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Egypt: Born of the Sun
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Egypt: Born of the Sun

The Sekem Farm is an ecological paradise in the middle of the Egyptian desert. Both a thriving business and close-knit community, nothing is lost here, and a delicately balanced relationship between workers and nature has been established. With predictions of the world's population rising to 9 billion by 2050, Dr. Abouleish's ambitious vision may well be the future of farming.

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Segment 1

TITLE
Sekem, Born of the Sun
TITLE
A film by Bertram Verhaag
DR. IBRAHIM ABOULEISH [Founder, Sekem Project]
This is what I love so much about the desert, the endless horizon, and that you really notice the circle, where the earth kisses the heavens or vice versa: where the two meet. That gives you the possibility to have ideas, that you don't just have finished shapes, but create a new way so that new things emerge.
VOICEOVER
To make the desert come alive: that is an ancient metaphor, the stuff of dreams for even the Biblical forefathers in the Old Testament. The Egyptian pharmacologist Ibrahim Abouleish also had this vision. He knows that the desert is not dead.
DR. IBRAHIM ABOULEISH
When you see the desert now, it consists of pebbles and sand. How can you make something arable out of these things here? When you take an even closer look with the microscope, there are living things here. Also, I have learned that it's possible to activate these microorganisms in the earth.
VOICEOVER
In 30 years, Ibrahim Abouleish has made an ecological paradise of the lifeless desert floor 60 kilometers northeast of Cairo: the Sekem Farm. Here, though, the earth which had been made arable brought forth not merely plants, but also ideas. Thousands of jobs have been created, a community has formed, schools and hospitals have been built. The vision has become reality and continues to grow. Industrial agriculture is based on carelessly wrenching from the earth, with the aid of chemicals, as many products as possible. Biological-dynamic farming culture, agriculture in the true sense of the word, as it is understood here, serves a different purpose. Here, the earth should be left to the coming generations in a better quality than they first found it.
DR. IBRAHIM ABOULEISH
The biological-organic principle is based on the existing symbiosis between all living things. That means on the earth, above the earth, also as plants and as insects and as birds and all the way up to the stellar constellations. When a patch of earth is being worked, and its soil contains microorganisms, then in the biological-dynamic sense, you see how you can nourish and multiply these microorganisms. There, you produce this basis by using compost.
VOICEOVER
On the Egyptian Sekem Farm, composting has become a science. In the course of three decades, humans have learned and researched the ecological cycles here, learned to ensure that, in this sensitive balance, nothing is lost. After all, the compost is the miracle material that makes the desert come alive. Anything that was once alive is used in this manner, so that it promotes continued growth. In this context, though, the cows and their manure are the actual secret formula for Sekem's success. Milk was a mere by-product for a long time in the desert. After all, the pioneers on the Sekem Farm were not concerned about making a quick profit; the aim was much higher. It was about nothing less than creating a sustainable development model for the entire world. About showing people that, in a developing country like Egypt, it was possible to not merely gain a foothold, so to speak, with ecological agriculture, but also be successful at it. A model for a cooperation between Orient and Occident, where everyone learns from each other. Throughout the Sekem Farm, German-speaking Europeans work with Egyptians, but nowhere is there a director from abroad. In every aspect, the principle they live and work by is called "cooperation." Everyone does whatever they can to serve the greater purpose, to make it flourish and reap a harvest which is growing by the year. That also includes another approach to interaction with nature. Everything is considered useful, such as the many thousands of ladybugs in the large greenhouses, which protect the bell-pepper plants by eating the aphids. It is a way of thinking based on cycles. Even from the very beginning, when Ibrahim Abouleish built the first all-round house for his family in the desert sand.
