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Oasis Magazine Articles

Working to Transform Egypt’s Slums The Hand Over Project

By Radwa Rostom

Have you ever wondered why all the efforts of increasing the standard of living in Egypt’s slums and rural areas seem to be consuming money yet really no progress is “felt”? Have you ever wondered why government is not doing enough?

Maybe the first approach should be to analyze and understand the concept of slums to avoid the trap of curing symptoms and leaving the source of illness untouched. The concept of a slum is not just a place lacking money and government attention. It’s also likely to be lacking the necessary coordination of skills, needs and city space required to start a neighborhood. Forty one percent of the slum population in Egypt lives in Greater Cairo and according to the social performance index, the availability of affordable housing in Egypt is 17%. The answer to such massive problem includes engaging everyone in the planning process, accommodating their needs, planning for future needs as well and using cost efficient material to build homes.

Too good to be true? In my estimation, not so. This is why I started the project, Hand Over. Hand Over’s goal is to empower architecture and civil engineering students along with the local residents of slum areas to design and build sustainable houses in Egyptian slums.

How is this possible? This will be achieved by having a group of local and international experts prepare and deliver a comprehensive internship program to engineering students. This will introduce students to sustainable techniques of construction, especially the rammed earth technique. Simultaneously, local residents will receive workshops and training for the implementation of techniques that will allow them to build their own houses with their own hands. After the two groups are trained, the students and the local residents will collaborate together and apply what they have learned in the construction of new houses for slum residents.

The rammed earth technique is an ancient building system. Many buildings using it were built a hundred years ago and still exist today. The primary building materials are components of the earth (soil, sand, gravel and water). Houses built with this technique are affordable, durable, sustainable and inexpensive. This method of home building has received great attention by renowned architects in recent years. Hand Over strives to make sustainable and affordable housing available again to those who need it by employing this method.

Building on the idea of Human Centered Design, Hand Over will involve slum residents from the early stages of the project to express their needs and manage their expectations. One of the important aspects of the project is to develop the talents of the residents and gain their approval, collaboration and satisfaction. The houses are constructed primarily by the residents themselves so that they will have better living conditions. At the same time, through the building process, the residents will gain a new skill, which can help them in sustaining an additional source of income.

In its first year, Hand Over plans to create one prototype through the training of a group of 20 engineering students and six local residents for the joint construction of one house in Ezbet Abu Qarn in Cairo, Egypt. For its first project, Hand Over will create a sub-division from an existing project called “Ezbet project”. Ezbet project was founded in 2011 and its aim is to develop the area of Ezbet Abu-Qarn in Cairo, Egypt by providing a sustainable and environmentally superior urban development for Ezbet Abu Qarn residents through contributions from academics, students, NGOs and community organizations. Their first project is building a community center for the residents of Abu Qurn district. Ezbet Project works under the supervision of an Egyptian NGO called “Alashanek Ya Balady (AYB)”.

Once the first prototype has been successfully achieved over the course of the first year, residents will be enabled to own their own homes through the offering of flexible payment arrangements in which a certain percentage of the total cost of the house will be covered by the project. Residents will be responsible for the balance in installments, which could extend up to ten years.

If you’re an engineering student, a building expert or just interested about the idea of the project, you can be part of the team by contacting me via email at And be sure to follow Hand Over’s Facebook page for more updates about the project, where we’re happy to address any of your comments and questions (

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