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.


Sea-Eye ship with 125 rescued migrants docks in Sardinia

Updated 25 September 2020

Sea-Eye ship with 125 rescued migrants docks in Sardinia

  • NGO Sea-Eye says the vessel Alan Kurdi docked at the port of Arbatax on the east of the island

ROME: A ship with 125 rescued migrants aboard reached the Italian island of Sardinia on Thursday, the aid organization Sea-Eye said, adding that the fate of its survivors remains unclear.

The Alan Kurdi docked at the port of Arbatax on the east of the island, having been “instructed by the port authorities to drop anchor and wait for further instructions,” said Sea-Eye, which charters the boat.

However, the NGO said it was unclear whether Arbatax would be a “safe port,” in which the rescued survivors would be able to disembark.

On Wednesday night, Italian authorities had made contact to discuss the “further coordination” and to provide weather protection for the ship, five days since Sea-Eye asked for assistance, it said on Twitter.

Italy’s Interior Ministry said earlier in the day that it had “authorized the request” to dock and “activated the procedure to redistribute” the 125 rescued migrants across Europe.

“Eighty percent of the rescued migrants will be transferred to other European countries,” it added.

The ship — named Alan Kurdi after the Syrian boy who made global headlines when his drowned body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015 — rescued 133 people, including 62 children, from three different boats off the Libyan coast.

Eight people, including a five-month-old baby, were evacuated by the Italian coast guard. More than 50 minors are still on board, including young children, the NGO said.

The ship was initially heading to Marseille in the south of France before French authorities successfully asked Italy to allow it to dock in the Mediterranean, Sea-Eye’s chief Gorden Isler said in a tweet.

“We hope that the 125 rescued will be allowed to disembark in Sardinia so they can be adequately cared for there,” Isler added.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday that the Sea-Eye ship should “be received in the nearest safe port,” with France implicitly declining any possibility of allowing the ship to dock in Marseille.

The principle of the landing of survivors in the nearest “safe port,” enshrined in international maritime law, generally means Italy or Malta are expected to take in rescued survivors from Mediterranean crossings.

More than 600 migrants have perished this year while attempting the Mediterranean crossing, the deadliest route for those hoping for a better life in Europe.

Almost 50,000 have made the journey so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.