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Giving back to change the narrative: how the Daoud/Haddad family redefines what it means to be a refugee

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Giving back to change the narrative: how the Daoud/Haddad family redefines what it means to be a refugee

A sea of Palestinian flags forms a cluster at the center of Anacostia Park. Draped on strollers, backs of runners, and even headbands, the Haddad/Daoud family’s pride is hard to miss.

A fixture at the annual Gaza 5K in Washington, DC, which is now in its eighth year, and at other UNRWA USA events, the Haddad/Daoud family has a personal connection that brings them to the walk/run year after year!

Dr. Yassine Daoud is a Palestine refugee now living in Maryland, but more than that, he is a successful medical doctor, caring father, and supportive husband to award-winning Palestinian author and public speaker Laila El-Haddad. As our country discusses who refugees are and what refugees looks like, this family has taken it upon themselves to help reshape that narrative, through participating in charitable events, giving back to their American and Palestinian communities, and sharing their own story.


Yassine’s father originally hails from a Palestinian village near Haifa called Waaret Al-Sarris, and his mother is from from Akka. During the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) in 1948, where thousands of Palestinians were forcibly made refugees, both sets of his grandparents fled north to Lebanon. They eventually found shelter in Wavel refugee camp (also known as mukheim al Jalil) in Baalbek, where UNRWA continues to provide humanitarian and development services, seven decades later.

Yassine’s family’s UNRWA registration and identification documents

It was in this camp that Yassine grew up and spent his formative years. Raised in a 15 x 15 foot house, his family shared a cramped space, without reliable electricity, let alone the comforts of television, a refrigerator, and running water. Beyond the struggles of living in a refugee camp, he grew up during the Lebanese Civil War and his youth was shaped by violence which led to the loss of close family members. 

[One] of the beautiful things about UNRWA and its teachers [was that] they had a mission to educate the next generation. They believed in every student and wanted the best for them.

Despite this hardship, Yassine considered his family lucky, even going so far as to say that he felt like one of the “wealthier” families in the camp because they had food on the table every day. Yassine says, “we didn’t have much, but we had a beautiful sense of community. My mom would always share whatever we had with others. It shaped my own responsibilities and sense of philanthropy. I was taught, if you’re given something, the best thing you can do is share it.” 

In addition to education and healthcare services, UNRWA provides Palestine refugee families with clean, drinkable water and food assistance. Yassine’s family was one of many in Lebanon that received rations through the Agency. But among all the items they received, Yassine distinctly prized the nutritional bar which he treated as candy, so much so that he meticulously saved up his pocket money to buy bars from other students.

He recalls his time in school with fondness, smiling, admitting that he was a “bookworm and nerd.” Every time Yassine received an A on a test, his father would reward him with a book; part way through primary school he had amassed a small library, full of books that he often lent to neighboring kids. This eventually evolved into the first public library in the camp.

Beyond his desire to help others and his academic success that made him an excellent doctoral candidate, one particular event altered young Yassine’s life and drove him to pursue medicine. 

Yassine as a student in Montezuma, NM, surrounded by classmates from around the globe

Yassine as a student in Montezuma, NM, surrounded by classmates from around the globe

Amidst the height of the Lebanese Civil War, a police station next to his UNRWA school was bombed during an air raid. Yassine was in third grade at the time, and because the school was doing double shifts, he did not have class until the afternoon. Though he wasn’t impacted physically, the bomb exploded, devastating the school, killing and injuring many of his teachers, family members, and friends. He recalls going back to school, unable to see the floor due to the debris and bodies that covered it. Feeling helpless seeing so many of those near and dear to him senselessly injured, he decided that by becoming a physician, he would be able to make the greatest positive impact on others’ lives. 

Given the lack of opportunities for Palestine refugees to study and access the higher education system in Lebanon, Yassine looked towards the US, Canada, and Europe for his next academic steps.

We didn’t have much, but we had a beautiful sense of community. My mom would always share whatever we had with others. It shaped my own responsibilities and sense of philanthropy. I was taught, if you’re given something, the best thing you can do is share it.

Meet the Daoud/Haddads

One morning, Yassine went to the UNRWA field office in the camp and saw an announcement for a scholarship to study overseas. But there was one catch: the deadline was the very next morning. 

