SEKEM; The Oasis of Sustainable Development in Egypt
SEKEM seeks “sustainable development towards a future where every human being can unfold his or her individual potential, where mankind lives together in social forms reflecting human dignity, and where all economic activity is conducted in accordance with ecological and ethical principles.”
SEKEM was founded in 1977 by Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish (1937-2017). Dr. Abouleish is an Egyptian scholar and visionary, who studied and worked in Austria, where he became a successful university professor. He returned to Egypt with a vision to contribute to the development of his country of birth, and plant a farm in the hostile desert which no one believed could be made fertile in an economical way. Yet, Dr. Abouleish persisted and despite numerous obstacles described in his autobiography, succeeded. Today, SEKEM is at the core of a network of biological dynamical farms throughout Egypt, and it provides knowledge and other support to these farms. In this way, SEKEM has created deep roots in Egypt and has become an influence for biodynamic farming that truly has an impact.
The key to sustainable development is making compost and developing people. Today, some of the products of SEKEM are ISIS tea, organic cotton made clothing, olives, dates, organic herbs and spices, healthcare products, and much more. SEKEM has also started schools, and in 2011, founded the Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development (HU).
The core activities of SEKEM are:
- The promotion of sustainable agriculture in the desert
- Promoting fair and ethical business practices
- Promoting a peaceful society
- Unfolding the potential of each individual
All these activities are linked together in one body.
The Center for Arab-West Understanding, an Egyptian NGO that has become the largest internship provider in Egypt, organized a summer school with the HU, where human dignity stood at the core. Egyptian, Tunisian, Brazilian, and European students all participated in this program. Unique was the huge diversity among these students, that the experience also reinstated the need to respect diversity. Lectures from both Egyptian and foreign lecturers focused on understanding people with different cultures from our own. “We need to get out of our own little bubble and realize that there are billions of people with different belief systems with whom we need to be able to live and work together.” The lectures, characteristically SEKEM, were alternated with art classes because only in art can one truly express oneself without being right or wrong. The lectures were documented and can be found in the database of the Arab-West Report.
Of course, the summer school included a site visit to the SEKEM farm. It was amazing to see the lush green fields and realize that only forty years ago this was all desert land! British student Laura Gibson wrote: “The biodynamic farm functions as a way of organic farming in which the animals, soil, and crops are treated as a single system so that each one is used to maximum function and nothing is wasted. This creates a sustainable circle of farming.” The organic cotton plantation and factories operate in an ecologically and environmentally friendly way, and the workers employed receive fair income for their labor. The schools function to teach both abled and handicapped local children, and a vocational school is present to teach adolescents practical skills which they will later put to use in the wider community. A medical centre for the local community has also been opened.
Walking around the farm, the students observed that SEKEM uses a combination of traditional farming methods and modern technology to produce the best result possible.
Both the students and organizers were extremely enthusiastic and thus, CAWU and HU hope to organize a new summer school along the same principles, where sustainability in managing the earth and human relations will again be at the core of the program.
SEKEM is absolutely worth a visit. They organize monthly two-hour farm tours in German, English and Arabic language. For more information, contact SEKEM: https://www.sekem.com/en/contact/visit-sekem/. If you want to read more about SEKEM, read the student reports in Arab-West Report. For inquiries about the summer school of 2019, write firstname.lastname@example.org