Dear cyclists, friends, family and supporters,
It is hard to believe that we are only a few days away from our seventh Cycling4Gaza event. It was only 10 months ago that a group of 40 of us crossed the finish line at Capitol Hill in Washington DC to the warm (and loud) welcome of supporters.
Each year, there is something unique about our cycling challenges. In 2014, we were driven by the images and heartbreaking stories coming out of Gaza after last summer's war, and committed ourselves to doing our utmost to contributing whatever little we could to alleviating the unacceptable circumstances that the people and children of Gaza were enduring. This year will be monumental for several reasons. First, this is our biggest group yet - 50 cyclists strong, including two young boys from Gaza and The West Bank (more on Adham and Mutassam to follow). Second, we will end our 2015 tour at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which Palestine formally joined in April 2015, setting the scene for investigations of human rights violations related to last summer's attacks.
Last year's war on Gaza left 551 children killed, 3,436 physically injured, of whom 10% suffered permanent disability as a result, and over 370,000 children in need of psychosocial first aid (UNICEF).
The need for mental health support in Gaza is immense. A July 2015 Save The Children report highlights unexpectedly high levels of continued severe emotional distress and trauma:
- Seven out of ten children in the worst hit areas of Gaza are suffering from regular nightmares, with the problem so severe in some areas that eight out of ten children suffer from nightmares every single night
- Over 50% of children in some areas do not want to go to school anymore, or have poor attendance. Some explained that they are afraid to leave their homes; others feel unsafe in school buildings, some of which were damaged or destroyed
- Up to 89% of parents reported that their children suffer consistent feelings of fear and 30% of children display listlessness and lack of motivation.
For this reason, the Cycling4Gaza team has decided to dedicate all of its efforts in 2015 to a children's mental health care program, in partnership with the the Palestine Children's Relief Fund. The program will train social workers in the Gaza Strip on how to identify children that require mental care, conduct the necessary screenings, and provide those children with the treatment they require through collaborations with other local organizations.
We are honoured to be continuing our partnership with the indefatigable PCRF.
This year, our roster is truly inspiring and diverse. The team ranges in age from 14 years old up to 68 years young, stemming from all corners of the world. Joining the team of cyclists are Dr. Bahar Hashemi, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology certified psychiatrist, current lead of the PCRF Gaza Mental Healthcare project, as well as Steve Sosebee, founder and CEO of the PCRF. To inspire us even further; two PCRF patients, 18 year old double amputee Mutussam Abu Karsh from Gaza and 14 year old Adham Balboul cancer patient from the West Bank, will be cycling with us.
We cannot wait to embark on our cycle next week and we hope you know that all of this would not be possible without our cyclists and our loyal supporters, family and friends. We are truly proud of the hard work our cyclists have put in, raising $180,000 as of July 17th and more importantly, inviting their family and friends to contribute to and talk about a topic all too often ignored or stigmatised.
Thank you for all that you do to keep this initiative alive and moving.
Miral and the Cycling4Gaza team