“This is one of the beautiful things about UNRWA and its teachers,” Yassine says. “They had a mission to educate the next generation. They believed in every student and wanted the best for them. So when I saw the announcement, I ran to the vice principal of the school’s home that afternoon and asked him for his help, and he was more than happy to do so.”

One of the biggest tragedies is that we lack seeing the humanity in others. Ultimately, we are more similar than we are different. I hope that when people see me, they think to themselves that refugees have potential, and like all people, they are worthy of support and nurturing.

They worked together from 2 in the afternoon until 10 at night to collect the necessary reports, application materials, and search for a polaroid camera (a new bit of technology in Baalbek at the time) for his photo. After quickly assembling the application, receiving sponsorship through UNRWA, and passing through the various interview rounds, he was accepted into the program offered in the US through United World College, a two year residential school in Montezuma, New Mexico with students from across the globe, hailing from over 70 countries. Feeling the mixed emotions of fear and excitement, not knowing more than a couple of sentences of English, and having never traveled to the US, Yassine left his family and Lebanon behind to pursue his academic dreams.  

Yassine graduates from Amherst College alongside his friends

His high school was a melting pot, and it shaped him to see himself as part of a global community and the value inherent in all people, regardless of passport or nationality. After receiving his diploma, he received a full-ride scholarship to Amherst College and then Harvard Medical School. It was at Harvard where he met his wife, Laila El-Haddad. She is a fellow Palestinian, originally from the Gaza Strip, and uses food as a way to connect people and humanize how they see Palestinians and Palestine refugees. Her many accomplishments include giving a culinary tour of Gaza to famed chef Anthony Bourdain.

Laila shares Gaza’s culture and food with renowned chef Anthony Bourdain

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After completing a residency in ophthalmology at Duke University and a medical internship at Johns Hopkins, Yassine and Laila finally settled down in Maryland, which he and his family now call home. Acknowledging their individual successes, despite the challenging paths that led them there, both Laila and Yassine feel an obligation to remain active in their communities and give back so that others can access the same opportunities they did. With food assistance and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza being an issue especially close to Laila’s heart, they’ve held multiple iftars during Ramadan to provide food assistance to Palestine refugees through UNRWA USA’s Gather for Gaza series and attended and fundraised for the DC Gaza 5K multiple years in a row.

Ultimately, Yassine says he hopes through his actions he can help change the narrative around Palestine refugees. He says that “in the US we are bombarded by negative images. People found me a surprise -- that I was a successful Palestinian in the US. One of the biggest tragedies is that we lack seeing the humanity in others. Ultimately, we are more similar than we are different. I hope that when people see me, they think to themselves that refugees have potential, and like all people, they are worthy of support and nurturing.”

To that end, Yassine co-founded BRIDGE America group to help settle recent refugees in the DMV area. He also sponsors multiple Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to acquire college education.

making food available for Palestine refugees in Gaza: laila and yassine hosting their annual charitable iftar

One way that he’s putting these beliefs into practice is through his membership in the recently launched UNRWA Alumni Association (USA). It is a way for Palestine refugees in the US to connect, share their stories, and support the Agency that gave them the tools to succeed. “So many refugees I’ve met are smarter and more hard working than I am, but I was lucky with the opportunities I was given. I want to share these opportunities with others,” he explains.  

Yassine’s story is just one of thousands of Palestine refugees around the world, including here at home in the United States. We invite those reading who may have benefited from UNRWA at some point in their lifetime to join him in sharing their stories as members of the UNRWA Alumni Association (USA). Learn more and apply today at: unrwausa.org/alumni.

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Top 5 reasons to sign up for the Gaza 5K

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Top 5 reasons to sign up for the Gaza 5K

Now in its eighth year, the Gaza 5K has grown into one of the top charity walk/runs in DC. Here are the top 5 reasons why UNRWA USA’s Harley Dority thinks you should register to take part in the Gaza 5K by 8/31:

  1. Avoid the FOMO and save $$! The Gaza 5K usually sells out and this is the last week to save $15 on your registration. Secure your spot now before prices go up in September, or worse, you lose your chance!

