From Gaza to Europe and Back Again

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Ibrahim Najjar is Anera’s project coordinator and agronomist in Gaza.

I am 34 years old and this was my first trip outside Gaza. So you can imagine my excitement. First stop: France. I was traveling with a colleague, a friend from another NGO, and after some hassles at Egypt’s main airport, we were off to Paris. I cannot describe my wonder upon arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport. We sped through customs and when I walked outside, I felt like I was walking in a dream.

This was not the first time I tried to travel to Europe to expand my agricultural credentials. I’d received many invitations from Dutch and Belgian agriculture companies but my travel requests were rejected without explanation. It was my lucky turn when I got an invitation from a big French company. This time my travel request was granted and I was off to Europe.

A True Learning Experience

The three-day conference I attended in France offered advice about hydroponic gardening, varieties of saplings, flowers and vegetables that could adapt to Gaza and much more. My work in Gaza focuses a lot on training farmers on how to deal with the extreme salinity of Gaza’s water table. Grafting is just one method we introduced to local farmers to help combat soil diseases. Whenever I share information with farmers, I feel proud of what they can accomplish. But I know there is so much more to know. On this trip, for instance, I learned about economizing water consumption by planting trees that require less irrigation to grow.

The author with a colleague in Europe.

I was inspired and wanted to learn more so I arranged meetings with other agriculture companies in Belgium and Netherlands. My time was short, only two weeks, so I needed to make the most of it. Travel in Europe also introduced me to a wonderland of farms and forests that are rare in Gaza. The technology and good practices being used also intrigued me: technology to control the quantity of water, light, temperature and fertilizers to feed saplings and small plants. It was also the first time I’d seen a greenhouse made of iron and glass. In Gaza, our greenhouses are made of plastic. Glass and iron are hard to come by due to so many years of closure.

The author with potted olive trees.

The Dutch companies I visited displayed efficient tomato and pepper production in bountiful greenhouses. The expanse of green, fertile fields was inspiring. I saw the production chain from start to finish, from planting crops to cultivating and marketing the produce. I had studied it all in theory but now I was experiencing it in real time. It was inspiring.

The organization and discipline were in sharp contrast to Gaza where small independent operations are more chaotic and disorganized. I could feel my approach to my work would change for the better.

Short Trip Has Changed Me

My approach to life also has changed. I seem to have absorbed the calmness of Europe even after my return to Gaza. I have to smile when my wife comments that I now wait for the traffic light to turn before I cross the street. No more jay walking! Despite the dangers of living in Gaza, I think I also absorbed the European sense of patience. I no longer judge people too fast or only by their appearance.

The trip was not just about work. I also managed to see my sister and other relatives who live in Belgium. I had not seen my sister or my uncle for nearly seven years. Spending quality time with my sister, my cousins and my uncle was the highlight of my visit.

The author with his sister.

Smart Greenhouses

On the professional level, the trip has opened up the benefits of technology in agriculture. Now I understand how to eliminate dependence on pesticides except when required and only in limited quantities. Using technology, like more solid greenhouse construction and methods to control the amount of light, water and temperatures, we can become more efficient at producing healthy vegetables for market.

A Dream Come True

It was always a dream of mine to travel to Europe and learn more about my field. I have to admit if it weren’t for my love of Anera, I would have stayed in that calm, safe environment to raise my children far from the insecurity of Gaza. But I am devoted to my work with Anera because I know I am doing something truly beneficial for my community, our families and our children.


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