Posted by on May 04, 2015 in Blog

By Nada El-Eryan
American Friends of UNRWA

Despite snow flurries and below-freezing temperatures, nearly 600 runners and supporters gathered in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on Saturday, March 28, 2015, for the inaugural Gaza Solidarity 5K walk/run hosted by UNRWA USA. UNRWA USA is an independent non-profit that supports the work of UNRWA and educates the American public about the situation of Palestine refugees and advocates for the protection and promotion of their human rights. 

Participants of all ages came from all over the New York metro area, and from as far away as Washington, DC and Louisiana. In addition, senior staff from the United Nations also participated, including including the UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth Ahmad Alhendawi, Director of Outreach for UNDPI Maher Nasser, and UNRWA Director Richard Wright.

Support for the event was overwhelming, with sold out registration and fundraising over $115,000 and counting! Plans for for next year’s New York 5K are already underway to increase capacity for registration.

Proceeds from the Gaza 5K will benefit UNRWA’s Community Mental Health Program (CMHP), which supports vulnerable refugee children in Gaza suffering from psychological trauma. The funds raised through the NYC Gaza 5K will provide counseling to over 3,600 children in need.

“Last month while in Gaza, I was struck by the amount of trauma I witnessed. Children were visibly shell-shocked. But while there, I had the opportunity to sit in on an UNRWA art therapy session. From just one session, it was clear that these psycho-social support activities are greatly helping the children work through their trauma. These children are the future of Gaza, and their mental health needs must be cared for” says UNRWA USA Executive Director Abby Smardon.

Last summer’s assault on Gaza continues to have devastating and lasting effects on the mental health of Gaza’s most vulnerable refugees: children. Most elementary school aged children have now experienced three rounds of assaults that have only been compounded by ongoing extreme poverty and the Israeli blockade. Far too many have seen their homes and community spaces turned into rubble. Children in Gaza are showing signs of psychological trauma such as intense fear, bed-wetting, poor concentration, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, irritability, and hyperactivity. If left untreated, these children face the risk of permanent social and physical health issues. Immediate and ongoing treatment is critical to helping children restore their sense of safety and security amongst the ongoing chaos.

The next 5K will take place in Washington, DC on May 16, 2015 in Rock Creek Park. The goal is to raise $100,000, but the full support of the DC community is needed to make this happen! Those interested in forming a team can register here: to form your team and start fundraising today. Two more Gaza 5K walk/runs will take place in San Francisco on October 17 and October 24 in Orange County, California. 

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