CAIRO – 26 October 2017: Developing countries are burdened by so many issues, economically, socially and in terms of regional and national security. These everyday hassles tend to place global warming and environmental protection at the bottom of the list. Nevertheless, driven by a strong vision that trees are well-needed lifesavers, not only to protect the environment, but also to mitigate poverty and spread green awareness among the younger generations, “Shagara at School” has taken on the mission of turning Egypt into a green, environmentally friendly community.
Egyptian social entrepreneur, Mohamed Abdel Samad, 29, founded Shagara initiative (“Shagara” is Arabic for “tree”) shortly after the 2011 revolution. He developed an idea to utilize the wide spaces on rooftops and in the surroundings of the schools – which more often than not attract garbage dumps – and turn them into real sustainable farms. The project would eventually promote a healthier ecosystem, engage the students in a productive project, and provide a source of income thanks to fruit-yielding trees and plants.
“My main incentives were global warming problems and pollution, as well as environmental education, and the lack of productive activities in public schools,” Samad tells Egypt Today.
After a challenging battle with paperwork and approvals, the Shagara project became a reality for the very first time in 2013 at a public school in Egypt’s Al-Qalyubia Governorate.
Four years later, the school has successfully managed to maintain and develop the project, from the few crops that Shagara has planted on the rooftop to a year-long cycle of vegetables and ornamental plants.
Agriculture and farming have become a central part in the school curriculum; and the teachers, as well as the students, have introduced several initiatives that incorporate the project in wider artistic, recycling and community initiatives.
“I gather the students and teach them the whole process from the very beginning, from treating and preparing the soil to cultivating crops and taking care of the plants,” Amira Allam, an agriculture teacher, tells Egypt Today. “The project is progressing but it needs more support and funding,” she adds.
Apart from being a practical application for agriculture lessons and an inspiration for artistic ideas, the school has also uncovered significant psychological benefits for the project.
“Sometimes, students have behavioral problems and they become aggressive. When they spend a week or 10 days taking care of their own plants, their behavior changes significantly and they acquire personal and life skills,” the school psychologist affirms.
We visited Shagara’s first rooftop project and talked to the students-turned farmers and agriculture and art teachers who all confirmed how their sustainable farm has been a turning point for the whole school.
“I learned a lot about farming and seeing my plants grow day after day has taught me a lot of patience,” says Hassan, a sophomore student at the school. “I can now do it at home if I want.”
The next phase of the Shagara project is set to expand the idea to many more schools. Having attained primary approval from the Minister of Education Tarek Shawki, Samad is now working on implementing “Shagara at School 2.0”.
The new project will also add solar panels to neutralise any sort of carbon emissions, Samad says. It will turn the roof into a landscape where students do not only get to cultivate their own farms but can also sit for classes and become more exposed to clean green spaces anytime they wish.
Aiming to encourage a wider concept of green design in Egypt, Shagara 2.0 will also incorporate senior architecture students to introduce them to the practices of agricultural architecture.