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Bravest Entrepreneur: How The Fisherwoman Of Gaza Built A Business In The Blockaded Seaport

By Elizabeth MacBride
What’s the hardest part of being the only fisherwoman in Gaza? I ask Madeleine Kulab.
“Starting the engine is hard and it takes a lot of strength,” she says.
Then she shows me how to yank the cord and grab the tiller to steer, and we go spinning over the water, her wooden boat tilting into the small waves.
A decade ago Kulab took over her father’s fishing boat as a 13-year-old, after he became disabled. She was the only girl working the waterfront, defying cultural norms to feed her family.
Now, she has taken the same courage she used to start the boat’s engine when she was 13, and turned it into a business. She gives work to five men, fishing and offering tours in a purple canopied boat that caters to women and families. During the three months of the tourism seasons she makes 800-1,000 shekels a month. About a third of what comes in goes to labor costs.
Kulab’s story is remarkable on so many levels: Her story shows how much power could be unleashed if women could rise to their full economic potential in places like Palestine and other emerging markets. And, she is growing a business in Gaza, one of the hardest places in the world to live, much less start a business.
When optimism is hard to come by, courage has to stand in. Nobody knows this better than Kulab.
I ask her how she would describe herself.
“I am brave and have good will,” she says.

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Conditions In Gaza

Beneath us is the now-polluted water of Gaza’s storied seaport. On the shore, are the 1.8 million people slowly strangling under an Israeli military blockade and the world’s growing indifference.
At night, you can hear the horrifying soft pop of Israeli guns as boats try to run the blockade.
They are probably fishermen, trying to catch the larger fish that swim farther out, but they could be smugglers, too, and they could be smuggling military arms. Whatever they are doing, they are sometimes killed by the guns.
Up the coast, just 70 kilometers, lies the bright skyscraper city of Tel Aviv. In a world full of tragedies, Gaza stands out because it seems that it would be so easy for life to be so much better here. Gaza is rich in natural resources, in a beautiful setting, and known for the warmth of its people.
But under a military blockade by Israel, which is at war with the Hamas-controlled government, Gaza could be uninhabitable by 2020, the United Nations has said. The Gaza Strip’s only power plant was damaged by Israel during the last outbreak of violence in August 2014, when more than 2,200 Gazans and 70 Israelis were killed.
It doesn’t produce enough power for the territory, which is said to be as dense as the country of Libya would be if it held the whole population of the world.
Because there isn’t enough power to keep the sewage system going,90 million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage is released into the Mediterranean every day, Sami Matter, an engineer with the Washington-DC-based charity ANERA told me. (I left after my visit to Gaza thinking that engineers there are unsung heroes trying to keep a hodgepodge of small wells and generators running).
The unemployment rate is more than 40%. Most of the young people I met talked desperately of leaving, but they need permits to leave and visas to go anywhere else. Those are nearly impossible to come by.
“Gaza is basically like an open-air prison,” Iliana Montauk, the former director of Gaza Sky Geeks, the Mercy Corps-run technology incubator in the territory.

The Fisherwoman

Kulab doesn’t speak of leaving, however. Fishing and responsibility are two things she knows. “I was too young to think of anything else,” she remembers when I ask how she felt about taking over father boat at 13.
She got a lot of comments, she remembers, questions like, “How could your family let you do this?”
It’s clear from the way that she carries herself on the shore and the comments and looks as she walks to and from her two boats, that she gets plenty of harassment. On the water, where she is from about 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., she relaxes.
“I love it because it’s my source of income and I spend most of my time here,” she says. “Sunset is the best time. Things are peaceful.”
The unemployment rate is more than 40%. Most of the young people I met talked desperately of leaving, but they need permits to leave and visas to go anywhere else. Those are nearly impossible to come by.
“Gaza is basically like an open-air prison,” Iliana Montauk, the former director of Gaza Sky Geeks, the Mercy Corps-run technology incubator in the territory.
FullSizeRender-1200x949Sami Matter, ANERA engineer Credit: Elizabeth MacBride
Five or six years ago, the fishing industry had a very bad season. It’s iffy at the best of times — sometimes, Kulab can go for 10 days without any catch at all — and because of the pollution, the sea is increasingly salty.
Source: Forbes 

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