‘Kafr Wahb,’ a small village located in the heart of Menofiya, some 60 km from Cairo, was selected in 2013 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as the best village in the world for its community-development efforts geared towards cleanliness and environmental standards. The village is now pressing ahead with plans to introduce infrastructure that would enable it to become the only urbanized village in the country.
It’s an unexpected event: a small and hardly recognized Egyptian village tucked away in Menofiya has carried off the UNESCO award for being the cleanest and most pollution-free rural place in the world. News of the award was overshadowed by the country’s battle for stability following the political turmoil of 2013. Even today, the village is hardly known to any of the microbus drivers and the bus users that I ran into at the Menofiya bus stop in Cairo. However, experts, environmentalists, city planners as well as other interested groups continue to visit Kafr Wahb, as well as media people, who have collectively dubbed it “the Paris of Menofiya.”
Community Times visited Kafr Wahb, where disappointment and hope are a fluid mix. “Don’t worry about the broken streets and the piles of garbage left in some corners,” says Mahmoud, the Tuk-Tuk driver who took me around the village. “You should have come in 2013 when everything was in real shape: organized parks, paved streets, bicycle zones…etc.”
“Please, don’t write anything negative,” Mahmoud pleads.
As we drove around the alleys and small roundabouts, I found that Mahmoud was right in encouraging me to not judge at first sight. What appears to an outsider as negligence is actually a result of the village’s ambitious urbanization project. Work is in full swing to introduce a sewage system as well as a natural gas network. This is what has temporarily spoiled the streets of the village, as digging blocks the access of cleaning and garbage collecting vehicles.
“We may be the first village in Egypt to launch sewage and natural gas systems,” reveals Ahmed Hassan Wahb, head of Kafr Wahb’s Social Development Association, hopeful that his village will soon be on par with the cities. This hope is not unfounded; the village has a gymnasium for men and women, a sports club, an up-to-date school building, in addition to paved roads and stretches of green fields and orange orchards. Orange planting is the main source of income with wide plantations that run through and around the entire city. The fruits that settle on the ground delight both sight and smell as I walk through the village.
The cityscape is a combination of rural traditional houses and modern buildings, both boasting rich ornamental designs. Donkey-drawn carts are seen side by side with Hyundais. The residents themselves are a mix of villagers and city-dwellers, the latter representing high-income groups employed in various companies all over Menofiya.
According to the head of the Social Development Association, 98% of the locals are educated, 60% of which are university graduates. “Please, write that we need better jobs,” they tell me. While some are employed in other village’s workshops as technicians, others are running their fathers’ orange orchards.
The different features of life in the village raise questions: Why don’t all Egyptian villages follow in Kafr Wahb’s footsteps? What’s the truth of the UNESCO award? Is it well-deserved? Or was it simply the result of one of the village dignitaries’ mediation?
“It’s a real source of pride that the village has been recognized by an international organization like the UNESCO,” Hassan Wahb tells us. “But what’s the use of the recognition if it doesn’t include some financial aid? Actually, the award came as a surprise to many of us, and we still don’t know how the whole story began!”
“The award has a real basis that started with the local population’s sustained effort to develop their homes,” says Hamdy Abdel Aziz, member of the Social Development Association. “For many years, the villagers here have vowed to make this place a true model village, not with the aim of gaining national or international recognition, but for their own good.” He added, “For the last 20 years, the residents have worked on projects such as planting trees, decorating houses, building a water plant, and hiring a tractor to collect the garbage, among others. In time, their efforts have produced results that have been carried out mainly through local donations. Development has not relied on the local council, as in other villages. ”
According to Abdel Aziz, the beauty of Kafr Wahb soon grabbed the attention of environmentalists from Menofiya University, who brought the cameras of Channel 6 to the village. TV presenters interviewed individuals who impressed them with their knowledge of the environment. Other small villages in other governorates also appeared on the scene, which led to a competition to select the cleanest and most pollution-free village. Kafr Wahb was selected, but the event was given little publicity, again taking a backseat to the political changes of the time.
“I would like to stress the support of Adly Hussein, the former governor of Menofiya,” says Abdel Aziz. “He saw the people’s zeal for developing their village and spared no effort to provide subsidies. Look at all these parks that dot the village! They have replaced the polluted canal.”
The association members believe that the UNESCO award was the result of several other distinctions the village had won; awards for the best village in the governorate, the Delta and the Republic of Egypt. “99% of Egyptian villages rely on municipal units for their cleanliness,” says Hassan Wahb, “But Kafr Wahb, relies on its residents too. After we introduce water, gas and sewage services, our urbanized village will be the first of its kind in the country.”
Capitalizing on this momentum isn’t about publicizing the UNESCO award as much as it is about making Kafr Wahb a true model for other Egyptian villages.
“Many have suggested organizing related events such as an orange harvest festival,” says Wahb. “The youth are thinking of launching some sports in the name of Kafr Wahb, such as running races and open markets. We’ll be ready to consider all options once the infrastructure work is done–we all hope for it.”