Wahat el-Bahariya – a school in the desert

By Bruno Sandkühler, Christine Arlt, February 2022

“Sabah Al-Kheer – Good morning, dear Selma! This is how the ten-year-old is greeted by her teacher Ahmed. Together with 30 other children, she is still a little tired as she sits in the classroom but she is looking forward to a varied day at school. She enjoys the music and sports lessons the most. Selma attends the SEKEM school in the rural surroundings of Cairo which has set itself the task of implementing a holistic teaching and learning concept.

But not many children in Egypt are in the same position as Selma. There is compulsory education, but the Egyptian school system is completely overloaded. While Selma discovers her talents in art classes, handicrafts or making music, most Egyptian children have to be content with memorising knowledge that has little relation to real life. The curricula are dictated by the school bureaucracy.

In the state schools, up to 80 children sit in poorly equipped classrooms. The teachers are overworked and underpaid. Those who want to graduate successfully have to take private lessons or go to a private school. Only better-off families can afford that. And even at the expensive private schools the focus is on pure knowledge transfer. Selma’s father does not earn much as a factory worker but benefits from the solidarity-based model of the SEKEM school which reduces or waives school fees for children from poorer backgrounds.

SEKEM, the initiative to promote sustainable development in Egypt, founded this holistic school model more than 40 years ago and has been testing it ever since. The Hebet-el-Nil School in Luxor, which was founded as a private initiative, has already benefited from this experience. In addition to the Egyptian curriculum with its strong patriotic character, other subjects are taught that are intended to promote independent thinking, creativity and manual skills. Egyptian children have a pronounced talent for language, music and movement, but that is not supported in state schools.

Bringing education to remote regions

In the rural regions, children often have to travel long distances to school and are often taught at home, in Koranic schools or not at all. Here SEKEM would like to take a further step and establish a school in the desert, near Wahat El-Bahariya – Wahat means oases, bahariya means north – a desert depression extending about ninety kilometres from north to south and forty kilometres from east to west with several villages. In this remote area, three hundred kilometres from the capital and the villages along the Nile, SEKEM is cultivating desert soil using biodynamic methods.

The aim is to combat the country’s food shortage and climate change and to help the local people improve their living conditions. At the moment, six staff children are being taught provisionally at the desert farm. Selma’s teacher Ahmed regularly visits the Wahat farm to support the resident teacher.

Like Selma, the children in the desert should also have the opportunity to become artistically active, to play the recorder or to express themselves through painting, movement or drama as part of an education based on independent thinking.

The goal is to develop a comprehensive school. The local authorities have already been convinced – the project can begin. Together with the support of friends from Europe, sixty children are to have the opportunity to attend the new school in the oasis depression of Bahariya in the coming school year.

In accordance with the SEKEM tradition, much will initially be improvised with the cooperation of the parents; buildings must be constructed and equipped. The vocational training workshops of the mother farm make an important contribution. The curriculum builds on the many years of experience of the first SEKEM school, where experienced teachers from Europe have repeatedly contributed to the development and teacher training in word and deed. The SEKEM Development Foundation serves as the basis for financing, into which donations from abroad flow in addition to income from the business enterprises.



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