Young Palestinian entrepreneur tackles Gaza’s most pressing issues

Young Palestinian entrepreneur tackles Gaza’s most pressing issues
Engineer Majd Mashharawi says the people of Gaza are trapped in an open-air prison with no access to clean water, proper healthcare, reliable electricity, let alone houses. (Supplied)
Updated 20 September 2019

Young Palestinian entrepreneur tackles Gaza’s most pressing issues

Young Palestinian entrepreneur tackles Gaza’s most pressing issues
  • Majd Mashharawi's business ventures seek to build a more sustainable future for Gaza
  • Engineer turned entrepreneur refused to let gender bias stop her from achieving success

CAIRO: For more than two million people in the Gaza Strip, the struggles of daily life include coping on just three hours of electricity, while hospitals, schools, sanitation facilities and agriculture have to operate on an unreliable, limited sources of electric power controlled by politics.

For 25-year-old Majd Mashharawi, there was no doubt that something needed to change. Mashharawi was a civil engineering graduate of Gaza’s Islamic University, where one student in every six is female.

In a gender-biased culture, it meant fewer work opportunities and more obstacles. However, the engineer turned entrepreneur refused to let this stop her.

“In Gaza, we’ve been suffering the effects of a harsh blockade for longer than a decade,” she said. “We are trapped in this open-air prison with no access to clean water, proper healthcare, reliable electricity, let alone houses. For the past 50 years, because recycling methods aren’t being applied, the rubble from demolished houses ends up in landfills, then our groundwater, causing more damage.”

Since bringing construction materials into Gaza is restricted, Mashharawi and her former colleague, Rawan Abdulatif, thought: “Why don’t we create building blocks from the local material we abundantly have here in Gaza  rubble?”

Mashharawi had to try 150 times before getting the right formula for “Green Cake”, an alternative to concrete as cheap as rubble. “Concrete is made of aggregate, sand and cement. After eight months of experimenting, we realized we would not be able to replace cement entirely, so we started looking at the other two ingredients,” she recalled.

“In Gaza, asphalt factories produce eight tonnes of ash every week from burning wood and coal. We turned this harmful industrial waste into a filler for our building blocks, cutting down construction material cost by 25 per cent.”

Following numerous tests for durability, fire resistance, compression and sustainability, Green Cake hit the market in 2016. 

“Being a female in the construction business was even more challenging than inventing Green Cake itself,” she said. “It took a lot of determination and research to find a workshop in Gaza that would allow me to conduct and implement my so-called experiment.”

While Green Cake has yet to stand the test of time, 100,000 building blocks have been used to restore houses and factories all over the war-torn city. “This is just the beginning,” Mashharawi said. “We believe that Green Cake has a long way to go, and we won’t be able to get there without financial support.”

She did not stop there. “In a city that gets an average of 320 days of sunshine a year, our entire region is yet to resort to a more sustainable energy source, solar,” she said.

Enter Sun Box, a solar-energy kit that generates 1,000 watts of electricity, enough to power small household appliances, four lamps and a fridge for a day. The system, imported from China but installed locally, would cost a household $350.

“Sixteen percent of families in Gaza pay about $56 monthly to get alternative electrical resources. And when talking about the general population, most households pay about $15 monthly to get their alternative electrical source,” Mashharawi said.

“So, when you come to think about it, in the long run, it’s actually cheaper, more sustainable, and a reliable source of energy.”

The company, which has profit and non-profit arms, launched in November 2017 to offer solar systems for families suffering from an electricity shortage.

Sun Box provides different versions. One is for low-income families, subsidized by a crowdfunding programme, and the other is a shared system for two households.

“It’s hard to run a business that totally depends on politics. Getting the needed permits to get these panels into Gaza could be our most challenging obstacle, but we get it done,” Mashharawi said.

“We need to fight for our rights in Gaza, and in order to do that, we must have something to believe in, a passion to drive us towards the change we want to see in our world.”

 

This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


Tunisia arrests over 600, deploys troops after riots

Tunisia arrests over 600, deploys troops after riots
Updated 43 sec ago

Tunisia arrests over 600, deploys troops after riots

Tunisia arrests over 600, deploys troops after riots
  • The unrest came after Tunisia imposed a nationwide lockdown to stem a rise in coronavirus infections on Thursday

TUNIS: More than 600 people have been arrested and troops have been deployed after a third consecutive night of riots in several Tunisian cities, officials said Monday.
The unrest came after Tunisia imposed a nationwide lockdown to stem a rise in coronavirus infections on Thursday — the same day as it marked the 10th anniversary of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s fall from power.
Interior ministry spokesman Khaled Hayouni said a total of 877 people were arrested, notably “groups of people between the ages of 15, 20 and 25 who burned tires and bins in order to block movements by the security forces.”
Defense ministry spokesman Mohamed Zikri meanwhile said the army has deployed reinforcements in several areas of the country.
Hayouni said that some of those arrested lobbed stones at police and clashed with security forces.
“This has nothing to do with protest movements that are guaranteed by the law and the constitution,” said Hayouni.
“Protests take place in broad daylight normally... without any criminal acts involved,” he added.
Hayouni said two policemen were wounded in the unrest.
It was not immediately clear if there were injuries among the youths and Hayouni did not say what charges those arrested faced.
The clashes took place in several cities across Tunisia, mostly in working-class neighborhoods, with the exact reasons for the disturbances not immediately known.
But it came as many Tunisians are increasingly angered by poor public services and a political class that has repeatedly proved unable to govern coherently a decade on from the 2011 revolution.
GDP shrank by nine percent last year, consumer prices have spiralled and one third of young people are unemployed.
The key tourism sector, already on its knees after a string of deadly jihadist attacks in 2015, has been dealt a devastating blow by the pandemic.
Tunisia has registered more than 177,000 coronavirus infections, including over 5,600 deaths since the pandemic erupted last year.
The four-day lockdown ended on Sunday night, but it was not immediately know if other restrictions would be imposed.


The army has deployed troops in Bizerte in the north, Sousse in the east and Kasserine and Siliana in central Tunisia, the defense ministry spokesman said.
Sousse, a coastal resort overlooking the Mediterranean, is a magnet for foreign holidaymaking that has been hit hard by the pandemic.
The health crisis and ensuing economic misery have pushed growing numbers of Tunisians to seek to leave the country.
On Sunday evening in Ettadhamen, a restive working-class neighborhood on the edge of the Tunisian capital, the mood was sombre.
“I don’t see any future here,” said Abdelmoneim, a waiter, as the unrest unfolded around him.
He blamed the violence on the country’s post-revolution political class and said the rioting youths were “bored adolescents” who reflected the “failure” of politicians.
Abdelmoneim said he was determined to take a boat across the Mediterranean to Europe “as soon as possible, and never come back to this miserable place.”
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