Professor Salah Arafa has been selected Man of the Year for Environment and Development by the Society of Writers on Environment and Development. Arafa, a physics professor at AUC, researches how to utilize natural resources to create eco-friendly communities in rural villages, which will develop capacity and competency for residents of rural areas. One of Arafa's projects – Basaisa - has gained wide recognition as a model for successful sustainable development projects in Egypt.
Established in 1996 by journalist Salama Ahmed Salama, the Society of Writers on Environment and Development honors experts who have had an impact on environmental development. The society’s goal is to develop the capabilities of journalists working in the environmental field and to raise awareness on environmental issues. “Professor Salah Arafa is the leading pioneer in environmental development in Egypt,” said Susan Zaki, secretary-general for the Society of Writers on Environment and Development. “The society honors him for his distinguished role in achieving sustainable development in rural Egypt. He was the first one to use solar energy and recycling in rural areas and was the first to develop the capacity of young people living in rural areas and empower rural women through offering appropriate training and job opportunities that are compatible with their way of life,” Zaki added.
Thirty-five years ago in 1974, Arafa decided to go beyond the boundaries of a university and work in a small village in the Sharkia governorate. At the time he was working alone without funds or supporters. Every Friday, he would travel to this remote village – Basaisa – to work with the residents to improve living conditions in different ways. "I went there with a strategy to improve the situation at the village and that is what I did," said Arafa.
By utilizing local resources and engaging all of the residents of the village, Arafa created an "integrated approach to development." His program included training sessions in agriculture, efficient use of natural resources, literacy, group collaboration, creative thinking and community building. Today – as a result of Arafa's efforts – Basaisa has been transformed from a poor and marginalized village to an eco-friendly community for sustainable development.
Through open-dialogue and dedication, Arafa was able to encourage the residents of Basaisa to work with him to reduce illiteracy rates, educate women, guide youth and farmers, all directed at acquiring an improved standard of living. After a couple of years of working independently, AUC students, friends and colleagues joined Arafa in this mission. "When people started to learn about what I was doing in Basaisa, they became enthusiastic and wanted to participate so that they could direct their efforts toward sustainable development. In the end, everyone found something to contribute and a way to share in the responsibility of this project."
Arafa believes that these types of activities help solve two of Egypt's main problems - poverty and the redistribution of the population. Arafa pointed out that approximately 80 million people in Egypt live on only five percent of the land and that the majority of these citizens are extremely poor and marginalized. He emphasized that the only way to solve many of Egypt's problems is to move out to the desert and build small, environmentally friendly communities based on science and technology.
Arafa also started a project in New Basaisa, a small desert community in Ras Sudr, South of the Sinai governorate. "When we went to the new village, we introduced new technologies, such as recycling of agricultural waste to produce gas, and solar energy for producing electricity and heat," Arafa explained, "with 28 young men, we were able to create a new eco-desert community that is ecologically and environmentally friendly."
The American University in Cairo (AUC) was founded 90 years ago and is major contributor to the social, political and cultural life of the Arab Region. It is a vital bridge between East and West, linking Egypt and the region to the world through scholarly research, partnerships with academic and research institutions, and study abroad programs. An independent, nonprofit, apolitical, non-sectarian and equal opportunity institution, AUC is fully accredited in Egypt and the United States.
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