By Laila Said.
On a recent photography trip to Siwa, I was lucky enough to cross paths with a good friend, Galal Zekri-Chatila. Galal is about half-way through his self-appointed challenge to cycle around Egypt. Read more about that here.
On our first night,we invited Galal over for dinner and were surprised to see him walk in with Faris Hassanein, the mastermind behind Hawyet Siwa - an NM incubated social enterprise.
Faris is a freelance graphic designer, photographer and social entrepreneur, who left Cairo’s bustling city life to settle in Siwa — a lifestyle that leaves the Egyptian pseudo hipster drooling with envy.
Faris explained that Hawyet Siwa is an eco-lodge and permaculture community. The idea was inspired by Heal the Soil - an India-based project that helps start-up small vegetable gardens in village homes, and provide locals with organic seeds and training, with the hopes of creating an open and accepting community of people who sincerely care for the land they live on.
A key issue for Hawyet Siwa to contend with is the declining awareness about Siwi agriculture and heritage among young Siwis. That’s why one of the goals of the enterprise is to encourage children to embrace their birthright. In a nutshell: to bring them back to the garden. To do achieve this, they’ll be building and activating libraries, art spaces and workshops.
As Faris took me on a tour around the Fetnas Island, I saw the ruins of the four houses they plan to transform into their campus. The first house would host courses and workshops (mainly artistic) to generate a steady stream of income. The rest would be transformed into the ecotel — which would include a cultural & social centre and hub for young talents.
Faris also looks to reignite the wealth of Siwi heritage by helping Siwi neighbours establish a restaurant serving the delicious local cuisine — the first of its kind in Egypt.
Acquiring the land of Fetnas Island is the first step to realising Hawyet Siwa. And choosing the right people is a priority. That’s why Faris is currently looking to gather a community of like-minded investors, willing to buy into the idea rather than just the land itself. There is wisdom in the old saying: “Ekhtar el gar abl el dar” (choose your neighbours before your house).
The next step is to acquire the four houses on the island, and build them into the ecotel headquarters and residency bases. There is potential for collaboration with ‘Gam3eyet Awlad Siwa: Le Khadamat Bee2eya & Seya7eya’ (Siwa’s Sons’ Organization For Environmental and Tourism Services), which would give Faris access to several useful databases, including the Siwan House & CultNat in Shali.
Aside from hosting workshops, another potential source of income is the export of Siwi agricultural produce. The ultimate dream is to create Egypt’s first off-grid ecotel and ecolodge, powered mainly by solar energy and biogas, and incorporating permaculture.
As it stands, Hawyet Siwa is still very much in-the-making, incubated as a community initiative at Nahdet El Mahrousa. We look forward to the seeing the idea blossom and grow.
Laila Said is a Communications Intern at NM.
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