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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!

Going the extra mile for Palestine refugees in 2018

Going the extra mile for Palestine refugees in 2018

The end of the year is often synonymous with reflection, gratitude, how far we’ve come, and how far we aim to go in the following year. At UNRWA USA, we are reflecting upon some of the incredible supporters that went the extra mile (literally) to show their solidarity with UNRWA and the Palestine refugees it serves.

One such supporter was James Crosby, who ran the Palestine Marathon in March of this year. To run 26.2 miles is an incredible feat on its own, but James chose to add on an extra challenge by making the race a part of a campaign to raise funds and awareness to work in the Middle East.

James is not the only one who hit the pavement as an act of solidarity. George Zeidan, the co-founder of the Palestine Marathon (the very race James ran in 2018) ran the NYC Marathon in response to the current US administration cutting all funding to UNRWA, and Udi Pladdott ran the NYC Marathon and the NYC Gaza 5K to raise money for UNRWA’s mental health programming for refugee kids in the Gaza Strip.

We caught up with James to see why he ran the race as a fundraiser, what he learned while being in Palestine, and how the experience of changed him.


[UNRWA USA] : What made you decide to run the Palestine Marathon? 

I also learned how much freedom I enjoy in my own life, freedom of movement, freedom of enterprise, freedom to live my life as I please and provide for my family. This is something I have completely taken for granted until now. Palestinians have so little freedom, due to checkpoints, permit systems, restrictions on travel, detention with no charges, and so on. I have now witnessed this with my own eyes and will be spreading the message about what they have to go through.
— James Crosby


[James]: For a long time, I've had an interest in the Middle East and particularly Palestine. The people there have suffered such terrible injustices for so long. So when I started looking for a marathon to take part in and saw this event happening on a running website I immediately started putting the wheels in motion to make it happen. I had always considered Palestine off-limits and not a place that I could just visit for tourism purposes, particularly as I had read that Israel make it very difficult to enter the West Bank and Gaza. But seeing the Palestine marathon event made me realize that it is possible after all. So all this pent-up, somewhat subconscious desire to go suddenly erupted into my consciousness. And once I get an idea into my head, there is little that can detract me from it! 

[UNRWA USA] : Why did you decide to make it a fundraiser for UNRWA?


Once I had decided to take part in the marathon, my next thought was to raise money whilst doing it. I do quite a few events  but with the Palestine marathon I really wanted to raise money for a cause that was relevantSo I started to look up refugee organizations involved in the region and of course quickly came across UNRWA. I read up about the history of the organization, and then started to see how I could actually raise funds for them. The US National Committee’s website was particularly well geared up towards fundraising, which made the process very easy.

[UNRWA USA]: What did you learn in your experience running the race?


[James]: I learned that the Palestinians, despite all their troubled past and often negative portrayal in the media, are incredibly open, hospitable and welcoming. They have had to endure such unimaginable horrors, and yet open their arms to visitors from around the world. I also learned how much freedom I enjoy in my own life, freedom of movement, freedom of enterprise, freedom to live my life as I please and provide for my family. This is something I have completely taken for granted until now. Palestinians have so little freedom, due to checkpoints, permit systems, restrictions on travel, detention with no charges, and so on. I have now witnessed this with my own eyes and will be spreading the message about what they have to go through.

Highlights from James’ trip

[UNRWA USA]: Do you have any interesting stories or anecdotes that you'd like to share from your conversations with Palestine refugees and/or your observations/experiences while visiting Aida Camp?

[James]: Our guide Mohamed, who led us on a tour of the Aida refugee camp, was such an inspiring person. He had lived almost his entire life in the refugee camp, and despite his meager surroundings and lack of resources available to him, managed to keep focused on his education. He is studying to become a lawyer, and hopes to complete his education in the UK. He shared with us a harrowing tale which gave a very moving insight into daily life as a Palestinian. In order to get from the refugee camp to his school, he has to pass through a cemetery. Many of the members of his family are buried there, and so it holds a very special place in his heart. Unfortunately, the cemetery also adjoins the separation wall which passes through and divides Palestinian neighborhoods of Bethlehem. From one of the intimidating watchtowers along the wall, gun-toting Israeli soldiers regularly throw their rubbish into the cemetery, including bottles filled with urine. To see this beautiful cemetery defiled with these piles of rubbish and yellow bottles honestly brought a tear to my eye. This utter lack of respect towards fellow humans I found absolutely shocking.