  2. The prizes! Depending on how well you fundraise, you stand a chance to win our cool new Gaza 5K t-shirt, an authentic Hirbawi keffiyeh, an olive tree planted for you in Palestine, and for the first time ever, a chance to win a trip to Jordan to see UNRWA's work firsthand! Learn more

  3. Running is just part of the fun. If running isn't your jam, that's okay! The Gaza 5K is a judgment-free zone where we welcome runners, walkers, and cheerleaders alike! Following the 5K, there will be a dabke party featuring a live DJ, dance instructor Fuad Saleh, and complimentary food courtesy of our friends at Z&Z and Abe's Eats!

  4. The people! We're on track for 2019 to be the largest DC Gaza 5K yet and the people who this event attracts are some of the biggest-hearted people! Come meet some of the United States' most passionate supporters of Palestine, refugees, Gaza, UNRWA, mental health, and running. Also at this year's event will be the Right to Movement Palestine runners who will have just returned from the Relay Run for Refugees and inspirational UNRWA alumni from across the country!

  5. The mission is golden! Your participation in the Gaza 5K directly helps us provide Palestine refugee children in Gaza with the life-changing mental health counseling services they need to cope with the traumas they are forced to endure living in the blockaded Gaza Strip.

    What more reason do you need to sign up?

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Meet the 13 year old who has raised over $20K for refugee kids her age in Gaza

Meet the 13 year old who has raised over $20K for refugee kids her age in Gaza

At the top of the 2019 NYC Gaza 5K fundraising leaderboard right now is Dunia Mujalli who has raised an astonishing $20,600 (and counting) to provide mental health counseling for Palestine refugee children in the Gaza Strip. This talented and determined girl is just 13 years old, and proves that anyone, at any age, can be a successful fundraiser!

VIDEO: Dunia explains her motivation for fundraising and encourages people of all ages, genders, and abilities to join her efforts!

An empathetic young girl, Dunia’s motivation to fundraise for UNRWA USA’s Gaza 5K sprung from her visit to Ramallah in 2015. She returned shocked by the violence she saw and the difficulties other children her age experienced and was eager to do something to respond to the injustices she witnessed in Palestine. Her father, Nasri, recounts, “when she came back, all she did was speak about her experience. She told me, ‘Baba, I want to help the people in Palestine.’”

When the 2019 NYC Gaza 5K was announced earlier this year, Nasri decided this was a perfect way to make good on his daughter’s request. They signed up and immediately started asking friends and family to make donations to her fundraising page. Dunia’s clear passion and commitment for her fellow kids have resulted in her massive success. When asked why she is fundraising, she says, “Because I saw a lot of things they [Palestine refugee children] lost. They lost their homes, their parents, and I want to help them out to make the world a better place.”

Dunia alongside her family

Dunia has overcome her own obstacles and because of these experiences, she sees the potential in others and wishes to help them reach it, as she has done for herself. Dunia was born deaf, and at the age of 11 months, she received implants so that she could hear. Her father describes her as “a special child, gifted in so many ways that go beyond the challenges she has faced. She is always going out of her way to help others.”

You can help Dunia achieve her goal of doing good for refugee kids by supporting her fundraising or registering for the 2019 NYC Gaza 5K + Dabke Party on Saturday, March 30 in Brooklyn, New York!



A meaningful New Year's resolution you can commit to

A meaningful New Year's resolution you can commit to

It’s hard to believe January is coming to an end and with it, our deadline to set some 2019 resolutions. Justin Connor, a long time UNRWA USA supporter, is a few steps ahead when it comes to identifying what ‘sparks joy’ for him. Last year, Justin incorporated participating in the DC Gaza 5K as part of his resolution to be more active and healthier in 2018, and is committed to doing it again in 2019.

Since its inception in 2012, the DC Gaza 5K has been a part of Justin’s annual routine and goal setting. Before returning Stateside, he was in Dubai, where he said that he had been doing fewer outdoors activities as he would have liked because of the weather. Somehow, convinced that the humid DC summers were an upgrade from the arid desert heat, he picked up running and used the Gaza 5K as a platform to inspire his health goals. He reflects, “it was a great opportunity to raise money for a cause I believed in and get in shape.”

