Shady Rabab was studying fine arts at Luxor University in Egypt several years ago when he realized that his real passion, his goal in life, was music. He wanted to make songs and share them with the world. But he was broke and couldn’t afford to buy instruments or pay for lessons.
It might have deterred someone else, but Rabab was newly ingenious, having just completed compulsory military service in Egypt where he learned difficult survival skills. One day he saw the musical potential of empty tuna cans and started turning them into a guitar. He collected plastic fibers and turned them into twine.
Soon he was plucking the strings and hearing metallic sounds. After sorting them out, he was ready to learn how to play for real.
“I learned a lot of skills from the military,” he told Global Citizen. “I learned to do something from nothing. And the music is in my blood. Everything is there – creating it, making musical instruments, listening to music.
“I learned to play on YouTube and online lessons, meeting other musicians and playing with them,” he said. “A passion takes you where you need to go. “
His passion ultimately prompted him to create the Rabab Luxor social organization in the city of Luxor to share his knowledge of homemade instruments. By collecting and processing garbage, the organization is dedicated to rehabilitating the environment and creating a movement of environmental activists capable of tackling plastic pollution in Egypt and beyond.
The growing problem of plastic pollution threatens the well-being of marine and land ecosystems, and the United Nations is urging countries to adopt policies restricting plastic production, while working together to clean up water bodies and cities.
“We want to encourage people to reuse and recycle plastic and understand how their behavior impacts the environment,” said Farah Kobaissy, co-founder of Rabab Luxor.
Rabab Luxor has helped lead plastic cleanup efforts, raised public awareness about microplastics, and helped clear over 21 tonnes of trash from the Nile. This impressive record has helped the group win awards from the United Nations, Solution Search and beyond.
But stopping plastic pollution is only the way to achieve the organization’s larger goal: to help young people.
Rabab Luxor is first and foremost a youth empowerment organization. Nearly 28% of Egyptians live in extreme poverty, a crisis that particularly hits children, according to the Borgen Institute. Children in extreme poverty are more likely to miss school, lack sufficient food and be pushed into the labor market to earn an income.
The Rabab Luxor team gives marginalized and impoverished children an outlet for their creativity and a chance to develop their self-confidence, teach them to play music and do useful things, guide them to higher forms of education and connects them with other organizations and mentors.
“In Luxor, there aren’t a lot of artistic spaces for young people to make music and engage in fun activities,” Kobaissy said. “It was a big gap that we wanted to fill. “
Shady Rabab with Rabab Luxor students
“We were also very aware of the importance of involving both young girls and boys, as there is not much encouragement for young girls to participate in such activities outside of school. , so it took a lot of trust with parents and families and schools and we saw the impact, ”she added.
“Many children have become leaders in their own communities, schools and neighborhoods. Some of them had the opportunity to appear on one of Egypt’s most viewed television shows, and this was viewed with great admiration by their schools, teachers and the church. It has a lot of impact on their personal development.
In 2018, Rabab Luxor received a grant from the Coalition Wild and Action for Hope to make a video of his work. In the short film, children pick up plastic waste from bodies of water and perform a beautifully simple, elegantly layered song. They play on flutes made from soda bottles, drums made from boxes of chocolate and water jugs, and guitars made from gasoline cans.
At the end, their joy is undeniable as they jump up and down and clap. In their smiles, you can see how their lives are transformed and their potential is cultivated rather than wasted. Many of them created their own musical groups and showed their peers how to make homemade instruments – an ever-evolving circle of artistic expression.
“It’s important to use art and music,” Kobaissy said. “It’s a very effective way to reach more people, not through words and reading, but through something that touches them in a happy way. In our time, we need a lot more spaces to have fun, enjoy and experience, and we believe that music is one of the best ways to achieve this.
Rabab Luxor’s most recent collaboration is an album titled Electro Zébala with the mixing support of the Maghrebian electronic artist Rafik Rezine, known as Daynassour.
Since its beginnings in Luxor, the organization has settled in the city of Dahab in the southern Sinai governorate, which faces a more urgent plastic pollution challenge, due to its proximity to bodies of water and threatened coral reefs. In response to this threat, the city has enacted a ban on plastic bags.
Rabab Luxor is joining community clean-up efforts and working with diving schools and other local organizations to collect litter, while creating an environmental awareness and music education center. He ultimately wants to create an album with children from all over Egypt playing their own self-made instruments. But his model is very flexible and he has recently received requests for collaboration from people around the world.
“Music doesn’t need language,” Rabab said. “It is a universal language.