The Israeli blockade enforced on the Gaza Strip in 2007 has negatively affected all aspects of normal life. The people living in Gaza have to endure hostile environments on a daily basis; including their freedom of movement where Palestinians inside Gaza are not allowed to leave to the extent that fisherman can only go 3-6 nautical miles of the coast to fish, prohibiting trade to and from Gaza destroying industry and allowing Israeli companies to make a profit of $375 million monopolising the supply of goods into Gaza, restricting vital healthcare and educational supplies keeping stocks of medication and equipment to the bare minimum allowing the population to barely survive, there are continuous food and fuel shortages where 10% of children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition; 90% of the water available is regarded unsafe to drink by international standards and there is access to only 4 hours of electricity a day. Under no circumstances can this be regarded as acceptable human treatment.
Palestinians in Gaza under the age of 10 have already experienced 3 wars; 2009, 2012 and 2014. Operation Cast Lead in 2009 resulted in the deaths of 1,417 Palestinians and over 8,000 people were wounded. The IDF destroyed 4,000 homes, 600–700 factories, small industries, workshops and business enterprises, 24 mosques, 31 security compounds, and 10 water or sewage lines. 34 health facilities and over 50 UN facilities were damaged. Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012 resulted in 107 civilian casualties and over a thousand injured. Operation Protective Edge in 2014 caused the death of 2,310 people and 10,895 were injured, over 220 mortar and rockets were fired from air strikes and hit residential areas with 7,000 homes destroyed and 89,000 homes damaged. In an effort to try and demand their freedoms, 30,000 individuals participated in a peaceful protest ‘The Great Return March’ in March of this year; despite no provocation from the Palestinians, the Israeli soldiers killed 40 civilians and wounded over 12,000 through tear gas and live ammunition.
The Gaza economy is unable to recover as economic growth with this ongoing situation is almost impossible; Gaza’s GDP per capita is 6 fold lower than Israel’s; the unemployment rate is 43.9% (World Bank Report 2015) the highest in the world. The health of the population is worsening due to the conditions created by the burden of living under occupation and siege; in addition to a chronic state of stress caused by ongoing violence targeting the entire population, including children. The occupation has increased poverty levels which is currently at 37% and 26% are classified under extreme poverty earning below $2 a day, limited nutrition access where 65% of the population are food insecure, damaged mental health as 93% of children are affected and require intervention, increased the number of accidents (firearm missiles is the second highest cause of accidents killing children under the age of 14) and violence which in turn all affect Gaza’s morbidity rates (BMJ). In this environment, until the political situation changes and the blockade on Gaza is lifted, the work of humanitarian organisations supporting Palestinians in Gaza through healthcare and educational support is critical.
Cycling4Gaza began to help address the humanitarian crisis caused by these wars and the Israeli-imposed blockade, and to raise awareness of the dire circumstances caused by these military incursions in Gaza. 2018 marks Cycling4Gaza’s 10th year. We are implementing a Cycling4Change campaign focusing on driving human development in Gaza through supporting grass root initiatives that strengthen civil society and building resilience within vulnerable communities in Gaza in partnership with Medical Aid for Palestinians. We will do this by focusing on three key areas:
1. Women Empowerment
2. Community Rehabilitation targeting disabilities among children and adults
3. Mental Health Support
Each project is developed to provide the tools and systems needed to positively impact the community as a whole by driving human development; creating functional sustainable units in an area suffering from lack of resources, choice and basic human rights (UN Human Rights Declaration). The women’s empowerment project provides specialised counselling and training for women to re-enter their communities and launch effective businesses positively impacting economic growth combatting the high levels of unemployment. Community rehabilitation provides knowledge and education, allowing individuals to make better choices throughout their lives and promote social equality and justice throughout. Targeting disabilities will help provide the support, care and infrastructure for individuals with disabilities to enter into society and be productive and contributing members of the community. The mental health support project creates a system where individuals can understand more about the available services and rights; thereby also providing more choice and opportunities ideally improving their overall standard of living. With 93% of children and 31% of adults suffering from some form of trauma, it is imperative that the infrastructure and support systems are in place to provide the care needed for these individuals.
Our campaign on human development works towards providing women and children with new avenues of freedom to try and alleviate as much suffering as possible caused by the siege created by political regimes.
Every human is entitled to their freedoms; the freedom to live, of choice, of movement, of thought; and our actions can help shape them.
The fund raised in 2018 supported two community-based projects in Gaza:
1) Enhancing awareness about mental health issues and service users’ rights
MAP partners with Friends for Mental Health (FFMH), a non-profit NGO in Gaza who are considered the only NGO of its kind working to advocate for the rights of service users and their families. FFMH has worked in partnership with MAP since August 2015 to achieve its goal to raise awareness about the importance of mental health issues and service users’ rights.
There is a real stigma around mental health disorders, where people suffering from mental illness suffer from lack of support, sympathy and awareness. Our project helps to enhance community awareness regarding people with mental illness so they feel as if they can meaningfully contribute to society, and are visible, legitimate, and valued members of their communities.
