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.


Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

Updated 35 min 51 sec ago

Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

  • Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting

AL-MUKALLA: As workers in Yemen’s major port Aden began preparing a coronavirus quarantine facility at Al-Sadaqa Hospital, rumors swirled around the city claiming that if patients were locked inside the hospital, the disease would quickly spread through neighboring areas. 

Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting. People living nearby besieged the hospital, while health workers inside staged a sit-in, refusing to work unless the Health Ministry canceled plans to build the isolation room.

“They threatened to kill me,” Dr. Wafaa Dahbali, Al-Sadaqa Hospital manager, told Arab News.

The hospital’s administration was forced to ask the Health Ministry to move the facility to another location, she said.

“Now we cannot even bring in basic protective items such as masks or gloves since workers will think we still plan to build the quarantine room,” she added.

Yemen, which is gripped by a civil war that has killed thousands of people since late 2014, has intensified efforts to counter coronavirus. But due to crumbling heath services, lack of awareness among people and the influx of hundreds of African migrants via the southern coastline, health officials fear the virus could spread undetected across the country.

Yemen’s Ministry of Health in Aden on Wednesday said that Yemen is free of the disease and all Yemenis returning from China had tested negative. Health Minister Nasir Baoum opened a quarantine center at Seiyun Airport in the southeastern province of Hadramout on Sunday, and said that he had ordered all sea, land and air entry points to ramp up detection measures.

Financial constraints

Health officials across Yemen told Arab News this week that health facilities are working at full capacity to cope with the influx of war casualties, and cases of seasonal diseases such as cholera, dengue fever and H1N1.

The appearance of coronavirus in Yemen would increase the burden on the country’s crumbling and cash-strapped health facilities, they said.

Ibn Sina Hospital in Al-Mukalla provides health services to patients from the three southern provinces of Hadramout, Shabwa and Mahra in addition to treating victims of the conflict in Abyan and Jawf. 

Recently the Health Ministry decided to build a quarantine center at the hospital. Lacking sufficient space, a three-room kitchen was turned into an isolation facility.

However, Dr. Alabed Bamousa, the hospital’s director, told Arab News that the facility could not afford to furnish the unit with medical equipment and staff lacked proper know-how.

“We have nothing at the moment. We asked the ministry for the names of health workers who would be trained by the World Health Organization on dealing with coronavirus patients,” Bamousa said.

He said that workers are not being encouraged to wear masks and gloves in order to avoid triggering panic. 

“My viewpoint is that we shut up till we are ready,” Bamousa said.

Health officials at Al-Mukalla, one of Yemen’s busiest ports, have asked sailors to complete declarations showing their movements before docking.

Riyadh Al-Jariri, head of the Health Ministry’s Hadramout office, said that teams of six health workers in each district in the province are visiting Yemenis who have returned from China. 

In the streets, people say that they get information about the virus from social media rather than official channels or local media outlets.

Hassan, a shopkeeper, said that he learned about symptoms of coronavirus and protection measures from WhatsApp. 

“I know that the virus targets the lung and causes fever. We are advised to wash hands and wear marks,” he said.