Business for Peace Award

Cleaning worker: “We run after hope.”

Published on 16 July 2012 in Report
Amira Nasser (author), Amira Nasser (photographer)

Amira Nasser


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Amira Nasser


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Al-Ezzi Ali Qassem, a cleaning worker, his meager salary barely supports his family.

Al-Ezzi Ali Qassem, a cleaning worker, his meager salary barely supports his family.

Al-Ezzi Ali Qassem, a father of ten children and a retired soldier, works as a cleaning worker, in place of his wife’s job.

He has four daughters and six sons. Four are married and live in their own houses, but six remain in his home.

For two years now, Qassem has been working as a cleaning worker instead of his wife, who worked the same job for six years before him.

In return for his labor, he’s paid about $115 each month by the Cleaning Fund Project.

“I used to work from 7 to 11 a.m., then from 2 to 4 p.m., as my husband works now,” his wife said.

Qassem’s two sons work with their father as cleaners in order to help him to carry the responsibilities of financially supporting their family.

“Debts, clothes, food, medicine and an endless list of needs” Qassem said, sadly.

Qassem doesn’t pay educational costs for his children. He said his first three children entered school; however, none of them completed more than three years.

He added with a smile, “Because of the luxury we live in.”

Marginalized people such as Qassem don’t have health insurance, social standing or an official job to guarantee a secure financial income at the end of the month.

Qassem said that all essential needs require money, whether they’re medical, educational or anything else.

“If you don’t have money, you die,” he said.

His $115 monthly paycheck is a welcome influx to the Qassem family. Although most of the time it doesn’t actually reach the house, debts are often paid out of it first.

He explained that he has an extremely difficult time paying back debts, saying he tries to pay back half the amount to each person who loaned him money.

Qassem said the only monetary option for needs such as hospital visits or emergency situations is to borrow from their neighbors or friends.

When asked how he feeds his family, Qassem said only basic and essential needs are met.

Even fruits are a luxury to him; the thought made him laugh as he talked about his salary of less than $1.50 per day from picking up and collecting empty plastic bottles from the streets as alternative work.

“Pass your day and live,” he said ironically.

Promises made to cleaning workers

Qassem said many promises have been made to improve salaries and living standards for cleaning workers, but he said even the orders by President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and the cabinet were worthless; saying that one governmental day equals a year in real life.

“Now we have another promise to execute the decision by the new Secretary of the Capital Abdul-Qader Helal, and we are still waiting,” he added.

He spoke with a satisfaction that the Secretary of the Capital met cleaning workers more than once to talk and discuss their demands.

“There is an intention to do something, we see there is hope” he said.

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