If you attended the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K, you definitely know Team Peace for Palestine -- maybe just by a different name. Last year, they went by team BHCC (Beit Hanina Cultural Center), and they were nearly impossible to miss. Draped in Palestinian flags and keffiyehs and bursting with team spirit, this crew of family and friends rolled in 124 people deep and raised over $57,000 for UNRWA’s Community Mental Health Programme.
Meet their leader + 2019 NYC Gaza 5K Host Committee member: Rativa Dolah
This year, they are back at it, once again led by their fearless and dedicated team leader Rativa Dolah. Rativa is one of UNRWA USA’s 2019 NYC Gaza 5K host committee members and is keen on making sure her team continues to grow, fundraise, and advocate for the cause that means so much to her -- Palestine refugee kids’ access to mental health care. Last year, Rativa alone raised nearly $13,000 for UNRWA mental health services.
Even among her teammates, Rativa serves as a humble but energizing leader. Though she self-describes as “just a housewife,” her teammates and the rest of the Gaza 5K community know that she is much more than that. Fellow teammate Amane comments, “When I first heard about the Gaza 5K walk/run, I knew I wanted to join to help make a difference. I joined Rativa’s team 3 years ago and every year since, I continue to be part of her team. Rativa goes above and beyond, not only for her team members, but for the people of Gaza and Palestine.”
Rativa shares that she sees her team’s mission to “be a voice for the children of Gaza and to let them know that they will do what it takes to help provide them with the mental health they need.” She acknowledges that this is especially critical following the US government decision to defund UNRWA, sharing that this has further motivated and bestowed upon her a feeling of responsibility “to help promote UNRWA’s work by being at the Gaza 5K and making it the most successful fundraiser ever so UNRWA can continue to provide refugee children with the care they need.”
Rativa describes her team as a collection of Palestinian men, women, and children, housewives, nurses, teachers, and artists. She proudly states that “we all come together on this beautiful day together to help UNRWA get the funding and resources it needs.”
Why they move for mental health
This team believes this day is for their family, a way to connect with their culture and heritage, support their fellow Palestinians, and create a culture of connection, community, and charity in the US. One member states, “as Palestinians it’s very important for my husband and I to show our support for our Palestinian people but to support a great cause. It’s important for us as parents to show our children to be active and be supportive of the less fortunate.” Amane adds, “I decided to take part in the Gaza 5K because I’m a proud Palestinian. I think that it’s very important to participate in these events to show our support for all the people in Palestine, including Gaza.”
Beyond a cultural connection, the universal concern around good mental health is something that unites and invigorates this team. In the US, though the root causes are different than those in Palestine, people face similar stigmas and struggle to cope with mental health concerns. Amane draws upon her own struggles with anxiety, empathetically stating that she can understand how providing services in Gaza could make a huge impact on the lives of people, given how much they have suffered and endured. In solidarity, she asserts, “It’s important that we take a stand to show our support by providing the [UNRWA] mental health services needed in Gaza.”
Other team members echo this sentiment, stating mental health issues are a serious issue that are not nearly taken as seriously as it should. One reflects on her family in Palestine, who face daily violence imposed by the Israeli occupation forces and military, affecting their physical and mental wellbeing. She draws upon her own family’s experience with mental health and the taboos surrounding openly speaking about trauma. One of her uncles, a Palestine refugee, had severe mental health issues following trauma to the head. Their family, though enduring so much, did not openly speak about the issues, silencing or medicating them due to lack of true medical support and understanding. She sadly states that he ultimately was killed by an Israeli military officer when he was in the middle of a suddenly triggered episode. It is his memory that propels her and her family to support UNRWA’s work to not only provide mental health care services to Palestine refugees, but knock down the stigma associated with it.
Memories + motivation
The team reflects on what brings them back year after year, reminiscing on favorite memories. For many, it was the feeling of pure joy crossing the finish line surrounded by friends and family, beating their personal best race times from previous years, dancing dabke with their fellow New Yorkers before and after the race, or ending the day knowing they had done something meaningful for the kids in the Gaza Strip.
For Rativa, it was crossing the finish line with her 7 year old son Aziz. She said she couldn’t describe how proud of him she was, not just for finishing the race, but for knowing that they were doing something important for the children of Gaza together. For Amane, it was truly the spirit of togetherness. She says, “when I showed up to the race, I could not believe how many people were participating and supporting the people of Palestine and Gaza. It was a beautiful moment, seeing so many people taking a stand for a much-needed cause. Although I am in a wheelchair, Rativa customized my wheels and designed them with the Palestinian flag. This was a highlight of last year’s 5K walk for me.”
In sharing a final message with her fellow New Yorkers, Rativa exclaims, “Gaza 5K, here we come -- a loud, proud, and colorful invasion, but don’t be intimidated, we come in peace!” And knowing Rativa and her team, they will certainly do just that.