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Voices of the 2018 Houston Gaza 5K: Team Olive Gaza

Voices of the 2018 Houston Gaza 5K: Team Olive Gaza

Team Olive Gaza created their own team logo to celebrate their team spirit!

Team Olive Gaza created their own team logo to celebrate their team spirit!

This is the first year UNRWA USA is taking the Gaza 5K south to Houston, Texas, but the members of Team Olive Gaza are already fundraising like seasoned pros. Together, this powerhouse team has raised $6,700 (and counting!) for mental health services for Palestine refugee children in the Gaza Strip.

They shared with UNRWA USA what drew them to the cause and why they’re spending a Saturday morning in November moving for mental health.

[UNRWA USA]: Why is your team participating in and fundraising for the Houston Gaza 5K?

[Team Olive Gaza]: It’s an event we could relate to and a worthy humanitarian effort. We felt we could use our network to make a positive impact and give back. 

I am just one generation removed from a family that was displaced - my parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents were refugees. Were it not for the amazing work that UNRWA started in Palestine decades ago, displaced families would have had no place to go; their children would not have been clothed; and thousands would not have been fed. My very own family were among those who received UNRWA assistance, and as a result were able to flourish. At the time, UNRWA seemed to be their only salvation. Generations later, Palestinian refugees share the same struggles as their ancestors from decades past, yet have now been threatened with the de-funding of one of their few allies.
— Aseel Saqer, Team Olive Gaza

[UNRWA USA]: Who is on your team? What drew you all to come together for Palestine refugees?

[Team Olive Gaza]: We are a group of friends and family, the children of Middle Eastern immigrants. Some of us are Palestinians whose families received and relied on UNRWA assistance many years ago. A free Palestine is a cause we try to stand behind in any way we can — that includes supporting those displaced by an occupied Palestine.

Team Olive Gaza

Team Olive Gaza

Aseel, one of the members of team Olive Gaza, explained why she participates saying, “the recent US government decision to defund UNRWA does not have to put an end to UNRWA's good work in the occupied Palestinian territory. We can make a difference ourselves. I am doing a small part by running in the 2018 Houston Gaza 5K, and I hope to gain others’ support and awareness.”

[UNRWA USA]: The Houston Gaza 5K raises money for UNRWA mental health services for Palestine refugee kids in the Gaza Strip. What does mental health mean to your team?

[Team Olive Gaza]: As long as we live in a political climate that continues to create refugees, we need to take care of them. It is no secret that Gaza is an open air prison and its children have endured the psychological trauma of war many times over. Mental health care for these children means giving them an emotional outlet to express and cope with their trauma. 

[UNRWA USA]: Does your team have a message you'd like to share with your fundraising competitors and fellow Houston participants?

[Team Olive Gaza]: Get your cardio in for a cause! Most of us have to hire babysitters to get out there and run on the 17th. Just remember that when you hear excuses as to why someone can’t make it — it’s worth showing up for refugees and you won’t regret it! 


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.  

What you did for refugees in Gaza this Ramadan

What you did for refugees in Gaza this Ramadan

This year, UNRWA USA supporters raised over $850,000 to feed more than 5,666 refugee families in the Gaza Strip over the course of Ramadan and the rest of summer months

This Ramadan, we asked our American community of supporters -- people of all faiths and backgrounds -- to raise awareness and funds to the situation facing refugees living in the Gaza Strip. 

We asked supporters to put themselves in the shoes of a refugee family in the Gaza Strip: Everyone over the age of ten in your family has lived through three Israeli military assaults on the Gaza Strip and continues to face unimaginable trauma. One or both of your parents are unemployed. Eleven years of total land, sea, and air blockade has limited your family from leaving Gaza for a decade. 40% of families are food insecure. 

You feel trapped. 

This year, the situation deteriorated further following the deathly violence perpetrated by the Israeli military along the northern border of the Gaza Strip. According to UN OCHA and WHO, 137 Palestinians were killed and some 14,800 were injured, including 3,943 by live ammunition gunshots. A majority of these Palestinians were refugees who work for or receive services from UNRWA, and many were children and youth. 

