"Instead of wasting time complaining about how bad our situation is, I prefer to seek solutions for problems."
(TMU) — As the Palestinian enclave of Gaza endures its 12th year of a crippling siege by Israel and Egypt, about two million people have been deprived of clean water, decent healthcare, adequate employment, and reliable sources of energy.
Since Israeli occupying forces stepped up its blockade in 2016 and Egypt halted smugglers who brought fuel to Gaza, residents of the thin Mediterranean coastal strip have struggled to survive on only three hours of electricity per day—placing hospitals and other crucial buildings in a precarious position as they rely on expensive generators to keep the power on during the cuts.
This dire situation inspired award-winning Palestinian entrepreneur Majd Mashharawi, 25, to find a unique solution to the energy crisis faced by her fellow Gazans. The young woman had already earned fame across the globe after designing GreenCake, a brick made from ash and rubble that’s nearly as durable as cement and provides a crucial construction option for builders in the besieged region.
Her solution was to design SunBox, an affordable generator that utilizes solar power to provide clean electricity despite the Israeli blockade. With a price of only $350, the solar kit is capable of providing 1,000 kilowatts of electricity to families through panels they can install on their roofs.
While far from a comprehensive fix to Gaza’s electrical problems—which range from a lack of power for desalination plants to an absence of fully-fledged electrical plants—the project can provide a fix to the household needs of families who need power for their lamps, mobile phones, televisions, internet connections, and even their refrigerators.
I spent all my [time at] college sitting by a candle.
Hospitals are prioritized, they have eight to 10 hours’ electricity—people have three to five hours.”
Continuing, she noted how her own life has been plagued by power cuts ever since the Israelis bombed the strip’s only electrical plant in 2006, when she was 12. Majd explained:
“It became part of my life. It’s annoying … but you don’t know about it until you see it in real life.
When I was in Gaza, I used to accept it, but when I went to Japan, and I saw how many lights they have in the streets, how easy life is … you just go to the bathroom, you have [a] hot shower, it’s so easy.”
When Majd finally began installing SunBox units across the strip, she immediately saw how it transformed the lives of Gazans. She told the Independent:
“One of the first units I installed was in a refugee camp. The next day I went back to the camp and saw the whole neighborhood watching football using our device.”
As of the first quarter of 2019, over 1,000 people are now using the sustainable energy device.
For one Gazan resident named Samar whose son requires a respirator to treat his life-threatening lung disease, the SunBox has been nothing short of miraculous. Samar explained:
“SunBox is more than a solar device that provides lights for my kids to study and run the TV for them, it really changed my life by providing electricity to run the medical device for my sick child.
Now I do not have to worry every day whether I can go to the hospital or not, I do not have to run anymore to be on time so I can provide him with oxygen before something happens.”
Another customer, Muna, has been able to work from home as a tailor without worrying about abrupt electricity cuts—or having to stay up all night so she could work whenever the electricity came back on, as was the case prior to receiving the SunBox. She said:
“I don’t have to worry when I will wake up and when I can sleep. I never imagined I would control my source of energy, I feel independent.”
Majd hopes that her inventions can help blaze a trail for women in Gaza. During her time at Gaza’s Islamic University, she struggled with a 6-1 male to female ratio in her engineering class.
“I know very well that the world around us is advancing, while our lives in Gaza are frozen,” she told the New Arab. “But instead of wasting time complaining about how bad our situation is, I prefer to seek solutions for problems.”
Majd now hopes that her startup can help not only to empower local women—whom she focuses on recruiting once they graduate from university—but also power the dreams of an impoverished and frustrated generation of Gazans. She said:
“I want to show that we are not just victims in Gaza. I am a statistic that cannot be ignored.”