Egypt: Basata Ecovillage
Sustainable Tourism in Times of Crisis
The situation of sustained violence in Egypt concerns all compassionate people who want to see peace and unity in this beautiful country. After the coup d´Etat in August, most of the tourists cancelled their travels to Egypt. The example of Basata Ecovillage shows that there can be a way to be a tourist in Egypt that supports peace and sustainability with an underlying philosophy of trust, community, and cultural understanding, reports Soraya el Hag.
Although there are a lot of current events that one hears about in the media about Egypt, in general, and Sinai in specific, South Sinai is calm compared to the east coast borderlands of North Sinai, where sometimes unrest occurs.
Located in the Southern Sinai between Taba and Nuweiba, is Basata, popular with tourists for having one of the five best beaches in the world. Southern Sinai is a special place culturally because it contains many historical monuments such as the Saladdin Citadel as well as Saint Catherine Cathedral, and the mountain of biblical Moses.
Basata has the first 'ecolodge' in Egypt. It was established in 1986 by the young Englishman, Sherif El Ghamrawy, and his German wife, Maria.
The first impression of Basata ecovillage is that it is a very relaxing place with the Red Sea at the front and the mountains surrounding the beach. Basata is also a place for someone who admires the environment, social diversity and appreciates community. It is a place for eco-tourists and it is inexpensive compared to hotels and other resorts, besides which it does not create a burden on the environment.
Visitors can either camp in tents or stay in huts that are built out of bamboo and use shared toilets. There is also the possibility of staying in a bungalow that is built out of mud that has its own bathrooms. Meals are offered in the main hut, which is also built out of bamboo, and there is also a bakery that sells bread from early morning until noon. One can also prepare their own meals in the kitchen. Water is recycled from the sea and can be used for kitchen and toilet but not as drinking water. Waste is separated in Basata and recycled and the Ecovillage utilizes solar panels and windmills for power generation.
It is important to note that the living community of Basata is very diverse. Members either work as teachers in the Basata school - they are mostly foreigners - and people working in the kitchen and construction, who are mostly locals. There are also those who come and work for the different projects that deal with sea preservation, natural heritage or education; these are mostly international trainees.
Although guests engage in their own activities such as swimming, snorkeling and hiking in the morning, they are also considered part of the Basata community. In the afternoon everybody meets in the main hut to have dinner together. They get to know each other, chat, play music, cards or any other group games.
Basata`s refrigerator demonstrates their policy of trust. During their stay, guests can take what they want, mark it on the paper that they are given upon their arrival, and pay everything when they leave. Basata has also its own music band who visit on a regular basis and sing for, and with, the guests.
Giving back to the society
Basata also plays a big role in the community of South Sinai in terms of environmental and social activities. The ecovillage has its own school with a mixture of foreign and Bedouin students in order to bridge the cultural gap. It also hosts social events and activities to help the community members get to know each other more. In the community center, young people learn computer skills. The Bedouin women in Basata have their own handcraft project and Basata supports them by giving them a venue to sell their products.
Basata collaborated with the street children project of Dr. Leila Eskandar, who is now the Minister of Environment. Also the private sector helped, with Vodafone sponsoring the renovation of schools in the Madrasty project in 2010.
In terms of the environment, Basata is unique for its waste management project in Nuweiba. Waste is separated into organic and non-organic waste that is then further separated into plastic, metal and paper, and then recycled. Furthermore, Nuweiba collects separated waste from all of South Sinai, including Basata, to recycle it into metal, plastic and paper. For this reason, Basata won an award from the government for its waste management projects in 2003. It is also the reason Basata won the Schwab award for "Responsible Tourism" in the World Economic Forum, conducted in Egypt, for its waste management project in 2006.