Amidst this violence, UNRWA worked to address the most pressing humanitarian needs, and UNRWA USA supporters raised funds to support one of the most essential needs -- food. Over the course of Ramadan, you and your fellow Americans raised over $850,000 to feed more than 5,666 refugee  families in the Gaza Strip.


20 Instagrammers bring together followers from around the world to support UNRWA's food assistance program during the month of Ramadan

Beyond the dozens of supporters that hosted an Iftar for Gaza event, and the thousands that donated to the Ramadan campaign, 20 Instagram influencers chose to use their public platform to raise awareness and funds for Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip. 

Over the course of one month, they shared information and photos on the situation unfolding in the Gaza Strip, the increased need, what UNRWA does to support over 1 million refugees in Gaza, and how their followers could help provide meals to refugee families through UNRWA's food assistance program. 

These influencers shared personal videos, stories, and photos to demonstrate why they believe in the cause throughout the one-month long Instagram campaign.

This is what Fatima said at the outset of the campaign, urging her followers to take action for refugees this Ramadan. 

Other Instagrammers shared how the US funding cuts have affected UNRWA's ability to provide services to Palestine refugees, why they personally care and believe in supporting Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip, and how their followers can get involved in UNRWA USA's work by donating to feed a Palestine refugee family in Gaza for the entire summer. 


Our Ramadan campaign may be over, but you can continue to stay involved in UNRWA USA's work for Palestine refugees by taking the next steps:

Iftar for Gaza around the US: 30 days, 35 iftars, $125,700+ raised, 839 refugee families in Gaza fed

Iftar for Gaza around the US: 30 days, 35 iftars, $125,700+ raised, 839 refugee families in Gaza fed

Why UNRWA food assistance is needed

The Gaza Strip has been under an illegal blockade for eleven years, and unemployment and poverty levels are at record highs. As a result, nearly one million of the 1.3 million Palestine refugees in Gaza rely on UNRWA food assistance to meet their basic daily needs. 

A $150 donation can provide enough flour, rice, whole milk, oil, chickpeas, lentils, and protein-rich sardines to feed a family for the summer.

Iftar for Gaza 

For the second year, UNRWA USA supporters chose to narrow the gap between the US and the Gaza Strip by bringing the thoughts, experiences, and struggles of Palestine refugee families into their homes and around their dining tables. 

Iftar for Gaza means feeding more than just those around the table; it's bringing together friends and family to ensure that Palestine refugees meet basic food needs through Ramadan and for the entire summer. 


find your iftar: where iftar for gaza events were hosted across the us

UNRWA USA supporters hosted Iftar for Gaza events all across the country -- from picnics to potlucks to restaurant-catered dinners, Americans got creative to feed more than just those around their tables!

UNRWA USA supporters hosted Iftar for Gaza events all across the country -- from picnics to potlucks to restaurant-catered dinners, Americans got creative to feed more than just those around their tables!

This Ramadan, UNRWA USA supporters held 35 iftars across the United States, raising over $125,700, to provide UNRWA food assistance to more than 839 of the most vulnerable Palestine refugee families in the Gaza Strip. From New Jersey to California, New York to Texas, Maryland to Pennsylvania, these hosts and attendees showed Palestine refugees that Americans care and care deeply.

Here are some of the highlights: 

Burtonsville, Maryland

Anika and Aamir took the idea of iftar for Gaza and got creative with it, flipping the concept and hosting a "sahoor for Gaza" party instead. Sahoor, the pre-dawn meal Muslims consume prior to fasting, takes place early in the morning, so the couple invited their friends and family to their home in Maryland and treated them to a huge late night party that started at 1 am and went on until 4 am, featuring a local chicken and waffle food truck, shawarma bowls and wraps from Georgetown's popular Muncheez restaurant, a barista serving up various coffees drinks, teas, and fresh fruit cocktails, and complimentary t-shirts. The generous couple not only hosted a sahoor to remember, they matched all donations made to their fundraising page. Together, Anika and Aamir's community provided enough funding to assist over 190 refugee families in the Gaza Strip!