The sense of family and community reflected in the runners is what really brings it home. I’ve done many races, and they are nothing like this one [Gaza 5K].
Justin (left) alongside fellow long time UNRWA USA supporter Kate Gould (right) at the 2016 DC Gaza 5K

Justin (left) alongside fellow long time UNRWA USA supporter Kate Gould (right) at the 2016 DC Gaza 5K

Justin has cared about issues facing Palestine refugees since he was a teenager. At 19, while he was a sophomore at Earlham College, he participated in a foreign study program in Jerusalem, spending some time in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. He says that it was at this point, in the summer of 1991, his long standing concerns surrounding peace and social justice for Palestinians came to life. During his study abroad, he had a ten day break where he was free to do whatever he wished. He and a friend reached out to Save the Children in Gaza and did a ten day internship. In traveling through the Gaza Strip, he got a sense of the people and challenges there. “I got a sense of the culture -- the joy, maqluba, coffee, and weddings,” Justin says enthusiastically.  

Beyond a sense of physical achievement, Justin says “the Gaza 5K brings back a little bit of that summer and reminds me of the sense of community and family that I experienced in Gaza.” He notes that he has a red keffiyeh from his time in Gaza which he has taken with him every place he has lived. The keffiyeh. The Gaza 5K. They are all reminders to Justin of his global citizenship and the connections that unite all people.

He comments on the experience of the Gaza 5K and says, “something that is always moving to me each year is to see families running together. Parents with their kids and sometimes grandparents all come together around the cause. I love the sense of family and community that is evoked in the Gaza 5K. There are people with flags, zaatar, food, and culture that remind you of the cause, why we are doing this, and who it is for. The sense of family and community reflected in the runners is what really brings it home. I’ve done many races, and they are nothing like this one.”

For others looking to do good and feel good in 2019 by signing up for this charitable race, Justin offers his personal advice:

I encourage anyone who is on the fence to register so that they are motivated to make their goals a reality, too. When you register and commit to your decision, it really helps solidify and advance your goals. Every year, whenever I hear about the race, I register immediately, start fundraising, and put together a team. It helps me get going on my goals!
Justin (right) at the 2015 DC Gaza 5K

Justin (right) at the 2015 DC Gaza 5K

If you’re feeling inspired by Justin’s commitment to Palestine refugees, their mental health, and his physical fitness goals, you can follow his lead by registering for the NYC Gaza 5K on March 30. Look out for tickets for the DC Gaza 5K available later in the year. Whether you choose to focus on a fundraising goal or a fitness goal (or both!), we look forward to seeing you move for mental health with us at a Gaza 5K this year!

Three women. Two UNRWA USA events. One unexpected friendship.

Three women. Two UNRWA USA events. One unexpected friendship.

Three women sat around a table in the Josephine Butler Parks Center in Washington, DC for UNRWA USA’s experiential and interactive charitable iftar for Gaza featuring authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. Their names were Lisa, Dominique, and Nahed.

Each woman was drawn to the charitable dinner for a different reason.

Lisa saw it advertised online when she first came back from the West Bank, where she was running a USAID healthcare improvement project, supporting a network of hospitals, including an UNRWA health center in Qalqilya. Palestine was on her mind and on her newsfeed, so she sprang at the opportunity to attend the event supporting Palestine refugees.

Dominique had heard of the event through her former colleague who now works for UNRWA USA. She was already familiar with UNRWA USA and UNRWA’s work on the ground in the Middle East, so she signed up on the spot.

Nahed is Lebanese, and having been born in Lebanon, she was well aware of the struggles faced by Palestine refugees.

It [dinner] became an intimate experience. The only way we could have a good deep conversation — which we got into quickly — was by leaning into each other. It’s what started our friendship!
— Dominique, describing meeting Lisa and Nahed for the first time at the UNRWA USA charitable iftar, where the bustling noise in the room required them to come closer -- physically and emotionally.

However, when these women gathered around the table, the various paths that brought them there quickly became irrelevant.

The iftar program evoked a day in the life of a Palestine refugee in Gaza, and proceeds from the event in Washington, DC put food on the table for 169 Palestine refugee families in the Gaza Strip for the entire summer.

The room where the dinner was held was busy, full of excitement and chatter, and the acoustics of the room only amplified this buzz. “As a result,” Lisa said, “the only way we could speak to each other was by whispering into each other's ears.”

Highlights from the DC charitable iftar for Gaza

“It became an intimate experience,” Dominique chimed in. “The only way we could have a good deep conversation -- which we got into quickly -- was by leaning into each other. It’s what started our friendship!”  

