AlMonitor: Palestinian Children’s Museum Goes Green

By: Dalia Hatuqa for Al-Monitor Palestine Pulse. Posted on April 3

In a land where space is limited, and public parks and gardens are few and far between, a Bethlehem-based mother of two is working on opening a museum for children — who comprise more than 40% of the Palestinian population — with a special focus on green living and sustainability.

Drawing inspiration from visits to children’s museums across the globe, Layla Kaiksow has a one-of-a-kind museum in mind for Palestinian children — one that can help them not only learn about sustainability and conservation, but also get them immersed in their culture away from the confines of theclassroom.

“In Palestine, people are conscious of the environment in many ways, but in a lot of other ways they are not,” Kaiksow said. “Traditionally, Palestinians have not been a wasteful people, but as things ‘developed,’ trash became rampant and conservation isn’t exercised as it once was. We need to plant green ideas in children’s heads from the outset.”

Plans for the new museum — expected to open in the summer of 2014 — are still at an early stage. The museum, which targets children between the ages of one to 12, as well as their families and educators, is slated to not only be environmentally friendly, but also culturally rooted.

The exhibits will be designed to teach children about local culture and traditions, shedding light on the environment and sustainability, and garnering more interest for math and sciences away from the traditional methods being used in schools.

A water exhibit is also in the making so children can learn about why this precious resource is particularly coveted in the region, along with instructions on how to use it sparingly. “We are not shying away from politics in the museum,” Kaiksow said. “But it’s also not our focus, so we may teach the kids some political facts on a basic level.”

The museum is being created using the “only local” toolkit outlined by the Madison Children’s Museum, known for its commitment to sustainability and community collaboration. This means that during its foundation, local architects, curators and exhibition designers will be hired, and local and recyclable materials will be used whenever possible.

For the math and science exhibitions, the museum is teaming up with Al-Nayzak, a local organization that focuses on encouraging scientific innovation among young Palestinians. Shams/Ard, Palestine’s first green design firm, will be building the museum’s furniture (and some of the exhibitions) out of discarded, recycled or locally produced materials. “The aim of this museum is to teach children through play about green concepts and sustainability, among other things,” said Danna Masad, one of the Shams/Ard architects.

As part of the museum’s vision to promote the use of sustainable energy and support the prevalence of green ideas in the Palestinian territories, unconventional methods will be used during the renovation and building phase. This includes setting up a geothermal heating and cooling system in the building, as well as installing a solar energy and grey wastewater treatment system. There are plans to also operate a mobile museum in the form of a bus running on bio-diesel in the months following the museum’s opening.

The exhibits will be designed with Palestinian culture in mind, using objects made in cities like Hebron, known for its glass and traditional ceramics, and Bethlehem, where hand-stitched embroidery is made. With that in mind, one of the workshops envisioned will include a station where kids can make their own embroidery using felt and glue. Another is an arithmetic exhibit where children can learn about the traditional process of making ceramics, and stack plates as they solve math problems.

An old historic villa that’s just a few streets away from Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity was chosen to house the museum. An architecture firm that restores historic buildings throughout Bethlehem will renovate the house. The structure itself was chosen for its proximity to the city’s religious sites and its vaulted ceilings, large windows, arched doors and spacious backyard where an old pine tree provides shade over what is to become a large play area.

While the renovation of the building is being funded by the Russian government, the museum itself has so far only received funds from individual donors. A Kickstarter campaign is in the works for the summer and the long-term goal is to form an endowment for the museum. In the meantime, the museum is aiming for individual donations and grant monies.

Kaiksow is hoping that the museum will attract Palestinian children from all over the territories and from inside Israel. She envisions that, with the right exhibitions, the museum will be a destination for educators interested in teaching children through interaction and creativity.

This article appeared at AlMonitor

Dalia Hatuqa is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor‘s Palestine Pulse. A print and broadcast journalist specializing in the Middle East, she is based in the West Bank city of Ramallah and writes for several publications about politics, the economy, culture, art and design. On Twitter: @DaliaHatuqa.


Gazans produce fish and vegetables in tiny rooftop spaces

by Sara Hussein

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories, Oct 29, 2012 (AFP) – Abu Ahmed looks out over a sea of grey, empty Gaza rooftops, and smiles as he looks back at the lush greenery sprouting in tubs and pipes on top of his apartment building.

