A tour boat sets sail in Gaza, launching a better life

Raed El-Shorafa on the boat he has has built
Raed El-Shorafa on the boat he built for tours on the sea in Gaza with UNDP support. Photo: UNDP Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People

When he graduated recently with a degree in architecture, Raed El-Shorafa, 27, faced the risk of joining increasing numbers of the unemployed in Gaza. Despite his good academic performance, job opportunities were rare. 

“I had no income,” Raed said. “I was a burden on my family.” 

Highlights

  • 25 small grants were provided through the MDG Joint Programme on Culture and Development, targeting women and youth
  • The number of visitors to the Gaza Strip decreased by 90 percent since 2000
  • According to OCHA, unemployment in the Gaza Strip reached 41.5 percent during the last quarter of 2013
  • 57 percent of Gaza households are food insecure and about 80 percent of the Gaza populations receive aid in the face of food insecurity and restrictions to economic and social growth

With an uncertain future ahead and a family of nine to help support, Raed decided it was time to take some initiative. Since his house is located near the beach, he cleverly thought to build his own boat for tours on the sea.

Raed was granted US $6,500 as part of the MDG Joint Programme on Culture and Development. The $3 million project was implemented in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in partnership with other UN agencies, including UNESCO, UNIFEM and FAO.

The programme’s components included training sessions; developing skills in heritage protection and related fields; management and promotion; to piloting community-based tourism initiatives in historical sites, and establishing startups based on grants for business development.

The grants were geared toward men and women who benefited from the skills development courses being offered to support culture and tourism within the MDG Programme. Other businesses created included a bakery, a cafeteria, embroidery workshops, physical therapy services, and many others. 

For Raed’s business, he designed, built and operated the boat by himself. Palestinians and the few international visitors can now enjoy a 15- to 60-minute tour on the sea. 

“It is a unique experience, as it promotes domestic tourism inside the besieged Gaza,” Raed said “We are making use of the only source of joy we have: the sea!”

Raed said he faced several challenges in his project, beginning with the scarcity of materials needed to build the boat. The lack of fuel is also a challenge that cuts into profits, but Raed remains positive.

“The boat also encouraged many to follow my steps,” he said, “which is good and competitive.” 

Currently, Raed and his two assistants are preparing for the next summer season. With an average income of $3,500 a season, the salaries they receive will help buy school clothes for their children and get ready for Eid and the month of Ramadan.

“We repaint the boat repeatedly, add attractive and beautiful designs, and we are thinking of adding a banana boat which will be the first in Gaza,” Raed explained. “The grant made me believe that one can start and do a business by himself. I can see a future ahead; I already built my own house, currently thinking about marriage, children, a larger business, a better life.”