31 January 2010
“Need is the mother of invention,” says Adel Eid, the administrative officer at the UNRWA Khan Younis Training College (KYTC). Unfortunately, in blockaded Gaza need is certainly widespread.
A strict blockade has been imposed by the Israeli government since the Hamas takeover of the Strip in June 2007. The blockade means that no building materials can enter the Strip and only certain basic commodities and humanitarian goods can be brought in.
Wood is among the commodities not allowed in. This is just one of many problems facing Adel and other Gazans. “We needed new pieces of furniture and cannot find wood in the local market. At the same time we were, and are, unable to import it,” Adel explains.
Many shelters were demolished during Israel’s military operation in Gaza in early 2009. This, along with the day-to-day need of growing families, means that furniture is in high demand. However, the ban on imports of raw materials means that there is very little furniture to buy in Gaza.
Adel has thought of an ingenious way to solve this problem. “I suddenly thought of the wooden pallets on which UNRWA brings in humanitarian goods. I started to explore the possibilities and realised that I had a potential solution,” he says.
To implement his plans, Adel and the KYTC needed two major components: a wooden pallet supply and skilled hands to recycle and transform these pallets into furniture.
Adel turned to Jodie Clark, the UNRWA Procurement and Logistics Officer, who was happy to give the KYTC full access to all the pallets UNRWA receives.
“When I heard what KYTC were planning to do with these pallets, I was eager to help the project succeed,” says Jodie. “We receive around 4,000 pallets every month and in the past we used to sell them to local merchants. Now they are being used to generate job opportunities for skilled labourers and at the same time to produce furniture masterpieces. In fact, I even had new wooden meeting-room furniture made from the pallets.”
Khalid Al Haj was chosen after an interview at the KYTC to take the wooden pallets and transform them into furniture as part of UNRWA Job Creation Programme (JCP).
Khalid, who is in his early forties, worked in Israel for more than eight years as a professional carpenter. In January 2001, Khalid, like other Gazans, lost his job when Israel decided to close the Gaza borders following the eruption of the second Intifada. Since then, Khalid has been looking for a job and has only been given short-term opportunities with some old friends.
Khalid has produced a remarkable range of furniture. He has made tables, chairs, benches, baby cots, desks, shelves and many other items.
“It makes me feel very proud when I see what I can make out of something that people throw on the fire. It is really amazing to imagine furniture and then make it into reality from the pallets. It is like growing a rose in the desert,” Khalid says.
Text and photos by Milina Shahin