He is part of a United Nations agency project to introduce cutting-edge urban agriculture to Gaza City, teaching Palestinians to farm without soil in the space available to them in one of the world’s most densely populated places.

Most of his rooftop is given over to an aquaponic system, which produces food by linking fish tanks of tilapia with gravel-filled planters.

The integrated system feeds the water from the fish tanks into the plant beds, where Abu Ahmed’s crops — lettuce, peppers, broccoli, celery and herbs — are fertilised by waste produced by the tilapia.

As the water trickles through the gravel, the plants absorb nutrients from the fish waste, cleaning the water, which then replenishes the tanks.

“The idea really was to help the poorest people in Gaza be able to grow some of their own food, and healthy food, grown without pesticides,” explains Mohammed El Shatali, the project’s deputy manager.

For Abu Ahmed, the project has been a major success.

Not only is he using the integrated aquaponic system, he had also set up his own subsidiary hydroponic system, growing additional crops in plastic pipes that are fed by the same water that runs through the aquaponic system.

“I had a bit of experience with agriculture and farming before, but nothing like this,” he says, examining the leaves of a celery plant.

Thanks to the project, the 51-year-old has been able to feed his 13-member family fresh vegetables and fish throughout the summer.

“The fish taste great, although I’m trying not to eat too many of them because I’m breeding new ones so I won’t have to buy more.”

There have also been other benefits from the system, he says, explaining that it cools the apartments below by providing shade.

“It’s great for the children. Nowadays they don’t see farming, they barely see trees or plants. It’s great for them to see this because it gets them interested in growing and planting things.”

Gaza’s 1.6 million residents live on just 360 square kilometres (140 square miles) of land, and much of that is off limits because Israel maintains a 300-metre (yard) deep exclusion zone along the length of the border fence.

Power cuts threaten fish

In Gaza’s main towns and cities, empty land is being eaten up by the construction of multi-storey apartment buildings, leaving little space for agriculture.

The challenges prompted the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to look for new ways to maximise crop production in tiny spaces.

In Gaza City’s Zeitun neighbourhood, 34-year-old Eman Nofal tends crops in a small yard next to her apartment. Peppers have been her biggest success this year, and both sweet and spicy red peppers dot the greenery in her planters.

Nofal’s husband was killed in fighting between rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas in 2006, leaving her the sole provider for their four children.

When she heard about the project, she thought it could ease the cost of feeding her family.

“It’s been great. It’s really easy, the children even help me maintain the plants,” she says, acknowledging that the concept was somewhat alien at first.

“All our lives, we learnt that farming meant growing things in the ground, in soil, so it was strange to hear it was possible to grow in water and gravel, but I love the idea.”

Nofal says the project also gives her pleasure.

“Just the way it looks is really nice. Sometimes I come out here just to enjoy the greenery and to watch the fish play with each other. It relaxes me.”

The project has faced setbacks, including the Gaza-specific challenge of power cuts of up to 12 hours a day, which shut down the pumps that transfer water between the fish tanks and plant beds.

“Electricity has been one of the most difficult challenges,” says Chris Somerville, an urban agriculture consultant with the FAO.

“At 30 degrees centigrade (86 Fahrenheit), the capacity of the water to hold oxygen reduces, and during the summer many of the beneficiaries had fish die.”

New participants will receive a battery-powered pump to tide them over during power cuts, and the FAO is experimenting with fibres that could be used in hydroponic systems to retain moisture when power cuts stop the water flow.

Initially, the project also had to overcome a certain level of scepticism, Somerville says.

“To tell agrarian societies that you’re going to grow plants without soil can sometimes be a bit of a jump,” he laughs.

But the project has been so successful that the next cycle will expand from 15 aquaponic participants to around 80, with another 80 homes operating hydroponic systems.

It will be the first time the FAO has implemented aquaponics on this scale, and the agency is now looking at implementing the project elsewhere in the world.

“To be able to take this Gaza model and bring it to other countries would really be a massive achievement,” Somerville says.

This article appeared in http://www.mysinchew.com/node/79207?tid=10