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Longtime supporter Lora, along with 21 friends and neighbors, came together at Sahara Restaurant -- a local favorite -- for a delicious meal of basmati rice, falafel, hummus, dolmas, shawarma, and fattoush salad. As they ate together, Lora reflected on her time in Gaza. She states in her blog piece encapsulating the event, "I had a flashback to many of the families in Gaza who served me wonderful meals — too numerous to count. I wish I could have bridged the miles and shared my Iftar with them."

While she couldn't physically offer the same meals to families in Gaza, Lora's efforts, along with the efforts and generosity of her energetic and passionate community, amounted to 16 families receiving UNRWA food assistance for the entire summer

Orange County, California

Two friends and entrepreneurs, Sara (A Little Bit of Lemon) and Lana (Olive & Heart), partnered together to host a Supper Club for Gaza in southern California featuring their favorite traditional Iraqi and Palestinian dishes alongside their close group of friends. One attendee encouraged her friends to attend and donate to their iftar event as a way to celebrate her birthday while also giving to charity. Lana reflected on the event in a recent Olive & Heart blog piece.

new york, new york

Our friends at Komeeda -- an organization that delivers creative cultural food experiences -- have been long-standing partners of our work assisting with the NYC Gaza 5Ks, hosting displaced dinners, and other outreach and fundraising events for Palestine refugees. And for the second year in a row, they hosted a charitable iftar to benefit Palestine refugees in Gaza at the Food and Arts Center in downtown Manhattan. The tickets to the dinner along with donations made during and prior to the event contributed to 65 families in the Gaza Strip receiving UNRWA food assistance for Ramadan and the rest of summer.

The event featured an impressive menu showcasing a molecular gastronomy interpretation of the Palestinian cuisine, including a lentil soup and basterma-wrapped dates, sous vide steak with cacao and Aleppo pepper, and halloumi cheese and blood oranges. What's even more impressive than the menu, is their passionate community service and dedication to empowering refugees here in the United States and abroad.

Bergen, New Jersey

Sara and Dina co-hosted an iftar together, renting out Maggianos Restaurant and filling it with their closest friends and family for an elaborate and beautiful Italian dinner. Sara and Dina each pledged to feed ten families and invited their friends to join them in reaching their total goal.

By the end of the night, they were able to collect enough to feed 51 families! Following the event, Sara and Dina continued to share their fundraising page on social media, and friends continued to donate, ultimately raising enough to feed over 58 families! Sara, a trained counselor, hopes to continue her efforts as a volunteer to strengthen UNRWA's Community Mental Health Programme in the Middle East.

Wilmington, Delaware

Mike and the Delawareans for Palestine shared a delicious meal in Wilmington while raising funds and awareness in solidarity with Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip. Together, these powerhouse community members of all ages gathered together for a memorable and rewarding afternoon. Watch their thoughtful video: 

new york, new york 

Ariella, Michelle, and a group of their friends came together for an intimate potluck dinner, hosted in their apartment in NYC. Together, they shared a meal and raised enough to feed four families in Gaza

san francisco, california

Time after time, Googlers Zanoon and Rhonda have stepped up and taken initiative to support Palestine refugees. Most recently, they showed tremendous compassion and thoughtfulness during a time of exceptional need for refugees in Gaza by successfully mobilizing over 200 fellow Googlers to raise a staggering $38,000 for Palestine refugees in Gaza. In addition to hosting a huge dinner at Google, they shared a presentation highlighting UNRWA's work in the Gaza Strip and the impact of the UNRWA food assistance program with friends and colleagues who otherwise may not have known about UNRWA's critical work for Palestine refugees. 

brooklyn, new york

In a cozy Brooklyn apartment, a group of friends from 8 different countries (along with a cute furry friend!) got together to break fast over a delicious meal, show solidarity with refugees in Gaza, and celebrate their friendships. In the process, they raised enough money to feed 7 Palestine refugee families in the Gaza Strip!

coney island, new york

High school students from Coney Island Prep have now hosted an iftar for Gaza two years in a row. This year, they made it even bigger and better, drawing students and teachers from all grades to participate and learn more about the situation facing refugees in the Gaza Strip. They hope to host another iftar next year, but until then, read about their successful iftar and what the event meant to them


Photos and highlights from other iftars around the US


Did you host an #IftarforGaza? 

