Imagine waking up in the morning while the sun gently flows through the little window, behind the curtain is a view that any passionate painter would appreciate and love to draw. To the left, green lands being harnessed by strong beautiful, strong Egyptian ladies. To the right, a cowshed full of differently coloured cows, busy chewing the cud and producing milk. The smells of nature mix together and softly sneaks into your senses, carrying you while you walk saluting the ever smiling vigorous farmers and workers of this “greening the desert”. This is how our SIF for Youth Leaders participants spend their mornings, and this is the story!
Back in 2019, the Intercultural Dialogue for Sustainable Development took place at SEKEM farm through which 20 participants, Egyptians and international comers, went together in a journey of communication, intercultural dialogue and exploring the other. Following this, other events took place in the last three years such as Social Initiative Forum (SIF) 2019, and SIF 2021 that were held both in SEKEM and Heliopolis University. All of which paved the path to this year’s summer school: “Social Initiative Forum (SIF) for Youth Leaders”
During 5 days, July 23rd- 27th, 21 participants who come from different backgrounds experienced living together in SEKEM farm for the objective of creating a space for inner development, self-exploration, communication with the other, and reimagining the world and its current challenges.
“I like how I was at first day very calm and fraid and then at the end everyone became my friend; and how the facilitator can make you very flexible with yourself when you need to talk in loud voice with people about hidden points that you decided before to don’t talk about it even with yourself .I learned not to judge people at first sight.” Radwa AbdAlfatah Mohamed, student at Heliopolis University, Faculty of Organic Agriculture.
The content delivered during the training was built on two pillar objectives. The first one is encountering SEKEM as a model for an inspiration and hearing the stories of community members. Participants met Helmy Abouleish, CEO of SEKEM holdings, Yasmin Ayman from Naturetex, Jannis Hiler & Hana Sawada from Libra and the Sustainable Development department, Sohila Mohamed from the centre of Integrative Health, Yvonne Floride and Konstanze Abouleish from the SEKEM Future Council.
“Mr. Helmy’s session about the history of SEKEM marked me. Ibrahim Abouleish had a vision that the others could not see at the beginning, and he didn’t give it up till he made it happen. He lived happily in Austria with his family; yet, they chose to come here. This tells us that humans should have goals, choose to live a good life and work on it.” Peter Hany, Student at HU, Engineering Faculty.
The second pillar objective of SIF for Youth Leaders was social art and inner development. Participants experienced “the connection between myself and others”. They also enjoyed everyday art sessions and a space for inner development to address questions in their hearts. Sitting silently and individually, each participant enjoyed painting their own life stories on a blank paper; after that, they joined in circles to tell their own stories. On the wall, an alluring puzzle of blue and yellow, different shapes, and varying spaces of colour was eventually constructed, an art piece that combines dozens of memories, secrets, smiles, tears, and narratives.
Moreover and throughout a variety of creative activities, participants enjoyed art and movement as a means of expression and building relationships with the other, in-field visit to get in touch with the real world and the local community, story telling as a way of benefiting from others’ experiences, as well as dialogue-based interaction to enhance active listening and mutual understanding. The majority of participants experienced certain things for the first time such as: living in a farm, visiting the factory and helping workers hand in hand, eating organic food, visiting the compost field and working at the packing department at the factory of Naturetex.
“It was a new experience for me; the first time I visited a compost field. As an educator, I have shifted my focus lately towards education for sustainable development. That visit made me realize that for a better future, all educators should have an on-ground knowledge about the environment-friendly solutions that are out there. This knowledge helps educators facilitate what is needed for future generations to learn and perform in reality”. Amina Sabour, Masters Student at the American University in Cairo.
Significantly, the facilitators and space-holders of SIF for Youth Leaders are nationals of different countries: South Korea, Germany, Vietnam, Irak, Algeria, and the hosting country Egypt. As a result, a cross-cultural space was created; all surrounded by interesting vibes of differences, acceptance, curiosity, and comprehension. Many sincere laughters and genuine smiles were made while everyone was trying to approach the other’s culture, for instance, to pronounce correctly certain words and try to understand what they mean. Excitement was felt in the air, eagerness to know more about the different places SIF members represent, and appreciation of difference.
“I enjoyed seeing how people progress throughout the days of SIF, how they opened up and changed. The last day when visiting the local school, all participants actively jumped in to help in planting the trees and singing to children. As a facilitator, I learnt to be more aware of participants’ energy and keep up with their progress performing the new things that I already know like the songs. I have been here in Egypt for a year and a half, and I am still learning to meet different cultures.” Tanja Sophia Rüter, Fashion Designer & social art instructor.
SIF for Youth Leaders demonstrated the full package of experience as it put each individual participant in the heart of this long-living and prospering community of SEKEM. “Listen to your inner call”, said mister Helmy, giving participants a moment of reflection about what their real passion is, and what they really want to do in life as youth, leaders, and human beings.
“SIF helped me to know and discover myself more, to open up for new experiences, and to get to know new beautiful people. I learned to know my own limits and potentials and what I should develop in myself. For me the whole experience was helpful and I hope we can repeat it soon.” Safa Mustapaha Sami, Physical therapy student at HU.
Distinguishably and unlike usual “leadership training” events, SIF for Youth Leaders was an experience of its special kind. It reconnected participants first to their own selves, their own souls, feelings, and psyches, and to the other, the mate in the workplace, the worker behind the product, the farmers, etc. It also reconnected them to nature itself. This last has been taken away of us by the modern materialistic world, in a way that left us feeling isolated and disconnected.
SIF for Youth Leaders recreated connections between one and themselves, one and the community, and one and the nature. This is what leadership should come from for the sake of a healthier, safer and more sustainable future.
intern of Centre of Education for Sustainable Development at Heliopolis University