When speaking to these three, it was easy to see how they immediately clicked. The chemistry among them is palatable. Their banter flows quickly and easily, like old friends who have known each other for years.

Inspired after the charitable iftar, Nahed created a painting highlighting symbols of the Palestinian diaspora and refugee experience, including a Palestinian flag, a vase with a Lebanese cedar, and a mother of pearl mosaic as a symbol of Syria.

Inspired after the charitable iftar, Nahed created a painting highlighting symbols of the Palestinian diaspora and refugee experience, including a Palestinian flag, a vase with a Lebanese cedar, and a mother of pearl mosaic as a symbol of Syria.

Despite being from different parts of the world and carrying with them different experiences, they overlapped and found common ground over language, interests, and values. In a fashion that epitomizes DC cosmopolitan culture, their conversation wove in and out of English, French, and Arabic. Lisa cheerfully shared, “it was a funny mix of language that brought us together; we all spoke just little bits of each.”

Over the course of the dinner, Lisa commented that “not only did we connect on values, but we over created actual connections -- the type that make you want to get together again -- which is what we did!”

A few months later, UNRWA USA announced that it was having its seventh annual DC Gaza 5K + Dabke Party, benefiting UNRWA’s mental health services for Palestine refugee kids in the Gaza Strip. Lisa saw the event advertised online and invited the other two to join her 5K team — Sisters together for Gaza. Appropriately named to reflect their friendship, they went above and beyond and invited a few other friends beyond the original three. Together, the team raised an impressive $1,487 to support access to UNRWA mental health care services.

It was all three women’s first times participating in the event, held on September 22, 2018, but they all claimed it would not be their last. For Dominique, the dabke dancing was the highlight, though she jokingly said it was not easy on her knees after running a 5K! She said she loved how it brought everyone together, creating a literal circle of friends.

Wahad w Nos (واحد ونص): dabke afterparty at the DC Gaza 5K

It was all kids of magical having all the little, additional pieces of the event — even beyond the 5K. It’s hard to bring hope in such circumstances, but the energy of the UNRWA USA team and the community brings us all to such a positive place.
— Lisa, speaking about her 2018 DC Gaza 5K experience

team sisters together for Gaza

video from the dc gaza 5k captured by team member ricardo

For Lisa, the highlight was hearing Alaa Hammouda, the Advocacy Media Officer at the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, speak. Alaa is visiting the US with her two daughters from the Gaza Strip and spoke to the participants about her firsthand experience living in Gaza and dealing with trauma both from a personal and professional standpoint. Lisa said getting to speak to her and seeing her beautiful traditional Palestinian thobe (dress) brought her back to her time in Palestine.

“It was all kinds of magical having all the little, additional pieces of the event -- even beyond the 5K,” said Lisa. “It’s hard to bring hope in such circumstances, but the energy of the UNRWA USA team and the community brings us all to such a positive place.”

We asked what happened in between the two events, whether they kept in touch between the iftar dinner and the Gaza 5K. Dominique immediately let out a cheerful laugh and responded, “Have we kept in touch? We have fifty pages of text messages!”

And without missing a beat, the trio immediately launched into planning their next meet up, comparing schedules, and coordinating their next gathering…


Dominique, Nahed, and Lisa have dinner together at Nahed’s home

Dominique, Nahed, and Lisa have dinner together at Nahed’s home

Ultimately, beyond supporting Palestine refugees through UNRWA’s services, UNRWA USA aims to create an American community invested in the lives and livelihoods of refugees. We are fortunate to have witnessed a little bit of that community magic take form among Lisa, Dominique, Nahed, and the rest of the “Sisters together for Gaza.” Thank you for coming together to show Palestine refugees Americans care!

Follow these ladies’ lead and keep up to date on all UNRWA USA events, including Gaza 5Ks here.

Who knows what kinds of friendship it could lead to!

Voices of the 2018 DC Gaza 5K: Guillermo Medrano

Voices of the 2018 DC Gaza 5K: Guillermo Medrano


Guillermo Medrano has participated in the Gaza 5K since its very first year. (Remember those old school Gaza 5K shirts from 2012?!) And like many others in the DMV, it’s become something of a tradition for him.

