ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) is Germany’s oldest intermediary organisation for international cultural relations. Its CrossCulture Programme (CCP) consists of three scholarship offers, one of which being the CCP Fellowships. The CCP Fellowships funds around 120 professionals and volunteers from 46 countries each year, allowing them to partake in training with host organisations in Germany or in CCP partner countries in order to deepen their expertise and acquire intercultural skills, which they then bring back to their home organisation. The host organisations, in return, profit from the expertise, regional knowledge and networks of the CCP fellows.

Due to pandemic-induced travel restrictions, CCP participants now have the opportunity to gain international and professional experience remotely for a period of up to six months. MzN International is hosting the Fellow Mohammed Alokshiya, a Vehicle Control Officer for the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) at the Gaza Field Office, for two months. In an interview with Mohammed, he shares a bit about himself, his professional experience thus far, what he hopes to gain from his time at MzN, his interest in sustainable transport and future professional goals.

MzN International: Would you mind sharing a bit of background information about yourself?

Mohammed: I hold a master’s degree in Civil Engineering with focus on transportation, and I am interested in research themes of sustainable transport, public transport planning and traffic engineering. I worked as a port and then traffic engineer for the Palestinian Ministry of Transport for eight years, and I am currently working as a Vehicle Control Officer (fleet manager) for the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), Gaza Field Office.

I have three published poetry books and a novel that has recently won the Katara Prize for Arabic Novel, and it is currently under publishing and translation by the prize organization.

Academically, I have a published article in Public Transport Assessment using GIS, I taught materials and courses in Transport Engineering and Traffic Systems in local colleges and educational institutions in Gaza, and I have been a member of an academic board of discussing graduation projects of transport at the engineering faculty of the Islamic University of Gaza, for about five years.

Can you briefly describe your current work at UNRWA and how it ties into MzN International?

UNRWA supports the relief and human development of Palestinian refugees. In Gaza it serves about 1.3 million beneficiaries. As a Vehicle Control Officer (VCO) at UNRWA I manage the Agency’s fleet which is about 650 vehicles of different types, as well as the transport team – 104 drivers, 4 dispatchers and two assistants (VCAs).

We handle all Agency logistic support operations, collective transport of Agency staff members, freight transport of food and non-food items, and education and health programs transport activities. I try to incorporate sustainability concepts in my management, being interested in and a researcher in the field of sustainable transport.

My work ties into MzN in the area of fundraising. Since UNRWA depends mainly on donor support on a large international scale, developing my skills in fundraising and proposal writing will be valuable to my career path. This is what MzN excels at and I would like to learn from that.

Communication on an international level, negotiation, sustainable funding and sustainable development are strongly connected to my work both at UNRWA and at MzN.

Why did you apply to the ifa programme?

I applied to the ifa program because I do believe that an atmosphere of diversity is very significant and beneficial to any one who wants to develop his/her professional life.

The international atmosphere of ifa can strengthen my language and communication skills, can broaden my relationships and hence can widen my chance for opportunities, whether on academic or professional paths.

Finally, I was attracted by the themes ifa offers, with sustainable development being one of them – which is my field of academic interest.

What do you hope to get out of your time with MzN?

I hope to get the following from my time with MzN:

1) a valuable experience in my CV working for a successful and international organization, which means a lot to me in my professional development plans,

2) enhancing my skills in writing proposals and fundraising being a way towards sustainable development of fragile/developing societies through their NGOs,

3) getting to know nice and inspiring people “MzN team ”

4) and finally fulfilling my ifa fellowship requirements in order to have a perfect experience as per the conditions of the program.

How did you get interested in sustainable transport – perhaps you have a story to tell? And what are your professional development plans?

In fact, I started to gain interest in the field when my late father discovered his lung cancer a few years ago… It was a period of agony and pain for both of us before he passed away three years ago. No one in the world was as close to my heart as he was, and I lost him in a horrible way. I started to read about cancer and throughout my reading and research, and  found out that transportation (my field of interest and study) has a lot to do with decreasing the cancer rate in my country.

The rate of cancer in Gaza has witnessed a considerable increase after the rise in the number of cars in the last three decades (after signing the Oslo Agreement and the beginning of the Autonomy period in Gaza and parts of the West Bank). I then was deeply affected and inspired by the goal of “fighting against motor vehicles” and decreasing CO2 emissions in the air, both in Gaza and any place in the world where sons love fathers and fathers have to leave sons forever due to lung cancer!

Moreover, the concept “sustainable transport” can also include a minimum-road-accident transport. It is a “sustainable” way of life to mitigate harm resulting from our modern life needs. This is the simplest way to define sustainability, hence traffic accidents are the opposite of sustainable transport.

I eye-witnessed very tragic road accidents during my previous work for the ministry of transport (for eight years) in accident investigation (engineering/physical investigation). I saw people in blood, dying, mothers losing children, and children losing parts of their bodies.. These are very sad and hard things to see and think about, and this happens everyday; thousands are killed everyday worldwide in road accidents. Imagine how many stories there are, how many tears and how much agony humanity has to suffer from due to unsustainable transport. I am trying to do something in this corner of life… I hope I do something of value.

We welcome Mohammed to MzN International and wish him all the best for his future endeavours!