After first being created in what is now China during the 2nd century BCE, the first paper products slowly made their way to the Middle East. The Ancient Egyptians quickly took to the art of papermaking, beginning the tradition of hand-making paper.
Although modern-day Egyptians are now accustomed to buying mass-produced paper in stores, some skilled artisans carry on the traditions of ancient papermaking, and one such artist is using papermaking to improve the lives of other Egyptians and protect the environment.
Mohamed Abou El Naga founded El Nafeza for Contemporary Art and Development in the city of Cairo in 2006. Even though it is a popular destination for tourists, Cairo has long suffered from pollution and is known for poor air quality caused by the burning of rice straw and Nile water lilies.
Abou El Naga decided to take this agricultural waste and put it to use in papermaking in order to reduce pollution and protect forests. He established a studio where workers transform the waste into all types of paper goods, including stationery and notebooks.
After seeing how employment with his foundation helped his workers provide for their families, Abou El Naga decided to start an outreach program. Throughout the week, he holds workshops that teach papermaking to impoverished men and women in the hopes that they can translate their newfound skills into a sustainable form of income. In addition, Abou El Naga uses his foundation to find papermaking employment for the disabled.
Although the civil unrest in Egypt has made it difficult for El Nafeza for Contemporary Art and Development to operate at times, Abou El Naga and others at the foundation are determined to keep it afloat and are working on plans to open workshops in other parts of Egypt.