Eleven from UAE join Cycling4Gaza project

Praseeda Nair
Filed on September 6, 2011

DUBAI — Natasha Hanoun never learned to ride a bike growing up. The Palestinian native has taken a pledge to master the skill for a good cause this October as she joins ten others from the UAE as part of the international Cycling4Gaza project.

“Donating money is important, but it’s easy. When you’re investing in an awareness campaign, that takes a lot of your time, effort and money, it’s a personal commitment that makes more of a difference,” Natasha said.

In the summer of 2010, Natasha worked at Burj Al Luq Luq, a social centre in occupied Jerusalem. “When I first arrived in Palestine, I had conflicting emotions. I was happy to be in my hometown, but saddened by the state of affairs. Overall, I was touched by the love and appreciation they had for the things in life that most people take for granted,” she said.

She had to rely on her sister to teach her the basics of cycling over the past few weeks, and as soon as Ramadan ended, Natasha jumped into a full-blown training programme to build up her stamina and resistance. Her schedule now includes spinning classes twice a week, endurance cycling once a week and general cardiovascular exercise everyday, in order to be at the peak of health by October 20, when the team will assemble at Olympia to cycle 365km to Athens, Greece.

Headed by Tamara Ben-Halim and four other committee members based in London, the initiative began in 2009, in the wake of the conflict in Gaza.

A team of 25 pedalled their way from London to Paris as a way to drum up awareness about the violence and destruction still pervading the strip. In 2010, Cycling4Gaza tied up with theWelfare Association, known for their tireless efforts in providing basic healthcare and education in Palestine. “There are not many organisations that help integrate mentally and physically disabled kids into mainstream society. We chose to work with the Welfare Association because of its holistic approach to community service. They get families involved in the rehabilitation process, and train parents on how to raise children in such an environment. This year, the funds raised will be channeled into community-based rehabilitation projects such as education and healthcare support for those injured or disabled by the conflict. We hope to reach 1,800 children,” Tamara told Khaleej Times.

After volunteering for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a UK-based charity organisation, at the height of the conflict in late 2008, Tamara felt that global attention on Gaza was starting to wane. “There are many forgotten causes around the world. We didn'twant Gaza to fade into the background as other issues crop up. At first, it was about providing emergencyhealthcare, but now it’s about development. We want to see a strong, independent and developed Palestinian society,” Tamara said.

Cycling4Gaza did not start as an annual initiative, yet the energy and enthusiasm for the project remained high a year after the first trip, after raising £90,000 (approximately Dh533,298) for aid. “A lot more needs to be done, but Cycling4Gaza has definitely made an impact. We want a stronger Middle East base, as more people from the region can relate to the conflict. Eventually, we hope to make our way across Europe and Asia and reach the West Bank.” For Tamara and her team of nearly 50, part of the appeal comes from testing the limits of their physical endurance through an innovative fundraising initiative.

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