18 Sep 2018 Story Gender

Young Champion of the Earth, winner for West Asia

Heba Al-Farra is the 2018 Young Champion of the Earth for West Asia. The Young Champions of the Earth Prize is powered by Covestro.

She is founder of the Women in Energy and Environment Organization. She is a LEED Green Associate; a credential awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council for green building practice and principles; a Certified Organizational Manager from Florida State University, and has a Bachelor degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Gaza. She is a Training and Development Specialist at Enertech, a training and management consulting company

Why we need women to drive energy production

During the second intifada, I was studying environmental engineering at university. Suddenly, everything stopped. My friends and I knew that when war came, our lectures and programmes at the University of Gaza would end. We couldn’t move around, so we talked about our camping trips, beach clean-ups and recycling programmes that we had led at university. We realized more than ever our passion for the environment and for our surroundings.

At the same time, our restricted movement made us starkly aware of our position as women. While men could still go outside, we women could not, especially in the evening. We wanted to make a change: to make a difference and impact in the world – and improve both our environment and our lives as women.

Research shows that when women and girls over 16 earn an income, they reinvest 90 per cent of it in their family, compared to men, who reinvest 30 to 40 per cent. Yet takes on average longer for young women to attain their first job after completing education. This is the situation we wanted to change.

Sustainable energy, more freedom

I founded the Women in Energy and Environment Organization to inspire all women to lead change. We provide technical skills and mentoring opportunities to empower women to find meaningful work in the energy sector, and change our dependency on energy to help us with our tasks: preparing meals or washing clothes.

Being an engineer is an unconventional career for a woman. I can count on one hand the number of female engineers in Gaza. Engineers must go to construction sites and deal with men – it’s an undesirable prospect. Those who become engineers usually end up behind a desk or computer, doing routine tasks. They are not leaders.

Now my work focuses on training women in the energy sector to take the lead in the workplace and at home, to make a difference and have an impact. We must learn to harness solutions to deliver sustainable water, electricity and fuel for our families. We have a big role to play. We are mothers, we can teach whole generations by teaching our women.

Turning obstacles into opportunity

I am lucky to come from a progressive family. My mother, a doctor working in Palestine, studied in Egypt at a time when it was not considered right for women to travel out of the country. She taught me that obstacles should not stop you living your dream.

Now I think about how I can be a better role model for other women. I left Gaza and now live in Kuwait: this was not an easy decision for me. I have not seen my friends and family since I left six years ago. Sometimes I think I won’t see them again. 

In Gaza, often there is no electricity, no water, no graduation ceremonies. I have lost many of my friends and family to war. Now I want to help other women across the Middle East and North Africa to engage and build a strong support network so we can turn this situation around.

The challenges make me stronger to serve my community in Palestine and other women. Together, we can achieve gender balance across all levels of industry in the energy sector. We can grow the skills and abilities of women and empower those from diverse and creative backgrounds to drive positive environmental, social and economic change.  

Follow the Young Champions of the Earth journey on social media #YoungChamps.