The Mother Teresa of Cairo

The Catholic Herald has a moving profile of one Coptic laywoman in Cairo who has made it her mission to minister to the people who live in the city’s garbage dumps. There are 60,000-70,000 Zabbaleen, or “garbage people,” in Cairo who survive on what they can scrounge in the dumps — children fighting with rats over scraps of bread, mothers barely able to feed themselves, let alone their children…

Maggie Gobran, born into Cairo’s middle class, was inspired to help by the example of her aunt, who also dedicated herself to the poor — but she wasn’t prepared for what she saw on her first visit:

That Christmas she visited a rubbish dump to hand out gifts to the poor, and at one of the mounds saw something moving. Beginning to dig, she found a small child buried in rubbish. Then she found another.

“The first time I couldn’t believe human beings could live like this,” she says, “that people are surrounded by garbage. You could not imagine a child could survive like this.

“There are some areas in Egypt, like Sharm el-Sheikh, that are very good for tourists and I recommend it. But in Cairo there are half a million living like that. When you find the poorest children in the slum areas there is not enough access for many basic needs. They’re the poorest of the poor. They don’t have someone to care for them.”

When asked what motivates her, “Mama Maggie” responds:

“I can see in every child Jesus Himself. You have a mission to love others and to accept the love of the Lord. This is our mission, to tell everyone that Jesus loves them. What destroys the poor is the lack of love, acceptance and self-esteem.

“Every time I see a child like that I think: ‘How can I be a good human being?’ You know when Jesus was on the Cross he said: ‘This is your child’ and to John: ‘This is your mother.’ So every needy child is your child. Its not easy to see your children suffering that much.”

Read the entire incredible story here.


Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at

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