Share your photos and videos with us via email or using hashtag #IftarforGaza so we can feature what you and your community achieved together! Thank you for keeping Gaza in your hearts and minds and for continuing to show Palestine refugees Americans care. 


unrwa usa hosts iftar for gaza events in nyc and washington, dc

In addition, UNRWA USA held two experiential and interactive charitable Iftar for Gaza events in the United States, where hundreds of supporters from the area attended to demonstrate solidarity and provide UNRWA food assistance to Palestine refugee families in the Gaza Strip. Check out photos from the recent New York City and Washington DC dinners. 

World Refugee Day: Humanitarian workers, the backbone of UNRWA's work in Syria

World Refugee Day: Humanitarian workers, the backbone of UNRWA's work in Syria

World Refugee Day

Created by the United Nations in the year 2000, World Refugee Day (June 20) is meant to raise awareness about refugees and the circumstances they face. Today, we are commemorating the strength, courage, and resilience of millions of refugees worldwide, including UNRWA's staff in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, who are the backbone of UNRWA.

Something many people don't know about UNRWA is that unlike any other UN agency, UNRWA carries out all of its own work by a staff that is 99% Palestine refugees themselves. This means nearly all UNRWA's 30,000+ teachers, school principals, doctors, nurses, mental health counselors, engineers, relief and social workers, guards and administrative staff are refugees recruited locally to serve their fellow refugees.

UNRWA in Syria 

In places like Syria, where UNRWA serves half a million Palestine refugees, front-line humanitarian workers are risking their own lives to save others and alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable.

Dr. Sana’a Mahmoud Ayoub, a Palestine refugee from Yarmouk and UNRWA health worker, is one example.

Every morning when I arrive at work, I feel blessed because I can make a difference and help people who are in a greater need.
— Dr. Sana'a, UNRWA health worker and Palestine refugee in Syria

Like many others, Dr. Sana’a fled Yarmouk with her family when fighting escalated in December 2012. In spite of the difficulties of displacement and instability, she has never stopped assisting refugees in dire need of healthcare at the UNRWA Damascus Training Centre collective shelter in Syria.

Dr. Sana'a, a mother and a doctor, listens to her patients of all ages at the UNRWA Damascus Training Centre collective shelter, Syria

Dr. Sana'a, a mother and a doctor, listens to her patients of all ages at the UNRWA Damascus Training Centre collective shelter, Syria

“My relationship with my patients goes beyond treating their pain; some like to share their journey and hardship. I listen to them and feel their sadness. Sometimes, the only treatment they need is words,” Dr. Sana’a adds. “Their stories are tainted with the violence they witnessed during the last five years. Their faces reveal strain and hopelessness, but you can still feel the strength and courage developed through the psychosocial support UNRWA provides them with,” she continues.

The 40-year-old mother of four contributes her time, talent, and efficiency to the service of Palestine refugees in Syria. Her busy humanitarian work schedule keeps her at times from spending quality time with family and friends. Her energy and capabilities have made her more than a medical officer. She is known by refugees as the compassionate caretaker and friend.  

Dr. Sana'a believes that it is vital for UNRWA to assist Palestine refugees, many of whom suffer from relentless misery and despair as the conflict intensifies. On her work experience with refugees, she tells us:

It’s very emotional because you see first-hand people living in extremely difficult conditions, but it’s also inspiring because you notice on the other hand how resilient and determined they are to keep going forward.

Despite all of the personal losses and the constraints faced on a daily basis, Dr. Sana'a and UNRWA staff continue to work with full dedication to support ongoing emergency operations and maintain high ethical standards while serving the Palestine refugees of Syria. 

Today, and every day, we honor, acknowledge, and thank Dr. Sana'a, her fellow UNRWA colleagues in Syria, and the more than 30,000 UNRWA refugee staff for their resilience and commitment to serving their Palestine refugee community across the Middle East. 

