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

  • 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.


At least 14 civilians killed by booby traps in Egypt’s Sinai

Updated 30 min ago

At least 14 civilians killed by booby traps in Egypt’s Sinai

  • Daesh militants in July attacked several villages in the town of Bir Al-Abd, forcing people to flee their homes
  • The militants had laid booby traps in several houses that killed at least 14 people after they returned to their homes

EL-ARISH: More than a dozen civilians, including women and children, were killed in Egypt’s restive northern Sinai Peninsula over the past two weeks from explosive devices laid down in their homes by militants, security and medical officials said Sunday.
Daesh militants in July attacked several villages in the town of Bir Al-Abd, forcing people to flee their homes. The military then secured the villages in August and allowed residents to return to their homes a few weeks later, the officials said.
The militants, however, had laid booby traps in several houses that killed at least 14 people, including six from the same family late on Saturday, officials said. The causalities included women and children.
At least ten others have been wounded since Oct. 12 and were taken to the town’s hospital for treatment, they said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
Bir Al-Abd was the site of a horrific extremist attack on a mosque in 2017 that killed over 300 worshippers, some of them fathers praying with their young sons. The tribes of North Sinai have been heavily targeted by militants who view their veneration of Muslim saints and shrines as heretical, forcing a mass exodus of residents from the impoverished area that has long been underdeveloped by the government.
Violence and instability there intensified after the military overthrew the country’s president in 2013 amid nationwide protests against the Muslim Brotherhood group’s divisive rule. Extremist militants have since carried out scores of attacks, mainly targeting security forces and minority Christians.
The conflict has largely taken place out of public view, with journalists and outside observers barred from the area. The conflict has so far not expanded into the southern end of the peninsula where popular Red Sea tourist resorts are located.
In February 2018, the military launched a massive operation in Sinai that also encompassed parts of the Nile Delta and deserts along the country’s western border with Libya. Since then, the pace of Daesh attacks in Sinai’s north has diminished.