SUMMIT, NJ - Colorful patchwork quilts, hand-embroidered linens, and quirky stuffed animals handcrafted by Egyptian Zabbaleen women will be featured at the eighth annual Holiday Handcraft Sale, Dec. 7-8, at the American Red Cross New Jersey Crossroads in Summit.
All the proceeds from the sale of quilts, rugs, totes, greeting cards, paper goods and unique Holiday items will go directly back to Cairo, supporting families in providing early education for their children, and opening a new path of life for their parents. Located at 695 Springfield Ave., the sale's hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.
The turmoil in Egypt has closed down the traditional sales outlet for these crafts in Cairo, and drastically affected the income for the two schools at the Community Center where the women produce all the goods. The craftswomen, who are part of the garbage recycling community in Moqattam on the outskirts of Cairo, have fewer Egyptian customers because of the ongoing political tumult, so the annual sale in Summit, and another in New York City, are crucial to the survival of the cottage craft industry.
The Summit Sale has been sponsored by Marilyn Pfaltz. and her Bryn Mawr College classmate, native Egyptian Suzan Habachy and sister Nimet. The sisters originated the first sale in New York City twenty years ago, and its annual tradition has made an ongoing difference in the lives of the Zabbaleen families. “With demonstrations and curfews curtailing people’s activities, Cairo residents are not venturing out to purchase the cottage-industry goods produced by the women of the garbage collector community,” said Nimet Habachy, a Cairo-born broadcaster well-known as a host on the classical music radio station WQXR. Nimet and her sister, retired from the United Nations, visited Summit recently to talk about the Cairo craft project and the effects of the revolution.
About 100 women enroll each year in the crafts school, where they get instruction in literacy, weaving, sewing and paper recycling. Fabric remnants donated by Egyptian textile manufacturers are used in the handmade quilts, crib mobiles and cloth books. Other materials, like paper are recycled from garbage throwaways and used to create stationery, lightweight necklaces and earrings. These schools have been crucial to the advancement of the Zabbaleen women, says Nimet. “Producing goods coming out of a garbage dump that are viable in the New York City area is in its own way a miracle. Most of these women have had no formal schooling, and some come into the project not knowing how to make a straight line.”
The sisters demonstrate their own creativity in finding venues for selling the handicrafts. In addition to Summit, they are also holding a sale at Calvary-St. George’s Episcopal church on Manhattan’s East Side Dec. 11-13. For more information about the sale, contact the Red Cross at (908) 273-2076.