By Monika Griefahn
„Regional Conference“ – this sounds small and manageable. Manageable it was indeed, but the regional conference of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation covered geographically the entire continent of Africa and the Middle East. It took place in Sekem near Cairo, Egypt. About ten Right Livelihood laureates gathered there to share their experiences and to establish a platform for their concerns. Moreover, the conference gave the opportunity to heighten public awareness and to establish a closer cooperation among the laureates. This was seen as a central point to face the big challenges of today.
For me personally, it felt great to be back in Sekem again. The project situated there received the Right Livelihood Award (RLA) in 2003, and it made me feel good to see how it has developed and flourished.
To tell the story from the beginning, the following laureates took part at the conference:
– Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish, Sekem-founder, Egypt (RLA 2003) and Helmy Abouleish, managing director of Sekem
– Nnimmo Bassey, Nigeria (RLA 2010)
– Matron Sr. Tenadam Bekele Wolde, Ethiopia (RLA 2009)
– Jumanda Gakelebone, Botswana (RLA 2005)
– Guillaume Harushimana, Burundi (RLA 2002)
– Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, Nigeria (RLA 1994)
– Jacqueline Moudeina, Chad (RLA 2011)
– René Ngongo, Democratic Republic of Congo (RLA 2009)
– Nomewende Joël Ouedraogo, Burkina Faso, (RLA 1990)
Nevertheless, other laureates had been prevented from being present at the conference: Raji Sourani from the Gaza strip (RLA 2013) was not able to come, as the frontier had been closed for months. Israeli Laureates Dr. Ruchama Marton (RLA 2010) and Adam Keller had to cancel their participation as they did not receive a visa. However, the conference was enriched from the European side by Dr. Hans Herren from Switzerland/Kenya (RLA 2013).
I have been using the name “Sekem” for several times now in this article. Sekem is a holistic initiative, which was built up in the middle of the desert in 1978. Nowadays it includes the production of biological food of demeter-quality, a pharmaceutical company with natural products and a clothes’ production site for clothes made out of bio cotton (in Germany these clothes are sold at “dm”, for example). Moreover, in Sekem one finds a kindergarden, a day nursery, a school for children with special needs and a training site for educators, teachers, carpenters, electricians and mechanical engineers. Additionally, in 2012 the Heliopolis University opened. It is a university for sustainable development with faculties of pharmaceutics, engineering and economic sciences.
The Sekem conference inspired us all! Important basic steps were taken to start cooperation among the laureates, who work in very different fields – human rights or ecological agriculture, for example. Questions of health also play a pivotal role very often – for example the problems of circumcised women on the African continent.
At Heliopolis University, we had the opportunity to talk to Egyptian organizations, mainly from the NGO sector. We noticed similar problems all across the different countries: The non-existing independence of the legal system in Chad has the same consequences as the Nigerian government, which is unwilling or incapable of helping the people in Ogoniland. By doing so, the Nigerian government does not implement an UN resolution to overcome the oilspill. Furthermore, the “bushmen” in Burkina Faso are not supported by their government as their right to their land is being ignored.
However, the conference also gave us hope: Sekem, the miracle in the desert built from nothing, gives work to more than 3000 people today as it needs the supply of hundreds of farmers in the Nile delta. Those farmers switched to ecological agriculture. Hans Herren proved to us that the future of nutrition does not lie in genetic engineering – therefore it does not lie in the hands of agricultural enterprises like Monsanto or Syngenta – but in the hands of family-run farms, which provide 75 percent of our food today.
The laureates at the conference agreed on a joint public relations work, petitions, and immediately started to gather signatures in favor of ecological agriculture. Great!