People in SEKEM: Gamal El-Sayed

One cannot speak of SEKEM School without speaking of Gamal El-Sayed. He was one of the most close confidants to  Ibrahim Abouleish and he is the heart of the SEKEM School.

Father to five and brother to nine, Gamal grew up learning how to be a responsible caregiver.. Gamal El-Sayed, now SEKEM School Director and teacher, is an all-round talent: From cooking to nursing to farming, raising animals and poultry, construction, plumbing, carpentry, fishing, storytelling and many more, Gamal never ceases to learn and develop his abilities and always seeks unfolding his potential, as well as guiding students and colleagues to unfold their own. 

How it all began

Building up educational institutions for the co-workers and people from the surrounding villages has always been an important pillar of the SEKEM Vision. Hence, SEKEM founder Ibrahim Abouleish invited the teachers of the surrounding areas to  select those who shared his ambition and holistic approach for the education of the youth. “When we met for the first time, we both left a strong impression on each other,” remembers Gamal. But although he became very curious about SEKEM, its founder and his vision he refused to accept a position in SEKEM as he was satisfied with his job as a teacher in a public school and his freelance nursing work. Ibrahim Abouleish’s persistence made him finally accept his offer. The Arabic teacher, became the main teacher for kindergarten students, which he enjoyed a lot: “A teacher has the ability to make or break the student. I loved science and biology because my teachers taught me to love them, and so I was very happy to pass on that love to my students as well. I also enjoyed showing them how one doesn’t only have  talents in one field, and I encourage the children to explore any material or course.” Ibrahim Abouleish could see Gamal’s passion and devotion for teaching as he could see their similar views on education; he had complete trust in him and involved him in all aspects of the School and later in regard to SEKEM in in general too.

Gamal El Sayed, SEKEM Schools teacher and director with his students

Brick by brick

A year after Gamal joined SEKEM, Ibrahim Abouleish told him to gather his students and build a new school. Gamal thought this was a waste of time and resources: Every step the children took in raising the school, needed to be redone or fixed by professional construction workers. “Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish was willing to pay more in order to enable the children to bond with their school, so that they look forward to spending time in it every day and to care for every inch of it”, Gamal explains. It didn’t take long for him to understand the founder’s vision, as they all felt the new bond created with the school that they built with their own hands.

Living by example

Gamal El-Sayed is a man of many talents and skills, for that he gives the credit to the environment he grew up in. In the small village Basatin Barakat, the rural life shaped him into the man he is; working in the fields every day starting already early in the morning made Gamal inseparable from nature. Unlike the city life, one would need to become resourceful and use the available means, which led to a lifelong lesson: “When my radio broke down, I took it to several people to fix it and they all failed to do so. When I told my father he asked me to leave it to him so that he could give it a try. The next day I returned from school I found that he had fixed it. He then told me so simply what later became my motto in life: when you have already failed and got nothing to lose, it’s the perfect time to try something new!” recalls Gamal. Ever since, Gamal wasn’t afraid to try new approaches and took every chance to learn and develop. 

Gamal El Sayed, one of Ibrahim Abouleish’s confidants

Learning never ends

“In order to reach the students, I need to put myself in their shoes.”

Gamal shares the same vision as SEKEM and and its founder Ibrahim Abouleish that the teachers’ development never ends. Hence he has always been involved in SEKEM’s programs for teachers training; with special focus to the exchanges with other schools and countries. “In order to reach the students, I need to put myself in their shoes. This is why I constantly work on developing and enrolling in training programs for teachers, to always challenge myself as a learner and to create new ways to overcome them,” explains Gamal. 

Faith against all odds

In 2010, Gamal and his family’s faith was put to test. Mervat, Gamal’s wife was diagnosed with brain cancer and she needed to receive an operation with very low success rates. The operation cost 180,000 EGP, a sum that Gamal didn’t have. In this hard time, Mervat’s grandmother and Gamal’s father passed away. However, Gamal never lost his faith. “Faith in God is a practical exercise, not just a thought: it becomes really visible in such difficult moments,” explains Gamal. And maybe his firm belief helped finding a funding opportunity for the operation so that his wife recovered and they finally enjoy a happy family life again  together he resumed his cooking duties, Mervat is doing the cleaning, and their five children have all grown up in a happy home where they learn to lead their own lives and have the freedom to seek unfolding their potential.

The charismatic SEKEM School is not only a beloved teacher and manager of the SEKEM School but  also in charge or the communication and public relations. No task is too big or small for Gamal – because he helped build the school brick by brick, he considers it as his home.

Nadine Greiss

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