DR. IBRAHIM ABOULEISH
Also, there's the first round house. In late-1977/early-1978, construction on this house began. When you imagine that the land was all desert. Yet on the inside, you wanted to indeed have something beautiful; that's how the indoor garden was created.
HELMY ABOULEISH [son of Dr. Abouleish]
As we started out here, you couldn't see a single tree far and wide when you looked outside from the house. The tallest tree was 15 centimeters tall, which had just been planted. The fast-growing ones were the eucalyptus trees, which in the meantime really are 30 to 40 meters high. As I said before, 30 years ago, the tallest was 20 cm tall with a diameter of half a centimeter. You just have to imagine that. Good. Then, this round house was initially a residential house. But it was also a contact point. It was simultaneously an office. In the large room where we now eat, that's where the grand piano used to stand. It was our concert hall, the Royal Sekem Opera House. And in this room here on the left, there was the first factory, the first laboratory where we produced Amoidine.
VOICEOVER
Amoidine is the extract of a wild plant which grows as a weed, especially on dry ground, and which was urgently needed by an American company as a remedy to counteract skin-pigmentation disorders. The research into and processing of further medicinal plants was then professionalized further and further. In the process, Ibrahim Abouleish's aim was not to establish a group of pharmaceutical companies in the middle of the desert. Rather, he sought to link traditional wisdom to modern expertise in such a way as to enable one of Egypt's cultural treasures -- the ancient medicinal expertise -- to be rediscovered and made useful. Yet, initially, the approach was to further and further cultivate the desert floor. The trees were planted first, and the wind-deflector basins, ensured that on the fields a much milder climate prevailed than in the surrounding desert. However, to be able to utilize it, the water supply had to be guaranteed. Not a simple task at this distance from the arable Nile basin. At a depth ranging from 70 to 100 meters, iron pipes were driven by hand into the desert floor until finally, the long-desired water started gushing out.
HELMY ABOULEISH
The first well, the first two wells. One of them, of course, was down there at the stable, since we had to get water for the animals. The first fields are directly adjacent to the pigeonry, and the second well was up here, where the operation to produce medicinal agents is now located. You have to imagine, that was desert; that's how it went on, field for field. You can see the distribution. To create fields for the first time, these trees were planted around fields which were 2 to 3 hectares in area. Then you cultivated the following plants: clover, corn, wheat, but also medicinal herbs and vegetables. As you see, growth is constant here. Directly in front of us, this operation is Conytex, which has only been running since 1990, when we successfully cultivated biological-dynamic cotton and then tried to do something meaningful with it. Currently, the operation is doubling its annual capacity. You can imagine what that means, from 200 to 400 per year. That is to say, you don't just have to create buildings, but also organize the process to enable the 400 people to work together, which, as you know, is a miracle.
VOICEOVER
Yet even miracles lose their exceptional character when all aspects are interlinked. Sekem's textile production is a fine example of this. The Sekem company NatureTex produces two lines of ecological children's clothing each year, for the national as well as international market. Only sometimes does Constanze Abouleish, the Sekem founder's daughter-in-law, shake her head in astonishment at some of the fashion-related requests from America, Germany, or Japan.
CONSTANZE ABOULEISH
Due to the fact that we only work with cotton, we're restricted to a certain extent. When the main focus of an enquiry is a spacesuit, then with our cotton, we do not directly follow the trend. Yet the motifs which are specified to us are always important. You have to abide by that.

