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A bike ride can be much more than recreation: Cycling4Gaza

Suzan Ghazi El-Loulou's picture
Also available in: العربية | Français
One of the Cycling4Gaza Tours in Washington, DC
One of the Cycling4Gaza Tours in Washington, DC
We tend to think of cycling as a recreational form of sports; that a bike might take us to a specific destination – a location that we intentionally select, but it might even go beyond that tangible realm…It might touch the lives of others… We rarely think of it as a philanthropic hobby that can altruistically create opportunities for underprivileged children and ameliorate their living conditions. Cycling4Gaza is a non-profit initiative lead by a group of keen individuals who fundraise annually for Palestinian children. It includes people from various nationalities and miscellaneous cultural and educational backgrounds, who all unanimously agree that children, especially in war-zones, have the right to be provided with good living conditions and education.
 
The group especially targets the children of Gaza, to address the impacts of the 2009 and 2014 wars on Gaza strip. The 2014 conflict in particular had significant consequences for children, as according to the United Nations, “the 51-day conflict left 258 schools and kindergartens damaged, including 26 schools that are beyond repair.” (UNICEF, 2016)
 
Apart from the damage the infrastructure, recent World Bank study, “only a third of Gazan children (34%) are in Early Childhood Care and Education, and only 47% engage in childhood development activities. In addition, the rate of violent discipline of children is high at 96%.”(2) Further studies indicate that “66% of Palestinian children, thus, live under poverty lineNearly 80 % of Gaza’s population receives some kind of social assistance, and nearly 40 % of them still fall below the poverty line.”
 
Unemployment and health issues have also emerged. “Gaza’s unemployment and poverty figures are very troubling and the economic outlook is worrying. The current market in Gaza is not able to offer jobs leaving a large population in despair particularly the youth,” said Steen Lau Jorgensen, World Bank Country Director for West Bank and Gaza. (World Bank, 2015).
 
Cycling4Gaza’s mission is to raise awareness and funds for carefully selected non-profit organizations that provide critical educational and health support to vulnerable Palestinian communities; aiming to establish and maintain sustainable projects. The team mobilizes people from all over the world to come together in a yearly cycling challenge in a collective effort to raise awareness and funds.
 
Some of the enthusiastic founders of Cycling4Gaza who cycle annually & always find something special in every new challenge
Some of the enthusiastic founders of Cycling4Gaza
who cycle annually
In 2009, Cycling4Gaza organized a 3-day cycling challenge from London to Paris in support of Medical Aid for Palestinians and their emergency healthcare projects in Gaza. A total of 27 cyclists from all over the world cycled through Southern England and across Normandy into Paris, reaching the Eiffel Tower on the 4th of July, 2009. Over the next 2 years, they partnered with the Welfare Association, cycling to raise funds for their early childhood education projects and programs supporting mentally and physically disabled children in Gaza. In 2010, they cycled from Pisa to Rome, taking on tough terrain and steep hills along the way, and covering over 400 km in 4 days. The next year in 2011, they cycled in Jordan, over 350 km along the border with Palestine, from Aqaba in the south all the way up to the top of the Dead Sea.

The 2012 cycle was successfully completed in Turkey, 350 km in 3 days, ending in front of the majestic Blue Mosque; in support of Medical Aid for Palestinians. These projects were aimed to create sustainability in vulnerable Palestinian communities, 2 projects were impacting people directly in Gaza and the third supported Palestinians living in refugee camps in Northern and Southern Lebanon.
 
Cycling4Gaza Challenge in Turkey, 2012
Cycling4Gaza Challenge in Turkey, 2012
The altruistic cause grabbed the attention of more cyclists, and in 2013, 39 people cycled 400km from Hamburg to Berlin in Germany. Over £182,000 was raised in support of the REACH (Reaching Every Affected Child in Gaza) Gaza project which was launched in partnership with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. The project focused on identifying and treating every child in need of medical care in Gaza. The following year another 41 people cycled 360km from Philadelphia to Washington D.C to raise an additional £132,000 in support of the REACH Gaza project due to the significant impact since its launch in 2013.

Their partnership with the PCRF continued in 2015, where 45 cyclists covered 260km across the Netherlands, finishing at the ICC building in  The Hague, in light of Palestine joining as an official member. In support of the PCRF’s newly launched Pediatric Mental Health Project in Gaza, over £150,000 was raised to fully fund the launch and running of the project for a year. The goal of the project was to assess children’s needs and train social workers in Gaza to respond to these needs accordingly.

This year Cycling4Gaza is funding for the UK based non-profit PACES, which focuses on developing and funding sports programs for Palestinian children: for boys who would otherwise be on the streets and potentially exposed to violence and radicalization, and for girls who would be susceptible to marginalization and lack of empowerment. Several cyclists and activists who were not even cycling joined this year’s cycle to raise awareness and gather funds for PACES. A total of 55 cyclists faced the challenge from Gaustablikk to Oslo (4 to 8 August 2016) in Norway.