmental benefits – but encouraging entrepreneurial skills.

Our goal is to drive innovation and encourage the innovative use of discarded objects. By turning waste into musical instruments, we can transform the lives of children, the community and the environment. 

Follow the Young Champions of the Earth journey on social media #YoungChamps.