People in SEKEM: Hesham El Nagar

In the early morning hours, the SEKEM Hotel, probably the most aesthetic building on the SEKEM Farm, still hides behind thick fog. Slowly, not before the sun shines on its high yellow- and red-coloured windows, it reveals its entire simple beauty. From the round entrance hall, in which centre a fragrant Frangipani tree rises into the open ceiling, a man appears with a proud look. This is Hesham El Nagar, the manager of the SEKEM Hotel.

Decent and reserved, the tall and handsome man always keeps everything under control. But when it matters, he also lends a hand in the kitchen for instance and knows how to make clear announcements. “It is important to me that my employees and I learn from mistakes instead of repeating them. And that we work in an organized and systematic way”, says the head of the SEKEM Hotel. And, he knows what he’s talking about. Hesham El Nagar is not only managing the hotel, he also organizes the complete guest service and takes care of the accommodations and cafeterias at the SEKEM Farm. 30 employees work under his guidance – a responsible and time-consuming task. He often spends evenings and weekends at the SEKEM Farm. No problem, because “I love my work and the people here”, says the longstanding SEKEM co-worker.

From the kitchen to the hotel manager

However, back then it looked like as if Hesham would take a completely different path. Since generations his family is engaged to carpentry. Hence, the young Hesham planned to become a carpenter too. In Dahab, an Egyptian tourist city at the Red Sea where he went to do his training, he soon got to know the hotel business. Despite working in shifts and long days, the job fascinated him and he switched to become trained as a cook. He worked with great enthusiasm until the late evening hours and was still diligent when his colleagues had already gone home.

When his eldest brother emigrated to Saudi Arabia, Hesham returned to his hometown, near the SEKEM Farm to take care for his parents and six siblings. One day, an old friend invited him to SEKEM, just at the time when a cafeteria was opened for the SEKEM School. Hesham was hired as a cook – 21 years ago. Gradually, more and more institutions were established and Hesham’s responsibilities grew too. He gave up his job as a chef, became the organizer of the various cafeterias and later the head of the complete guest service.

Inspiration is missing

Along with SEKEMs growth, the interest in the farm increased as well. More and more people want to visit SEKEM and need accommodation and food. Hence, Hesham sat together with SEKEM Founder Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish and decided to build a hotel in 2010. Together, they planned the construction and the organization: 37 guest rooms, a large dining hall, a conference room and two lounges are hosted be the popular SEKEM accommodation today. Guests from all over the world appreciate the simple comfort and the great service.

Hesham totally understands that SEKEM attracts many people: “Actually, the whole world should come to see SEKEM and learn from Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish.” The 44-year-old family father finds all the challenges that Egypt is facing in his home town, every day. “People are walking through the streets, talking about change but nothing happens”, Hesham tells. “They have no motivation to change, no inspiration. And they became completely stuck in their views and opinions.” Quite different than he experiences the situation in SEKEM. “Here we respect each other’s. We exchange experiences, try to change something every day and make things better.”

“Each one of us has the opportunity and even the responsibility to make a change.”

Hesham also wants to convey these and values to his three sons. He even goes to the school of his children from time to time and tries to encourage the teachers to expand the governmental system in order to give the students more inspiration – just as he knows it from the SEKEM educational institutions. “In the past, I used to have only small ambition to change something too”, Hesham reveals. “But now, I believe that we should pass on the good things that we received. We have to go to other people, discuss with them, and try to convince them that each one has the opportunity and even the responsibility to make a change.”

This is what Hesham El Nagar also wishes for the future: being able to start every day new and supporting a change in society. “My children do not need to have high university degrees. They should learn to form their own opinions and to reflect things. A certificate does not make independent individuals out of them who know how to solve their problems by themselves”, the SEKEM hotel manager says. It also requires a good social network: “Work, friends or family – if one of these threads tears, it is important that the others are strong enough to carry the broken ones for a while.”

Hesham El Nagar learned a lot in SEKEM: From Dr. Abouleish, his colleagues and visitors from all over the world. He always seems to be focused on his demanding work and responsibilities – but when he shows his rare smile to the guests, his beautiful eyes shine like the facade of the SEKEM Hotel in the rays of the morning sun.

Christine Arlt

The SEKEM Hotel
Visit of SEKEM partner Oikocredit
The German ambassador in SEKEM