From Gaza to North Carolina: Mohammed Eid's refugee story

From Gaza to North Carolina: Mohammed Eid's refugee story

When I look in the mirror, I still see that same unkempt little boy from the camps in Gaza. I cannot forget that I made it so far due to the support of UNRWA humanitarian assistance.
— Mohammed Eid

Mohammed Eid is a 28-year-old Palestine refugee, who has lived in Rafah camp in the Gaza Strip where UNRWA provides services for his entire life. Until recently, like most children in Gaza his age and younger, he has only known life in Gaza -- a small piece of land half the size of New York City. That's because due to 11 years of comprehensive air, sea, and land blockade and little to no freedom of movement, over 90% of children have never left the Strip. This changed for Mohammed when he received a prestigious Rotary Fellowship to pursue a master's degree in Global Studies and International Development through a joint program at the University of North Carolina and Duke University. Though he currently lives in North Carolina, he will return to Gaza after completing his program. 

In an interview with UNRWA USA, Mohammed shares with us what it is like to grow up in the Gaza Strip and to come closer to realizing his dreams through higher education. He says UNRWA was there every step of the way, giving him hope, and he when he returns to Gaza, he plans on taking his knowledge to better the humanitarian system that allowed him and his family to survive. 

[UNRWA USA]: What was it like to grow up as a refugee in the Gaza Strip? 

[Mohammed]: I grew up in a 200-square-foot house, with five siblings and our parents in Rafah Camp in Gaza. The street was my living room, my study area, and where I played. As a child, I had never seen a baseball field, a swimming pool, or the cinema.

[UNRWA USA]: How was UNRWA present in your life? Could you share some memories from your childhood related to UNRWA's food assistance program, in particular?

A young Mohammed, Rafah, the Gaza Strip

A young Mohammed, Rafah, the Gaza Strip

[Mohammed]: I remember the excitement I felt as a child when my father returned home from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency Social Service and Supply Center with our family’s monthly assistance package. He would be carrying heavy bags, and the sense of relief I felt that we once again had food and medicine made me hug his legs until he nearly toppled over. I still remember that package, stocked with oil, flour, lentils, rice, and sugar.

On that day, my mom would bake bread, and we would dunk it in sweetened tea. Sugar was a privilege and we were only allowed it once a week. My father always offered bread slices to the rest of the family before taking his share. Those days when we received our food package always felt lighter than other days. We sat at the table together as a family for a long time, our stomachs full and our daily anxiety lifted – at least for the time being. I dipped my bread all the way down to the bottom of my tea, soaking it completely until the tea was dripping all over my hand. My mom would get upset, but I would look at my dad, and he would just smile.

[UNRWA USA]: You are currently in the US studying for a dual master's degree. Clearly, education has been an important part of your life for some time. Can you share with us what it was like to go to school in Gaza and how you see education as a lifeline?

[Mohammed]: For nine years, I attended a local school for refugees run by UNRWA. The building consisted of a few classrooms built from corrugated metal; it was freezing cold in winter, scorching hot in summer. I studied English and learned computer skills without access to an actual computer. Music and physical education would have been a luxury. I liked my school a lot. Teachers used games to teach us and encouraged us to build teams. I felt a strong sense of belonging. I felt the teachers really cared about us.

My life changed when UNRWA offered my father a teaching job with a monthly salary of $400. Because of that job, my father was able to send me to Al-Azhar University in Gaza City. I had the choice to study anything I wanted, and I chose English language because I wanted to be able to communicate with people around the world. Upon graduation, I joined 1,800 other Palestinians in applying for an UNRWA job program and was one of just 110 to be accepted.

Mohammed speaking at a Rotary meeting in the US in 2017. He is in the US studying for his master's degree through a Rotary Fellowship.

Mohammed speaking at a Rotary meeting in the US in 2017. He is in the US studying for his master's degree through a Rotary Fellowship.

[UNRWA USA]: During the 2014 Israeli military assault in Gaza, you went from receiving UNRWA food assistance to being one of those delivering it. Can you tell us about that experience?

[Mohammed]: During the 2014 Israel military assault on Gaza, I joined UNRWA’s emergency response program. Our role was to evacuate civilians from the bombed areas and host them at refugee shelters run by UNRWA. We also provided emergency assistance to fellow refugees who were targeted by the random aerial bombings. Victims were civilians of all ages, and the bombing was indiscriminate. We even lost many UNRWA staff members while on duty. 