The mental health situation in Gaza is influenced by challenging external and internal political difficulties, economic and social pressures, which lead to poor socioeconomic living conditions, resulting in many forms of stress and feelings of isolation. These conditions continuously create trauma and living difficulties for individuals and groups, which require continuous mental health interventions that include awareness, advocacy, and protection.
Awareness is raised among community members through structured radio programmes, short films and giving a voice to mental health service users and their families through social media to highlight their rights as well as the challenges they face. Counselling is carried out at the centre and volunteers and psychologists help to create a recovery plan for each individual. For more complex patient cases they have meetings to discuss and agree on needed intervention methods.
The project has seen a number of achievements throughout 2018 with the help of MAP’s support:
– 23 people have taken part in crucial training in the area focusing on rights of people with mental illness and primary intervention to mental illness including professional practices
– 17 people with mental illness took part in awareness sessions
– 30 people with mental illness were provided with regular follow-ups
– 18 directors and supervisors from rehabilitation centres have taken part in vital training sessions on identifying rights of people with mental health illness
– A mental health awareness-raising campaign was launched through tweeting sessions, videos and brochures and was one of the widest reaching social media campaigns in Palestine, with 257 people taking part
2) Women’s Protection and Empowerment Project
The funds raised by C4G have supported many women and girls in Gaza in 2018. Over the last three years, MAP has supported the Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA) to implement a gender-based violence (GBV) project at the Women’s Health Centre (WHC) at Al Bureij Camp.
Studies and reports have shown that gender-based violence remains a significant problem in Gaza, escalated further in the last decade by the deterioration of the humanitarian situation and the increasingly dreadful economic situation. In addition, access to quality multi-sectorial services have been affected by the longstanding blockade. The Centre witnessed an increase in the number of women and girls exposed to GBV requesting their services by 30% during the first 6 months of 2017 and an increase of 41% over the first two months of 2018.
MAP’s GBV project works to help and support Palestinians on two levels; the first is supplying the provision of essential health services to women including regular check-ups, detection and primary care of gynaecological problems, ultrasounds, detection of breast and cervical cancer, advice and treatment for menopausal women, laboratory testing, family planning advice, ante-natal and post- natal services nutrition supplements. They also provide essential drugs which are not provided anywhere else and supplements which women cannot afford to buy and are also often out of stock at Ministry of Health or UNRWA clinics.
The project also supports men, women, and girls to be physically and psychologically strong, providing psychological, social, and legal counselling including group therapy, individual counselling, couples therapy and group counselling. The Counselling Department team follow up on cases, facilitate peer to peer support groups, empower survivors of GBV and conduct awareness sessions. These sessions help manage people’s feeling of isolation, guilt and self-blame, and increase their understanding of the connections between their symptoms and GBV, assisting survivors to feel more in control of their own lives.
The centre also supplies bras and prostheses for women who underwent a mastectomy, which according to women survivors of cancer in focus group discussions, are “life-changing”. Stress release and socio-cultural empowerment activities are also provided for breast cancer survivors, women victims of violence and other women and girls who are experiencing stressful circumstances.
The project has seen a number of achievements throughout 2018 with the help of MAP’s support:
– 1296 women received vital medications and vitamins
– 92 women received physiotherapy services
– 84 breast cancer survivors participated in 15 peer to peer support sessions
– A recreational trip was carried out for women survivors of gender-based violence, in which 100 women and girls took part
– 141 awareness sessions were conducted in which 2,877 people participated
– 199 women participated in a marathon in Gaza known as “The Pink March” to raise awareness about breast cancer and support the right of women suffering from this disease
Friends for Mental Health Case Study – December 2018
Ahmed* is a 23-year-old man who lives with his parents in Gaza city and works as a lawyer. Ahmed has suffered from mental health issues since he was nine years old, escalated by his Diabetes bringing on severe depression. When he was 10 years old, he started supporting other children which helped him adapt to his mental health illness.
He went on to join the Friends for Mental Health Team Facebook page on 25th October 2018, using his interest and passion of social media to regularly support his peers by advocating for their causes, publishing cases that needed help, and collecting donations. Through this he gained the trust of his followers and went on to become the Ambassador of Diabetics in Palestine.
The FFMH team encouraged him to join the advocacy campaign team formed within MAP’s project. He provided brilliant insight during the training day on how to utilise social media to help and support others. More than 100 young people participated in launching the advocacy campaign, where they raised major issues around the stigma of mental health illness with communities.
Ahmed was able to share his experience in dealing with and managing his mental illness and emphasized how the social media particularly contributed to his recovery and allowed him to support others in similar circumstances. He contributed further to the project, helping to supply 10 winter kits for children with mental illness. Ahmed also asked FFMH to implement an activity for children of families suffering with mental health illness. At the end of December 2018, he started seeking funds for the project.
Ahmed thanked MAP for their efforts in supporting people with mental illness and praised their valuable activities on protecting people’s rights.
*name has been changed to protect identity
The people of Gaza have been forced into a permanent state of vulnerability and violence which cannot be ignored. MAP works to bring some semblance of security, stability, and support to Palestinians who live in crisis every single day and this could not be done without your generous contribution. We (MAP) remain so grateful to Cycling4Gaza for your dedicated support and investment in our work through your inspiring cycling events.