The young engineer with a plan to rebuild Gaza

Majd Mashharawi has invented environmentally friendly, cheap and lightweight blocks that use ash instead of sand. Could ‘Green Cake’ help rebuild the besieged Gaza Strip?

Three wars in 10 years and an 11-year Israeli blockade have left thousands of buildings in the Gaza Strip in ruins. What if affordable construction blocks could be made out of the rubble of war itself? This was the challenge that 23-year-old Majd Mashharawi set herself – and she may have found an answer in her ‘Green Cake’ invention.

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Getting hold of construction materials in Gaza, where Israel controls borders, airspace and waters, is expensive and time-consuming – if possible at all. It was after studying civil engineering at the Islamic University of Gaza that Mashharawi came up with an alternative to cement.

Green Cake looks like ordinary concrete but is more environmentally friendly as it re-uses coal ash. It is called ‘cake’ because it is much lighter than concrete, and the blocks are 25 per cent cheaper than concrete equivalents. Helped by a grant from the university, by August 2016 the project had received its first commission.

“Gaza is a closed area with limited resources and many different, severe problems,” says Mashharawi. “But people here start every day with a sense of hope. I have been through three wars, lost two of my best friends, and my house was partially destroyed. It was hard and horrible, but what I went through made me believe in change.”

Even getting to university was a huge challenge. “Stereotypes here state that women are not suitable for engineering as it requires hard work and muscles. But physics and mathematics are my passions: I wanted deeply to be an engineer.”

I particularly want to encourage female engineers to be independent, strong and capable

Mashharawi hopes Green Cake will help Gaza residents towards self-sufficiency by freeing them from the need to import building materials from outside. And she believes it could have a positive impact on employment too.

“Gaza has the highest unemployment ratio in the world: over 40 per cent of graduates are without jobs. I particularly want to encourage female engineers to be independent, strong and capable.”

Mashharawi said that the people living in Gaza are what make her feel positive about the future. “A famous quote here reads: ‘You cannot build your future without helping others to build theirs.’ I believe in this. Shall I go along with this ugly, unacceptable reality? No. There is a better way to live.”