Creating Spaces for Individual Unfolding: WSIF Egypt 2019 in Review

1352 896 World Social Initiative Forum

“How can human development change our perspective of the world & what we do with it that can help shape a healthy, livable future?” – SEKEM CEO Helmy Abouleish, SIF Egypt 2019. Attended by 250 people from 26 countries, SIF Egypt 2019 was held last December 12-15, 2019 at Heliopolis University in Cairo. 

Text: Nicole Asis [PH] | Photos: Inés Lauber [DE], Narimeh Paeplow [DE], Samuel Leon Knaus [DE], Nicole Asis [PH], Nadine Greiss [EG] & Ritika Arya [IN]

Miracle in the desert | © Inés Lauber [DE]

The Social Initiative Forum collaborated with SEKEM & Heliopolis University to bring this year’s International Forum to the MENA region. Aligning with SEKEM’s Vision for 2057, the theme “Unfolding Individual Potential for the Future” was also an echo of Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish‘s vision how he dreamt SEKEM to be – a community in the desert where people come together to learn, live & work as one while unfolding their individual potential. This symbiotic relationship between Education & Sustainability is also a relevant issue nowadays in the face of climate change, unresolved wars, & digitalization. We ask as a global community: how can we create a sustainable world for future generations? & how can education play a role in this paradigm shift?


How to Unfold Individual Potential “What kind of education do the learners of today & tomorrow need?”, asked Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum co-director Florian Osswald in the opening lecture. He proposed that the main aim of education in the digital world is to help learners incarnate in their bodies. Through building a connection with one’s Self, one can find his/her inner uprightness to relate to the world & with others in freedom. Schule im Aufbruch founder Margret Rasfeld emphasized that education is not preparation for life but it is life. This means that the curriculum should train the learners toward responsibility, resilience, & multicultural openness to live in a globalized society. Gross National Happiness program director Ha Vinh Tho, Ph.D. reiterated that pedagogy should focus on “Education of the Self”. Through Self-education, the learners connect within, with others, & with nature, bridging the thinking & the will through the heart.

Inclusion & engagement in society were also key aspects of education discussed in the Forum. TRANS4M co-founder Alexander Schieffer, Ph.D. illustrated how learners can be innovative & active contributors to society through an integral, research-based approach. Holistic development enables one to be a conscious catalyst for change. Camphill Village West Coast managing director James Sleigh shared how a focus on potential rather than disability empowered the intellectually-challenged adults in his community. Empowerment through doing meaningful work enabled them to produce high-quality products supported by the local communities in South Africa. Ruskin Mill Trust founder Aonghus Gordon, MEd also showed that craftsmanship unfolds the potential of at-risk youth he is working with in the UK because of the precise movements required in making something useful. The streaming motion of making vases & ‘objects of civility’ renders moments of reflection, calls forth the courage to create, & gives one a sense of purpose & pride, able to contribute to society.


On how we transform I-unfolding into We-becoming, Waldorf mentor Benjamin Cherry, MA emphasized that small acts of kindness- how the teacher relates to the students by perceiving their individuality – influence their sense of Self & how they relate with others for life. Demeter Academy director Simone Helmle, Ph.D. highlighted that unfolding potential needs a space of collaboration where one explores in this shared place & gives enough space for others to move as well. Moreover, Triodos bank Advisory Board Member & Ethical Banking expert Joan Melé made an urgent call to shift consciousness from a “survival of the fittest” mentality to that of “selflessness & otherness”.  He also urged the participants to turn economy into a social art – conscious of the hidden value & of the hand responsible behind every product purchased. In this mutual support, brotherhood emerges out of carrying & being the guardian of each other’s becoming.


Will & collaboration | © Samuel Leon Knaus [DE]

Exploring Spaces & Co-creating in Movement Artistic workshops made this unfolding alive & hands-on. Monte Azul founder & Social Initiative Forum pioneer Ute Craemer led a workshop on what social art is & its nuances practiced in community work. Henry Saphir facilitated a workshop on “Empowerment Physics” & Nelson Avella related Anthroposophy with Capoeira. Besides his keynote lecture, Aonghus held a workshop on self-generated action & co-creating through clay. Also using clay as a medium, Paolo Apostolides explored “Urban Spaces & Material Narratives” in line with the “Ecology of Making”. Nathaniel Williams utilized puppetry as an exercise for centering, while Simone de Picciotto & Hans-Peter Seeger used musical instruments from all over the world to create a cross-cultural listening space.


Co-learning | © Nicole Asis [PH]

In Dialogue: Anthroposophy & Egyptian Culture Being in Egypt was also a good opportunity for a dialogue between Anthroposophy & Egyptian culture to take place. Islamic studies scholar Bruno Sandkühler, Ph.D. offered a discussion group & an evening lecture on “Islam, Individual Potential, & the Anthroposophic Approach”. Florian Osswald & Pieter Holloway used Rudolf Steiner‘s verse on Social Ethics to lead their discussion groups on creating a healthy social environment & ethical entrepreneurship, respectively. Social Initiative Forum project leader & General Anthroposophical Society board member Joan Sleigh mentored a group on “Child Study” looking at the 3-fold & 4-fold nature of the human being in creating a child-centered curriculum. Philip Jacobsen gave an overview of the temperaments while Benjamin Cherry & Yachih Chan conducted an open discussion on “Anthroposophy as a Door for Human Encounter”. Working on the theme “From  Inner Transformation to Social Innovation”, Ha Vinh Tho put Gross National Happiness in conversation with Rudolf Steiner’s Social Threefolding.


