The Gaza 5K: Run and Walk for Palestine

(Anwar Alomaisi)

Since 2012, UNRWA USA, the nonprofit arm of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, has organized an annual 5K walk/run to fundraise for UNRWA’s Community Mental Health Program (CMHP) in the Gaza Strip.

A child as young as 7 years old in Gaza has already witnessed three wars. These repeated Israeli assaults on the besieged territory have greatly devastated Gaza’s already bleak infrastructure (from housing to water, electricity and sewage services) and claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinian civilians, including hundreds of children.

Amnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch and a special United Nations report (the so-called Goldstone Report) have documented Israeli violations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. That harm to Palestinians was not just on the surface. Most devastatingly in the long run is the psychological toll on a people whose lives have been incessantly rocked by death and despair. This is particularly acute for children, who are more vulnerable to such shock. An entire generation’s new normal has become war and isolation, the effects of which will have a deep and long-lasting impact on the emotional and mental development of Gaza’s children. That’s why the work that UNRWA does is so important.

UNRWA’s CMHP provides, inter alia, art therapy to children too young or traumatized to otherwise process and express their feelings. (UNRWA USA)

You can make a difference in the mental health of Palestinian refugee children in Gaza by signing up for one of this year’s Gaza 5Ks – UNRWA USA’s signature event. The 2016 New York City Gaza 5K already concluded last month with a turnout of over 950 participants and a fundraising total of $170,000 besting the $150,000 goal.

But it’s not too late to join elsewhere.

The Chicago Gaza 5K at Lincoln Park is on April 23. On May 21, the Gaza 5K will be hosted at Washington, DC’s Rock Creek Park. And, later in the fall, the Gaza 5K will arrive at Lake Merced Park in San Francisco. Last year, nearly 3,000 people ran the Gaza 5K in NYC, DC, San Francisco and Orange County, California.

“We’ve always had a really warm reception from the community,” UNRWA USA’s Executive Director Abby Smardon recently told Palestine Square, “but with each year, awareness about the event grows, and people in the US are becoming increasingly more aware that they can make a tangible difference in the lives of Palestinian children through the 5K.” This year UNRWA USA expects its largest ever turnout and hopes to raise $500K.

Registration is easy (and all participants receive an exclusive Gaza 5K shirt and bag with it), but harnessing your participation toward raising donations is crucial toward the goal of furthering your impact.

UNRWA USA’s Director of Communications Laila Mokhiber told us: “More important than running or walking in solidarity is fundraising! Every individual or team that registers is automatically set up with a fundraising page. We encourage folks to customize their page with their own story and reasons for participating, and we provide assistance by helping them set a goal and giving them outreach tips and ideas for how to fundraise.” We were also told that each person who raises $500 or more will receive an original “Made in Palestine” keffiyeh from the Herbrawi Textile Factory in Hebron, the last remaining factory in the West Bank producing the iconic scarf.

Gaza 5K in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park this past March. (Monica Jorge)

Participants can invite family and friends who would like to support Gaza, but may not be able to join the Gaza 5K, to sponsor them and donate on their behalf. The Gaza 5K is an important show of solidarity – thousands of Americans nationwide sporting Gaza on their shirts running in support of children traumatized by wars; but, more than that, a single runner can parlay their 5K race into a joint cause with hundreds of supporters.

Many Americans have only recently learned about Gaza’s suffering and want to make a difference. The Gaza 5K is a running start toward bettering the lives of Gaza’s children by literally rallying people across the country. (Last year, the Institute for Palestine Studies team raised more funds than any other participants!)

You may register for the Gaza 5K here.

While the Gaza 5K is the premier event of UNRWA USA, there are other ways to support UNRWA’s mission and show Palestine refugees that Americans care. You can start by following their social media accounts and sharing content on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube  and Instagramhosting events and volunteering in your local communities; and donating to other UNRWA programs throughout the year.