Harnessing the sun in Gaza
It is around noon and Fatheya el Braim is taking dozens of cookies from a clay oven in her backyard.
The cookies are coated in sesame seed with dates inside. They have been baked in an oven fired by garden waste.
Fatheya has a husband and 17 children to feed. The family has no income so she has to provide everything from the plot of land that surrounds her house. The family consumes most of what Fatheya produces but she also sells dried herbs and fruits to earn cash for clothes and other essentials.
Fatheya received a solar oven from the United Nations Development Programme, which allowed her to double her income and gave her extra time to look after her family in other ways.
Fatheya’s husband worked for 30 years as a labourer in Israel before his permit was revoked. His earnings paid for the family home, a plot of land and the maintenance of a large family. When he could no longer work, there were no savings to provide for a new business.
Fatheya, now 46, became the main bread winner for the family, growing food, rearing animals and baking bread in the family home at Khuza’a, between Khan Younis and Gaza’s border with Israel.
The solar oven allows Fatheya to dry far more products, more quickly and to a higher quality, at a lower cost. Gaza may be sunny and hot but it is also humid which makes drying more difficult especially that the solar oven maintains heat even at night.
“I cut the za’tar from my backyard, wash it and dry it and then go sell it in the market – many people buy my za’tar. I also have sheep and I sell its milk,“ she said.
“I grow rosemary and lemon grass for making tea and for relieving stomach pains, and I also sell some of it.”
Around 75 women use 15 solar ovens provided by UNDP’s Global Environment Fund. The programme aims to empower women by training them in techniques which enhance their business, save time and earn them more money.
The solar oven maintains a steady temperature of around 60 degrees centigrade and keeps moisture out. Fatheya can dry ten racks of herbs or fruits in three days without constant attention.
With her spare time and money, Fatheya has built a greenhouse with plastic sheeting in which she grows vegetable and herb plants for sale to neighbours and at the market.
“We live from that. It is a lot of work. You know I have 17 children and my husband does not work. It has been more than 6 years since he stopped working in Israel,” she said.
Fatheya is proud that she can provide for her family without going to the shops but the family’s main concern is that they do not have enough money to allow their 27-year old son to get married. “It is a difficult situation. What can we do? We are living from that, we need to live. There is no income,“ she said.