Mama Maggie’s Kindergarten – and why my root canal shouldn’t be such a big deal

Fun times at the dentist!

Yesterday morning I spent a couple of hours back in the dentist’s chair – this time it was prep work for the crown that will cap off last-week’s root canal. But what I thought about the whole time – my eyes clenched tight so I wouldn’t have to see my dentist (no offense, Dr. G) coming at me with all those gruesome instruments – was the children’s mission we visited in the Garbage City slums on the edge of Cairo.

People there can die of an abscessed tooth. Children suffer and die for lack of basic medical care. And here I was, sitting in a state-of-the-art office, whining like a baby because I can’t handle a little pain, and because we’ve already spent more on medical stuff this year than the entire of 2011!


Children in Cairo's slums

Timing is everything. It was just yesterday that I received an email from a friend asking me to re-post my article about the children’s mission in Cairo. He said he’s concerned that “Mama Maggie’s” work isn’t getting the attention (and consequently the support) that it needs.

I agree with him. So I’m breaking my rule and running a repeat. But, if you’ve seen this already, please read it again. I’m tweaking the prose and adding some pictures. And – believe me – it won’t hurt to be reminded of a crying need you can actually do something about if you really want to help – DEREK

Children living in "Garbage Town"


– DEREK MAUL – This is a hard post to write. The topic is still travel, yes, and the venue is still spectacular; but today I’m focused more on the deep struggle that much of humanity engages just to make it through the day.

Rebekah and I were bumped up to business class when we flew from Athens to Cairo on “Egypt Air.” It was a strange contrast to arrive in the absolute lap of luxury, and then drive through a city teeming with 20-million people where squalor seems to be ubiquitous. Tired, rundown infrastructure; desperate living conditions; piles of festering garbage; unfinished apartment blocks occupied regardless of the conditions.

Then, having seen Great Pyramids and treasured antiquities, we visited a children’s mission in the heart of “Garbage City.”

Children are a splash of color and light

Mother Maggie’s Kindergarten (“Mama Maggie”) is located in “Garbage City” on the edges of Cairo. Yes, I said “garbage.” The town is the industry; the industry is waste; the community is built around the refuse; the garbage is the town.

The economy amounts to sifting through the garbage in order to salvage anything potentially useful, to dispose of what can’t be somehow re-claimed, and then to live off the refuse. The community exists on and is built around garbage. The relationship between the people and the waste is symbiotic. Yes, symbiosis with garbage… waste… trash… refuse.

Hope for the future

The mission we visited is a day program designed to get one child per home exposed to an environment where they can imagine a different tomorrow. One child spending a few hours each day in the presence of a little education, a little hope, a little promise, a lot of love and the Good News of Jesus.

And what is Good News for these kids? – ”You are not garbage; you are beautiful children; you are special creations from the heart of a God who loves you with as much passion as God loves anyone on this troubled Earth.”

So we met some of them. Children make your heart sing, and they also make your heart cry. Often both at the same time.

Washing the child's feet

At the gate – and this was telling – we saw a woman washing the feet of a child. They were seated under a mural of Jesus doing just that to his disciples. “We do this for every child,” the director told us. “We do this to teach humility to our staff, and we do it to model the way Jesus looks at ministry.”

HOPE: Farther up the mountain, through streets running knee-deep with refuse and head-high in festering despair, there is an amazing church built literally into the side of the cliff. Each Thursday evening, thousands of residents stream into the place to worship God and to hear the message of promise and redemption.

In Egypt, ground zero for the Arab Spring, there is another revolution going on. It’s a revolution against hopelessness.

In Romans 8, Paul talks about how creation literally groans in anticipation as it contemplates the full meaning of a restored world.

“For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

Garbage City

Children of light were not designed to live in the middle of garbage. But the children who attend Mama Maggie’s Kindergarten do. We all do in some regard. The Gospel is all about liberation, and promise, and the end of a life defined by decay and by existing in the middle of filth.

I don’t have a tidy answer for these children, other than my voice, support for such missions and an unremitting advocacy for justice in this broken world.

But Jesus offers answers – both for those who live up to their necks in physical garbage and for those of us who live mired in other kinds of messes.

Mama Maggie's Kindergarten

Note: Financial help for Mama Maggie’s Kindergarten under the umbrella of Stephen’s Children, is possible by sending a check payable to “Stephen’s Children” to Stephen’s Children, 30 Pied Bull Court, Galen Place, London WC1A 2JR

– Derek Maul blogs at


  1. Derek,
    It was a real joy to serve as the team host for this trip. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with you and Rebekah.
    This stop, to see the Stephen’s Children Ministry first hand, was one of the highlights of the entire trip (for me and my son). I have relived those precious moments through this excellent blog. Thank you so much for articulating so beautifully.
    -Steven Gregg


  2. Thanks, Drew, for reposting this article about children growing up in garbage slums in Cairo. This is Jinny De Jong, representative for Stephen’s Children and Mama Maggie in the U.S. I heard about your trip today from one of the participants and wanted you to know that friends of Stephen’s Children in the US can make tax-deductible donations to the ministry by sending gifts to:
    Stephen’s Children Foundation, 3755 – 36th Street, Grand Rapids, MI 49512
    We are organized as a 501(c)(3) in the US for the sole purpose of raising support for the ministry–that today includes 80 kindergartens in the garbage slums of Cairo and isolated rural villages of Upper Egypt.


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