Cycling4Gaza (C4G) is coming to America. An international group of volunteers from all over the globe who cycle to raise awareness and much needed emergency medical relief for Gaza is launching its fifth cycling challenge, a 220-mile ride from Philadelphia to Washington DC, its first ever here in the states. Previous C4G tours, have trekked over 1800km through Jordan, Turkey, Italy, Germany, France and the UK. Taking off from the City of Brotherly Love and landing in our nation’s capital, the Philly – D.C. kickoff is Sept. 18 and will arrive at the Washington Monument on Sept 21.
Astoundingly, Cycling4Gaza, a tiny non profit NGO, founded in 2009 after the Cast Lead massacre, has already raised well over $1 million for health care and education projects in the besieged Gaza Strip. A staggering sum from an organization initiated by four young friends hanging posters on London streets to recruit fellow cyclists for their first trek from London to Paris.
In 2013, Cycling4Gaza teamed up with the indomitable Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, saints who coordinate and conduct emergency volunteer medical missions. PCRF medical teams were on the ground in Gaza throughout Israel’s devastating offensive this summer.
There’s never been a time in the group’s short history where its efforts are as crucial as they are today. I corresponded with Miral Alaraj, 27, one of the coordinators of C4G’s US cycle along with Tala Fahoum, Tamara Ben Halim and Zara Hannoun. Alaraj, a banker from Abu Dhabi, stated “As you can imagine, the damage and the destruction from the military attacks are overwhelming and we want to make this year’s ride as successful as possible.”
Together, PCRF and C4G launched REACH (Reaching Every Affected Child in Gaza), an ambitious project that has already directly impacted the lives of thousands of people.
The new REACH project intends to “identify every child in Gaza in need of medical care, place them in a central database, and begin to provide them with the treatment they need.”
Cycling4Gaza is determined to raise awareness of conditions in Gaza and has set an ambitious goal of raising $250,000 from its first American trek.
Representing Gaza on the trip will be cyclist Ahmed Abu Nammous,16, from Jabaliya Refugee Camp in Gaza. Shot by an Israeli sniper, Nammous lost his leg above the knee and was treated by PCRF in Ohio last year. Flown to US by PCRF, and fitted with a prosthetic leg. Alaraj is thrilled that Nammous is able to join the US cycle. Apparently it was touch and go whether he’d be able to get out of the Strip.
If it comes as a surprise to you Nammous would be a participant in a C4G challenge, it shouldn’t be. Remember PCRF’s historic trek Climb of Hope, when two Palestinian teens Mutussam Abu Karsh and Yasmeen El Najjar, both amputees and both wearing prosthetic limbs, trekked up Mt. Kilimanjaro? PCRF works miracles.
Nammous has been training for this cycle in Gaza all year up until that became out of the question in early July. Check out Nammous at home at Jabaliya with his bike:
Luckily, from bake sales to local one day fundraising efforts throughout the years, C4G’s determination has proven infectious. Indeed, U.S trek co-leader Zara Hannoun informed me she has a”passion for cycling” and is “addicted” to Cycling4Gaza.
Growing up in Dubai and based out of Paris, Hannoun has been actively supporting Palestine from a young age. A Post-Doc working on stem cells and regenerative medicine, Hannoun wasn’t into cycling very much before joining up with C4G. I ask her how she became involved with the organization.
“I am very close friends with Tamara Ben Halim who is one of the founders of C4G. Since the start she would push me to sign up, but the timing was never right.”
Hannoun eventually signed up in 2011 and began training for her first C4G cycle on a mountain bike that same year. The cycle was supposed to be in Greece but due to the strikes it was moved to Jordan. “It was an incredible cycle, there were points where we were cycling and Palestine would be just across the water from us. One cycle was enough for me to get addicted, and I began volunteering to help co-lead C4G for the 2013 cycle in Germany….
“To be honest all you really need is a helmet and a bike :) ”
Today, Cycling4Gaza’s 2014 challenge is comprised of 42 participants, dedicated volunteers from around the world, including Jordan, France, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Gaza, Paris, India, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.K, and the US. Truly an international effort which has now, thankfully, spread here. “One of the main purposes of holding the cycle in the US” Hannoun mentioned “was to expand our global reach as we had many supporters from the Middle East and Europe, so we felt it was time to move to the US. We are so happy with the response we got from people signing up from the States.”
Volunteers and participants have been vigorously training and raising funds leading into this month’s challenge. Their dedication and dogged persistence is sobering. Each participant has pledged to raise funds, many in creative ways which apparently include local cycles with friends and supporters in their home countries:
Listen to what Palestine Children’s Relief Fund founder Steve Sosebee, speaking from Gaza, has to say about what Cycling4Gaza has accomplished, and witness this scene in Gaza:
I’ve contacted some friends in D.C. who plan on joining the team for the last leg of the trip. Cycling4Gaza has invited family, friends and C4G supporters to join a “Cycling in solidarity with the children of Gaza” day on September 21.
The plan is to cycle down Beach Drive through Rock Creek Park ending on the south side of the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. Save that date if you’re in the area and want to meet this amazing group of people, have fun, volunteer, contribute through activities, spread awareness, help them reach their U.S.target, or just cheer them on. (You can also email them at [email protected])
If there’s ever a case for ordinary people making a difference, this is it. We’ll be following up on Cycling4Gaza.
A few more words from PCRF’s founder Steve Sosebee talking about the REACH project:
We are honored to partner with Cycling4Gaza and the many dedicated volunteers from all over the world who support their great deeds. This partnership will enable us to focus on addressing the terrible human crisis facing children in the besieged Gaza Strip. Our goal in the REACH (Reaching Every Affected Child in Gaza) project is to identify every sick and injured child in Gaza in need of specialized medical care, and to provide them with the surgery that they need but cannot get within the exhausted local healthcare system.
The PCRF was created as a nonprofit, nonpolitical medical relief organization during the first Intifada, by concerned people who were seeking ways to contribute positively to the humanitarian needs of children under Israeli military occupation. Over the past twenty-two years, we have sent over 1,000 children from Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq for free surgery in North and South America, Europe, Asia and other parts of the Middle East. We have treated over 10,000 children through direct surgery by hundreds of visiting teams from all over the world.The PCRF has field staff and offices throughout the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Lebanon to ensure that we are able to identify and support the care of children in need.