[UNRWA USA]: That's really tragic, and we're so sorry to hear of all you've been through. Can you share with us how this experience shaped your current educational and professional aspirations?

[Mohammed]: After the assault ended, UNRWA invited many international experts to provide training courses and workshops to develop the staff response skills during the rise of conflict in Palestine. One of the international trainers admired my dedication and hard work and advised me to apply for a graduate fellowship he was familiar with in the United States. He promised to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf. I received that fellowship. Today I live in North Carolina where I am studying Global Studies and International Development through a joint program at the University of North Carolina and Duke University.

My goal is to learn how to improve emergency response efforts for victims around the world. When I look in the mirror, I still see that same unkempt little boy from the camps I was growing up, I cannot forget that I made it so far due to the support of UNRWA humanitarian assistance. Today I’m here to carry on this mission, to research and study new ways to help and support crisis victims, to help bring their sufferings' to an end.

[UNRWA USA]: As someone who is well versed with UNRWA's work, what is your message to Americans who do not have a sense of its impact and role in your life and the life of the average Palestine refugee in Gaza?

[Mohammed]: I’m proud to have the chance to work with UNRWA, the largest humanitarian platform in the Middle East. If it wasn’t for UNRWA, children and women would starve to death. Young men would lose hope and get caught in a vicious circle of violence. A whole generation would grow up without proper education. For all of those, UNRWA is the only hope in that part of the world.


Mohammed receiving a certificate of gratitude by Bo Schack, Director of UNRWA operations in Gaza Strip, due to his contributions to the agency.

Mohammed receiving a certificate of gratitude by Bo Schack, Director of UNRWA operations in Gaza Strip, due to his contributions to the agency.

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Hakma Atallah, a 105-year old Nakba survivor, shares her story of loss and hope

Hakma Atallah, a 105-year old Nakba survivor, shares her story of loss and hope

Sometimes I close my eyes and try to remember my last night in Al-Swafeer. I imagine myself with my husband and children sitting in the front of our home drinking tea and chit-chatting. I wish I could go back to that day.
— Hakma Atallah, 105 years old

In Beach Camp, west of Gaza City, lives 105-year-old Hakma Atallah in her two-room house with her 65 year old daughter Zainab. Hakma fled from her original village, Al-Swafeer, in 1948 when over 700,000 Palestinians were displaced during what is commonly referred to as al-Nakba (the Catastrophe).

“When I fled from Al-Swafeer, I was 35 years old, married and had five children. I remember my house very well, and I will never forget it. It was a big home with four rooms and we had a nice garden,” Hakma said. With a gentle, melancholic tone, she recalls: “What I remember the most about these old days is how women used to gather around the fire, baking bread and then eating it with cheese,” and she adds that “sometimes I close my eyes and try to remember my last night in Al-Swafeer. I imagine myself with my husband and children sitting in the front of our home drinking tea and chit-chatting. I wish I could go back to that day.”

“Gaza, and particularly the Beach Camp, is where my family and I have been living for five generations. It is where all my grandchildren were born, got their degrees, married and had children. But it’s not like my original village, where I was born, spent my childhood and then got married. There, I had my own land where I used to plant grapes and raise cows and goats,” Hakma explains.

Haneen (19 years old) listens to her grandmother Hakma tell stories of life in Al-Swafeer. Hakma fled from her original village Al-Swafeer in 1948 when she was 35 years old. Nakba survivor and Palestine refugee living in Beach Camp, west of Gaza City. 

Haneen (19 years old) listens to her grandmother Hakma tell stories of life in Al-Swafeer. Hakma fled from her original village Al-Swafeer in 1948 when she was 35 years old. Nakba survivor and Palestine refugee living in Beach Camp, west of Gaza City. 

19 year old, Haneen Atallah, Hakma’s grandchild said: “Every day the family gathers around my grandmother and asks her to talk with us about Al-Swafeer. She used to tell us about the calm nights and nice weather there. She talks with us about the Nakba day and how the family fled from one village to another until they finally reached Gaza where they stayed in tents. I really can’t imagine how difficult these days must have been."