Segment 2

VOICEOVER
Sekem is a success. Its enormous growth is now the greatest challenge for this astonishing initiative. Where do the roots of this success lie?
DR. IBRAHIM ABOULEISH
Well, my father was an industrialist and a very energetic man. He never stopped creating things and making people enthusiastic. And my mother was the very embodiment of love. She was always calm and smiling, and had a sense of understanding for everything, even though she already had a great deal of cares with so many children, because we were six not very simple and easygoing children. That's an old family photo and those are my siblings: the three girls, my brother, then there I am. And I think I was 10 or 11 years old at the time.
VOICEOVER
Ibrahim Abouleish experienced a time in his life when he had to run away because an inner voice called him to leave his intact family world. His departure from Egypt at dawn on a winter morning in 1956 was like a secret escape. By train, he travelled from Cairo to Alexandria and purchased for thirty pounds a passage on a Turkish ship to Naples. Then, he travelled by train, via Rome and the Alps to Graz. Ibrahim Abouleish spent 20 years in Austria, where he gained a doctorate and became a successful entrepreneur, before deciding to trade Austria once again for the hot Egyptian desert. The experience and in-depth knowledge held by the then 40-year-old pharmacist and his wife is integrated into the Sekem Project.
HELMY ABOULEISH
That, by the way, is my mother's office. She manages the entire area here, and, from here, she has a great view of the various packlines. Here at the moment, you see mainly packaging for the local market. On Friday, we don't pack for Europe, because then, of course, the weekend comes. After all, we want to send our goods fresh. But these are for the local market, to which we'll make deliveries today and tomorrow. For today, as you see, the tomatoes are being packed.
VOICEOVER
Even if Ibrahim Abouleish is only respectfully called "the Doctor" and his wife "Madame," this is certainly not a family company which merely serves the purpose of amassing personal wealth. Rather, Sekem is both a social as well as a business experiment in the age of globalization. Beans, tomatoes, and oranges are all packaged here, in biological-dynamic quality, and tested according to the stringent criteria imposed by the professional-advocacy organization Demeter. All vegetables from Sekem are either grown on its own fields or delivered from the 800 affiliated farms.
HELMY ABOULEISH
You also have to say that we have maintained from the very beginning our efforts to sell the biological-dynamic products we grow also on a local level. It was a constant challenge to determine how to grow and handle the biological-dynamic products, and also market them to be competitive in a country such as Egypt. I am very glad that ISIS has had for already the past 20 years a market share which is very high for healing herbs, honey, or in other areas. That's to say, we've developed here in Egypt one of the largest biological-dynamic markets outside Europe, the U.S., and Japan.
VOICEOVER
The Sekem community, which provides employment for approximately 2,000 people, and with which another 30,000 people across the country cooperate, includes child-care centers, a polyclinic, schools, adult-education centers, and, soon, a university. In 2003, in Stockholm, Ibrahim Abouleish is awarded The Right Livelihood Award, better known as the Alternative Nobel Prize. The Sekem Initiative, as this project is called in the laudatio [commendation], would be "a corporate model for the 21st century, which combines business success with social and cultural development." Each gathering or meeting begins with music, which should prompt the opening of further levels of perception. All basic innovations and developments are discussed in detail with the employees, even if the last word is ultimately left to the visionary himself, as a gentle kind of patriarch. Here, Ibrahim Abouleish met with managers to deal with a highly controversial issue within Egypt as an Islamic society: equal rights for women on all levels.
DR. IBRAHIM ABOULEISH
The issue of the day was women's rights. The companies have many women. We strove to employ 50 percent women, and then we realized that women in this group are hardly represented, particularly in legal issues. They said there were too few women who fight for women's rights. Then they said, "We cannot merely inform women of their own rights; rather, we must also inform men of women's rights. We must help them put this information into practice."
HISHAM ELNAGGAR [Kitchen Manager]
Along with Dr. Abouleish, we all had the increasing feeling that Sekem belongs to us all, that we make our own decisions. He said, we do not work for him at his company, but rather with him. I believe that his best investment was the one he made for our people. People in the Sekem community learn that this work is for us, for our country and its land, for our money, for our lives. Sekem belongs to us all, not to the doctor alone.
VOICEOVER
The best investment is that in people. Because Ibrahim Abouleish realized this from the very beginning, the Sekem Initiative places uncompromising emphasis on education.
SELIM ELMASRI [Teacher]
We shake hands with our students as a kind of respect between the teachers and the students. And also, when we shake hands with our students, we look at their eyes, and we feel the temperature of their body. So if someone is very hot, so we know that there is something wrong. If he is very cold, also, there is something wrong. When we look at their eyes, also there's a contact between us and them. We are one.
VOICEOVER
In the Sekem schools, the aim is to address Egyptian tradition and modern expertise from the holistic perspective. With reformed pedagogical methods reminiscent of Rudolf Steiner's Waldorf movement, they address the respective subject areas in an age-appropriate fashion to appeal to body, mind, and spirit. In this process, their intent is not to blindly copy Western pedagogy. Here, too, the combination of Oriental and Occidental approaches synthesizes the best of both worlds, the best of both cultures, to enable them to flourish together. Therefore, in their school library, next to the classic Islamic works, there is an Arabic translation of Goethe's works on the shelves.
DR. IBRAHIM ABOULEISH
My connection to Goethe is very strong. He was my reason for leaving Egypt. I have read his works in translation. Goethe was also the one who prompted me to return once again to Egypt, because I wanted to create something vital in Egypt. With his proverbs on the community of living things, that was practically on the way at Sekem's foundation a motto of mine, when he says, "and no age and no power break apart impressed shapes which were developed alive."
SELIM ELMASRI
Art is very important. If you'd like to work as an engineer, for example, you should be an artist. Of course you are a scientist in your field, but you should be an artist. You have to know to feel, to sense the art, to sense beauty in what you do. If you have this sense, you can create something beautiful.