In-between | © Nicole Asis [PH]

Experts from SEKEM & Heliopolis University also shared enriching ways of supporting the unfolding potential of Egyptians already in practice. Heliopolis University & SEKEM’s very own Omar Ramzy, Ph.D., Mohammed Anwar, MA, & Moamen Ghanem showed how they align SEKEM’s vision with UNESCO’s Education for Sustainable Development through Children’s University Project & EduCamp. Participants also immersed in traditional Egyptian music through singing & drumming with SEKEM’s music director Sherif Mostafa. SEKEM’s Nashwa AhmedMona Abouleish explored the in-between space through eurythmy.




“Future as Adventus” | © Samuel Leon Knaus [DE]

But the tangible manifestation of Anthroposophy’s breathing, living dialogue with modern-day Egypt resounds in SEKEM itself. In his concluding keynote lecture, SEKEM CEO Helmy Abouleish recalled his father’s vision of making a “miracle in the desert” possible through consciousness development. Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish founded SEKEM more than 40 years ago out of concern on how to counter the ecological challenges & educational decline eroding Egypt in the 70s. Turning the desert soil into a biodynamic farm was the first step in “making the impossible possible”. However, the key element that made this miracle endure for 4 decades is investing in the unfolding potential of each member of the community through research, education, social work and the Economy of Love. Helmy Abouleish stressed that potential unfolding can only happen through the free will of the individual; what SEKEM offers is a chance to do so. “You cannot make them do it. They should do it themselves,” Helmy pointed out, “what counts in the end, the key performance indicator at SEKEM is how many steps did each community member make, if he did make the step.” Supporting Unfolding Individual Potential remains the guiding principle of SEKEM, as they envision an “Adventus view of the Future” for their community & modern Egyptian society-at-large.


Multicultural & Intergenerational Exchange birthed New Impulses The Forum made social organizations & anthroposophically-inspired initiatives from India, Brazil, Egypt, South Africa & other parts of the world known, seen & celebrated. Continued talks from WSIF Japan 2018 on forming a Waldorf-UNESCO Affiliated Network also took place, with the support of Florian Osswald & Joan Sleigh. Led by Daisuki Onuki & Prof. Atsuhiko Yoshida from Japan, the discussion expanded to include partner schools from China, Egypt, Brazil, Taiwan, Vietnam, & the Philippines.  Unity in diversity was also alive as an international circle of youth volunteers carried the whole event. Guided by project manager Nana Woo, these unsung heroes made the Forum dynamic, touching, & meaningful. Youth volunteers from Germany Magdalena Ries & Angelika Kobl led the “Harvest of the Day” while Hadeel Bahaa from Egypt & Teodor Nasar from Bulgaria took over as hosts.

Besides opening a space for the unfolding of the youth, the Forum also made room for a moving dialogue between the young & the old. The concluding plenum “Voice of Future Generations” honored pioneers Dr. Ibrahim, Ute, & Truus & gave the young the space to express their intentions & dreams. The form also changed as the crowd sat in 4 concentric circles – the center occupied by the youth, while the elders stayed behind, enclosing the future in a warm embrace.

Youth volunteer Ritika Arya from India set the tone by saying that every conscious thought can lend as a template for others. Truus then led everyone with the I-A-O gesture that ensheathed the circle with an earnest quality. Ute followed with a moving speech, encouraging the youth to engage in social action imbued with spirituality, empathy & love. Showing that youth is not only gauged by age, Dr. Sandkühler exclaimed, “my passport states that I am 88 years old, yet my heart feels not a day older than 30!” He also honored Dr. Ibrahim, along with the dearly departed & the spiritual guides that are watching with loving support & interest. Ben Cherry extended this honoring & gratitude to Rudolf Steiner, who brought Anthroposophy as a support to what being human is in modern life. Joan made a call to everyone, both young & the old to engage in the world with presence, participation, & purpose, no matter how uncertain the future seems. & Nana Woo asked the participants from Egypt to stand up as a commitment to continue the work after, out of their own initiative.

The intergenerational exchange was summarized in a beautiful metaphor by a young participant: “the young people are the past of the old, the elders having experienced the youthful stage of life. & the elders are the future of the young, as the youth look to them as an image of what awaits them, what the future can become.”

The Unfolding Continues SIF Egypt 2019 provided a fertile ground for diversity to be celebrated, intentions to be heard, & connections to be nourished. Everyone was filled with courage, hope & inspiration – ready to take the next steps forward. & as this lifetime commitment to one’s unfolding & the fervent intent for a more humane future pulsate within, the faint echoes of each voice & united hearts sent us home. I can feel my heartbeat. It’s beating in the rhythm of the freedom drum. If I say yes to the beat in me, I can set my spirit free.


Voices | © Nadine Greiss [EG]


Related Articles: Seid jung im Herzen: Forum Review by Info3 by Andrea Kreisel [DE], The Voice of Future Generations: Reflections of the Youth in SIF Egypt 2019 collated by the Social Initiative Forum, TRANS4M contributes an Integral Approach in SIF Egypt 2019 by Alexander Schieffer, Ph.D. [DE], Full of Confidence: Unfolding made visible every day by Nadine Greiss [EG], I-Unfolding in co-creating a Humane World by Nicole Asis [PH]

Related Video: Joan Sleigh’s reflects on SIF Egypt 2019 video by Juan Bottero [AR] & Narimeh Paeplow [DE]

Related article on SEKEM: Economy of Love: The SEKEM Way (An Interview with Thomas Abouleish) interview by Juan Bottero [AR] & written by Nicole Asis [PH]

Article on WSIF Japan 2918 Waldorf-UNESCO Affiliated Network: From Empathy to a Just & Fraternal Society: WSIF Japan 2018 in Review by Daisuke Onuki [JP]

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