Friday, August 16, 2013

A True Oasis in Egypt

The SEKEM Community in Egypt

These are challenging days in Egypt. As I witness what the media and governments across the globe label as "unrest" my thoughts go to what is exactly behind what I would call unleashed violent chaos. 

Several years ago, I finally got around to reading Wedell Berry's landmark book, The Unsettling of America, Culture and Agriculture. I keep coming back to this book, over and over as I try to make sense of what is going on in modern culture.  I also consider my training as a Naturopathic Physician and Acupuncturist when I try to comprehend what I witness in terms of world events. There is a dictum in Ayurveda, all illness comes from separation, and all separation is an illusion. These influence how I am perceiving the unrest in Egypt, as well as across the Globe.

I see most of the world's ills as a result of separation. Separation from one another, and separation from the land. Berry's main thesis in Unsettling, is that we do not work where we eat, and we do not live where we work. In my understanding, he is pointing out the obvious, that there is no connection in our modern culture to anything of consequence. We do not see what our consumer habits do to the earth, we do not see or comprehend who grows our food, we have no connection to the land that nourishes us or the people who feed us. I often wonder if the advances and addiction to social media come out of a need for connection that our modern world lacks.

When we look at what is going on in Egypt, and the broader Arab world, it really all comes down to oil. Who owns the oil, who profits and who has access. Since the time of the Crusades, the west has used religious pretense to occupy one very small patch of land for economic purposes. Back then it was the spice trade, since the industrial revolution, it is oil. The west uses one patch of land as a focus to destabilize the entire realm, and everyone suffers. The benefits are short term and for the few, but as they say, nothing in life is free, and we will all suffer for this short sighted approach to our global economy.



There is an Oasis in Egypt in terms of a new economic and social paradigm. It is called SEKEM and has been in existence since the late 1970's. http://www.sekem.com/ 



SEKEM is a collaborative of sustainable agricultural initiatives producing foods, botanical medicines, body products and textiles, all based on Biodynamic Agricultural principles. 

The Vision of SEKEM is elegantly stated on their website

Sustainable development towards a future where every human being can unfold his or her individual potential; where mankind is living together in social forms reflecting human dignity; and where all economic activity is conducted in accordance with ecological and ethical principles.

The Founder of SEKEM , Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish, left Egypt when he was young to seek training in Europe as a Pharmacist. He returned for a family visit in the 70's and was appalled at the level of poverty he witnessed. He returned to Egypt and founded the SEKEM initiative, which is literally flourishing in the Desert throughout Egypt.



SEKEM Companies include the following: 


ISIS Produce and foodstuffs 




ATOS Herbal Medicine, 





Naturetex Biodynamic Textiles, 




LOTUS Culinary Herbs, Spices and Teas, 



LIBRA Cattle and Compost products, 



MIZAN Biodynamic Seedlings, Land Reclamation which is transforming the desert into lush farmland through Biodynamic Agricultural practices, and their newest initiative which is called Biocontrol where they are breeding beneficial insects as pest management.

Education is a large part of SEKEM, with course offerings for employees in all areas of cultural and personal development, and a Waldorf inspired school for employee's children. There is a health clinic and medical education initiative. 



But most importantly, SEKEM is providing sustainable economic development and a model of social harmony for it's diverse workforce. SEKEM has Muslims and Christians working together, and has been doing so for over 35 years.



The interview with Bijan Kafi, the public relations director for SEKEM Europe gives great insight as to the workings of SEKEM. I was left with a great sense of hope and longing. Hope for the present and future, and longing for an initiative like SEKEM to be in America.

At the core of SEKEM is a living connection. Connection with the land, connection between people. 



Over two thirds of green house gas emissions are related to industrial agriculture, the epitome of disconnection. The bulk of these emissions are due to transporting food all over the planet, the rest is from production of food products and packaging. All of industrial agriculture is made possible by petroleum. It is a bit simplistic, but really not too far off the mark to connect the "unrest" in Egypt to fast food consumption in the US. Our reliance on oil for our food system has created mass poverty and instability in the Arab world. The US propped up the Egyptian government in the past as part of this system, so the oil could continue to flow from the region. SEKEM was founded in the height of this policy, the late 1970's. SEKEM has flourished as a viable alternative to the modern economic (what I would call insanity, but others would say,) "system."

Please listen to this inspiring interview.


Check out SEKEM and purchase their products. They have a foundation you can donate to on their website if you are so moved. But mostly, know there are incredible alternatives to the oil economy in the Arab world, that we should support and most importantly emulate. Make the connection, stop funding this sort of terribly painful unrest. There is a connection between what you eat and political turmoil around the globe. The great thing is that the solution is so very easy. Eat Local, support the good with every bite you take.

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