This year, he’s out of the country but still wanted to participate and support the cause in some way, so he’s registered as a ‘virtual runner’ on Team Mokhiber. While we won’t see him in person this year, Guillermo shared a few words with us on why he so deeply believes in this cause, this event, and supporting Palestine refugees:

[UNRWA USA]: Why do you support Palestine refugees through the Gaza 5K?

[Guillermo]: The Gaza 5k is so close and dear to my heart because the Palestinian people's plight, especially that of those in Gaza, goes forgotten in our modern social media-led coverage of current events. In light of this, the work UNRWA USA does is even more important with proceeds from the race going towards UNRWA assistance for Palestine refugees in need in Gaza.

[UNRWA USA]: What brought you back to the DC Gaza 5K year after year for six years?

[Guillermo]: The fact so many of my friends have worked and volunteered this event year after year in my own hometown, growing in size and importance, makes my participation even more paramount. I'm truly saddened that I'll be missing out — for the first time in its existence — but I am so happy and proud that I'm able to pay it forward for others to participate in my stead.*

[UNRWA USA]: What is a message you’d like to share with this year’s participants in your absence?

[Guillermo]: I hope everyone participating can really be in touch with how much impact sacrificing just one Saturday morning means to those who suffer year round.


*Guillermo has generously offered a $50 donation to encourage other DMV supporters to participate in the event in his stead! So we’re giving the next 5 registrants $10 off in Guillermo’s honor — just sign up using the promo code GUILLERMO.

Voices of the 2018 DC Gaza 5K: Jews for Gaza

Voices of the 2018 DC Gaza 5K: Jews for Gaza

We will be the generation to transform our community’s support for the occupation into a call for freedom and dignity for all. And we will stand by our Palestinian cousins and support them in any ways that we can. For the last few years, we have participated in the Gaza 5K and have found it a meaningful way to connect with Palestinians and show that we are working to change our own community.
— Becca AbuRakia-Einhorn, Team Captain, "Jews for Gaza"

Meet Team Jews for Gaza. 

Fun Fact: Beyond being stellar at raising awareness and funds for mental health services in the Gaza Strip, the team consists of some rockstar runners to boot! Last year one of their team members was 4th for men and two years ago one of our team members was 1st for women!

They've participated in the Gaza 5K under the name "Jews for Gaza" for three years though there have been a few participants that predate the official team, having participated a few years longer. 

They know the cause, care deeply about Palestine refugee rights and access to mental health care, and come back year after year to show it. 

Team Captain Becca AbuRakia-Einhorn spoke to UNRWA USA on behalf of her team, sharing why they care and why they feel others should too. 

[UNRWA USA]: Why does your team join UNRWA USA for the Gaza 5K? What has brought you back to participate for a fourth year?

[Becca]: Every year, our tradition teaches us to remember both the bitterness of slavery and the joy of liberation. We recall the narrow places we’ve left through stories of persecution and resilience, in our own lives and in our people’s history. As we were dehumanized by the oppression we faced, we are now dehumanized by that which we are inflicting. Our elders told many of us that because of our history, we should oppose oppression in all the places it lives, whether it preys upon us or others.

But generations of my fellow American Jews have now watched Israel perpetuate 70 years of occupation: a system of violence and separation that deprives Palestinians of civil, political, and economic rights. 

No longer will our community be used by politicians or anyone else to justify the violation of Palestinian rights. Like those born wandering in the desert, we are rising from our people’s trauma in order to move us toward the ongoing promise of liberation. We will be the generation to transform our community’s support for the occupation into a call for freedom and dignity for all. And we will stand by our Palestinian cousins and support them in any way that we can.

For the last few years, we have participated in the Gaza 5K and have found it a meaningful way to connect with Palestinians and show that we are working to change our own community.

[UNRWA USA]: What does the tagline "moving for mental health" mean to you? Why is good mental health so important?

[Becca]: As Jews, we have grown up with our own community trauma and know how that can be passed on through generations and have wide-reaching effects. The Palestinians in Gaza have been subject to violence and oppression and deserve an outlet to process this in ways that can help themselves heal and help their communities heal too.

Voices of the 2018 DC Gaza 5K: Team Burback Birthday Bonanza

Voices of the 2018 DC Gaza 5K: Team Burback Birthday Bonanza

Meet Team Burback Birthday Bonanza: Gaza 5K veterans and passionate supporters of Palestine refugee rights

Team Burback Birthday Bonanza is not new to the Gaza 5K.

