UNRWA Formula One team from Gaza race up the medal table at Silverstone

25 July 2011

25 July 2011
Jerusalem

Gaza Formula Student team outside Big Ben in LondonA group of young women and men from Gaza have taken third prize in an international competition at the home of world motor racing, Silverstone, in the UK. The 11-strong team from UNRWA’s vocational training centre in Khan Younis won third prize for what was described as their “brilliant business plan”, which was part of the international racing competition in which they came an overall 13th. The team built a Formula One-style car largely from scrap metal found in the war-battered Strip and transported it through the Rafah crossing to the UK.

“They were the talk of the town at Silverstone,” said UNRWA spokesman, Chris Gunness. “To have achieved this success in normal circumstances would have been brilliant, but to have achieved it under the illegal Israeli blockade is nothing short of miraculous. A third prize for their business plan given the economic conditions in Gaza should catch the eye of the private sector and I hope lead to further sponsorship.”

The team had the honour of taking their car for a test run on the historic Silverstone circuit. Principal of the Khan Younis Training Centre, Dr Ghassan Abu-Orf, said: “I am so proud of my students and I am delighted that we were able to showcase the genius of Gaza to international audiences. We will be back at Silverstone, I have no doubt.”

The team also met members of the Palestinian community in the UK and visited the UK Houses of Parliament to brief members of the House of Commons and the Lords about their positive experiences in England. The visit was hosted in British Parliament by MP Mark Menzies and Baroness Morris of Bolton.

In line with its human development mandate, UNRWA established the Khan Younis Training Centre only four years ago with funds from Norway, the USA, and Abu Dhabi. The centre provides Gazan youth with training in marketable technical fields, designed to both increase employability and inject skilled labour into the local economy. Specialisations offered by the centre include business and office management, electronic business (e-business), autotronics, hospital management, and IT systems development.

Students working on the car at the competition

The 11 youngsters that make up the Formula Student team are following a course in autotronics, designed to give a solid practical grounding in automobile engineering. In educational terms, it equates to an A Level or Ordinary National Certificate (ONC). Many are from a background that the United Nations describes as “abject poverty”, which means families who do not have the financial resources to provide for the very basic necessities such as food, clothing, and hygiene requirements. In Britain, living without basic hygiene amenities such as clean running water and proper sanitation would be totally unacceptable. But in Gaza this level of existence is, in many cases, an everyday occurrence.

Dr Abu Orf came up with the idea to take part in “Formula Student”. He first came across the then-nascent competition while teaching at the University of Sunderland, and introduced the concept to his pupils. When he returned to Gaza, he realised that building a car locally would be an ideal project to work on.

UNRWA would like to thank the donors and sponsors who made the Formula One project possible, including the Paltel Group Foundation, Bank of Palestine, the Welfare Association & Welfare Association for Youth, the American Friends of UNRWA and Misr Pan Transport. UNRWA would also like to offer special thanks to the General Union of Palestinian Students in the UK (GUPS) for the logistic support they have provided during the team’s stay in England.

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