Segment 3

VOICEOVER
To encounter life as an artist and enrich the work of art that is creation: that was the core of Ibrahim Abouleish's vision.
DR. IBRAHIM ABOULEISH
When I was young, I always had certain ideals. So I wrote my father a letter. I entitled it, "When I Come Back." There, I described something which I would do in the village where I was born. All those things I would do. There I wrote, "When I come back, father, I will build schools and found a workshop and a hospital and a theatre," and I wrote in the letter what I had dreamt as a boy, full of imagination. Yet I had completely forgotten that. My father gave me the letter 25 years later and said, "Do you remember?"
VOICEOVER
What was once the little hospital has now become a polyclinic with 20 specialists who care for no less than 40,000 patients. This polyclinic was established with the help of the German physician Dr. Hans Werner.
DR. HANS WERNER [Sekem Physician]
At the time, we had designed it for 50 patients per day. You see, today, far more are here, and, in the meantime, we average 120 to 180 patients per day. This means that we now have to expand.
VOICEOVER
Most of the medications in this chemist's shop are plant-based and originate from Sekem's own fields. Some of them are ancient Egyptian remedies which here, for the first time, are being researched to determine their effects; some of them are wild plants from the desert ravines on the Sinai Peninsula, the healing effects of which are just being rediscovered here. For the company's pharmaceutical director, Dr. Gihad, this combination of research and production means the fulfillment of a dream.
DR. GIHAD [Sekem Pharmaceutical Director]
As a pharmacist, 18 years ago, I had the opportunity to be accepted in Sekem and work in the pharmaceuticals division. There, I was able to experience firsthand the entire range of developments in the agricultural sector and in natural medicine. I was able explore plant-based substances on a scientific basis and make my own discoveries. We develop the kinds of products on which no one else is working today. In this context, I was also able to practice my hobby of developing medications far removed from those with the typical side effects, which could harm the patients.
VOICEOVER
A country between the greatness of bygone days, a confusing present and an uncertain future. The visionary Abouleish places his confidence in each individual person. If every person breaks free of his limitations and spreads his wings, Abouleish believes that the country will develop. The latest initiative tackled by Ibrahim Abouleish is the establishment of a university, in which the expertise gained over the course of the past 30 years can be handed down to future generations. Very soon, the first students will be working and learning here. This is a square with a venerable tradition, because, many thousands of years ago, here in Heliopolis, an ancient cultural and scientific center emerged. The great teachers of humanity, from Plato to Pythagoras, were active here, and many cultural impulses were transmitted from here to Europe. Ibrahim Abouleish's vision also concerns their transmission from here to the rest of the world.
DR. IBRAHIM ABOULEISH
I would like to experience that people see and perceive each other. Then, every individual knows that he or she is not alone, but instead linked with all of these people, and also supported by them. The circle or the spiral is actually a very socially oriented shape, in which people perceive each other. Yet it is also a living shape. You can imagine how people standing in rank and file do not really perceive each other. That is a militaristic attitude. Here, this is a social attitude.
HELMY ABOULEISH
You have to have the courage to say, as an individual, "I can change the world." Then, the prospects for the future are up to me, not for anyone else.
DR. IBRAHIM ABOULEISH
You all know that the entire world suffers greatly. Half of its people -- three billion -- are living in poverty, and 380 million are starving. And yet the new person is in us. That is the person who dreams of a better future for all of humanity, dreams which should indeed come true.
TITLE
[end credits]