In fact, it's their third year participating. We caught up with team captain (and birthday girl) Sara Burback to learn more about why her team is back again for another year of moving for mental health. 

Sara has also run many other races in support of Palestinian rights and awareness including the Right to Movement Marathon in the West Bank. 

[UNRWA USA]: Why is your team participating in and fundraising for this year's DC Gaza 5K?

[Sara]: I run and fundraise as a way to help the people of Gaza to realize their narrative as a people is one of resilience and collective strength within their communities; that personal health is their basic human right; and that their safety and future is a priority for many Americans.


[UNRWA USA]: The DC Gaza 5K supports UNRWA's emergency programming, including mental health care. What does mental health mean to you and your team?

[Sara]: Mental health is important to me because the trauma a community carries can influence people for decades.
 

[UNRWA USA]: How are you getting your local community involved by participating in the Gaza 5K? 

[Sara]: Participating in this race every year and inviting friends to celebrate my birthday through sharing our support for the people of Gaza is a way I know I can influence change and show my community that we all have that ability to respond to crises. Moving for mental health is a great way to act!


Want your Gaza 5K team to be featured? Email us and we'll share how you're getting your community involved in supporting access to mental health for refugee kids in the Gaza Strip.  

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: Team Superheroes for Gaza

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: Team Superheroes for Gaza

Not all heroes wear capes, but these ones certainly did! This is the second year in a row that Team Superheroes for Gaza threw up a bat signal and got their NYC community to join for a Gaza 5K supporting mental health for children in the Gaza Strip. [Note: costumes not optional]

Team Superheroes for Gaza at the 2017 NYC Gaza 5K assembled in hero formation!

Team Superheroes for Gaza at the 2017 NYC Gaza 5K assembled in hero formation!

In reflecting on this year's 2018 Gaza 5K race, Erin Ednie shared some thoughts on behalf of her super team:

What a gift it is to take part in the Gaza 5K! The energy and emotions we felt coming together in solidarity with so many caring and wonderful people supporting the refugee children brought so much hope and inspiration for us to continue our purpose beyond the pavement. God willing, we can grow our team to spread awareness and work to see peace of mind and heart brought to the beautiful children of Palestine.
— Erin Ednie

Thank you to these superheroes for showing Palestine refugees that Americans care. Your commitment year after year to this cause is inspiring and we can't wait to see how you all dress, run, and save the day at next year's race. 

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: Team Warek Dawali

Voices of the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K: Team Warek Dawali

This year's NYC Gaza 5K was described by participants as 'the most lit 5K' they have ever run. In addition to this absolutely flattering -- in a truly millennial sense -- comment, the UNRWA USA team has received such wonderful feedback from the event and we are so grateful.

But ultimately, beyond the run, dabke, and logistics on our end, the success of the event was a reflection of the amazing New York community that came together to support the children of Gaza, raising more than $355,000 for mental health services and UNRWA programming.

One such group of participants was the members of Team Warek Dawali. They not only made this event an important enriching, communal experience but also had four team members to medal in the race! Their team was passionate and energetic, collectively raising $6,447.13 -- surpassing their fundraising goal by nearly $500. 

Here are some words, shared by Hanan Farraj, a member of Team Warek Dawali, while reflecting on the race: 

I just want to thank your organization for putting it together for such an amazing cause. Yesterday was my first ever 5K! It was such a fun experience and wonderful that I could share it with my sons! Our team, Warek Dawali, was made up of family and friends. It was a great bonding experience! We really had a great time! We had four of our team members who placed in top times! My son, Izzeldeen Farraj, came in third overall! He’s going to college this fall and was excited to do one of his last races before going away with his family. Again, thank you so much for all you do for the Palestinian people! See you next year InshAllah!
— Hanan Farraj
Four members of team Warek Dawali placed either overall or within their age divisions; team captain Izzeldeen Farraj came in third place overall!

Four members of team Warek Dawali placed either overall or within their age divisions; team captain Izzeldeen Farraj came in third place overall!

We are honored and humbled by these words of kindness and the generosity of the New York community. A huge thank you to the Farraj family, team Warek Dawali, and all the other incredible teams that moved for mental health with us in Prospect Park, Brooklyn on Saturday March 24. Stay tuned for future race dates and other UNRWA USA activities in your community!