[UNRWA USA]: What message would you like to share with the world about Palestine and/or Palestine refugees after participating in this incredible event?

[James]: Book your flight today! It is such a wonderful part of the world, so rich in history and culture. The food, the people, the architecture, the religious sites, the museums - Palestine has everything and I felt completely safe the entire time.  I am so glad I got the chance to go there myself and at the same time hopefully bring some awareness of the situation to my friends and family through the fundraising. It was a truly unforgettable experience.


Thank you to James and all the other fundraisers who helped fill UNRWA’s massive funding gap left by the US government’s funding freeze. Make sure to keep an eye out for others running and fundraising for Palestine refugees in 2019!

UNRWA changed my life and the lives of many people around me: Dr. Shadi Battah's UNRWA story

UNRWA changed my life and the lives of many people around me: Dr. Shadi Battah's UNRWA story

Dr. Shadi Battah is an American doctor, Palestine refugee, and former UNRWA beneficiary. He is a contributing guest writer to the Voices of UNRWA blog, where he shared the role UNRWA played in his and his family’s lives.


My name is Shadi Battah, and this is my UNRWA refugee story. It’s a story that both represents the unsettlingly common narrative of Palestinian displacement, loss, and reconstruction, but also my family’s unique journey from our homeland in Palestine.

Like many Palestine refugees, UNRWA has been a part of my life and the life of my parents. Both of my parents are UNRWA students and beneficiaries. My dad was born in Ein Karem (Southwest of Jerusalem) in 1941. During the Nakba, my grandparents and family were forced to flee to Jordan in 1948. My dad lived in a refugee camp until 1957 when he left to pursue an education and hope for a better life. It was his education that gave him the foundation and confidence to take this step. All his elementary and middle school education were at UNRWA schools. Through hard work, he ultimately became an electrical engineer.

My mother was born in Deir El Balah refugee camp in Gaza in 1951. Gaza was a very different place then. She was an UNRWA student and beneficiary from birth until she left to Egypt to pursue her education in the late 60s. Ultimately, she became a sociologist. I remember while growing up, she would repeatedly tell me about the UNRWA preventive health services and the daily milk, vitamins, and meals that she had received during her years at UNRWA schools. At this point, they were very poor, and as a result, the nutritional support she’d received at UNRWA schools was vital to her physical and mental growth.

Flash forward to 1978. I was born in Lebanon at the height of the civil war and we fled the country to Jordan where I spent my early childhood. We spent a couple of years in Kuwait and we were vacationing in Jordan for the summer when Iraq occupied Kuwait. This was a severe blow to my dad’s career. In the aftermath, my family faced severe economic hardships. Despite being a middle class family in terms of level of education and aspirations, we lived at the poverty line (and frequently slipped below it) through my teenage years.

I was enrolled in UNRWA’s Al Jofeh elementary school, in southeast Amman from the 7th through 10th grade. I can’t emphasize the importance of what UNRWA has provided me during those formative years: despite over-crowded conditions (40 students or more per teacher) and limited resources, I received an excellent education that prepared me for an uncertain future.

I have fond memories to this day of my math teacher Sameeh, English teacher Sami, and many other very dedicated staff that managed to steer the ship and deliver good results, despite all the odds. This staff, refugees themselves, was exceptional and received employment opportunities through UNRWA. Some of the experiences I had during those formative years included correspondence with a twin school in Sweden that sponsored a science day at the modest lab we had then. This dramatically helped and positively impacted me and my fellow students. This relationship became very important for my personal story down the line. I finished the 10th grade with top scores, and I was instructed by UNRWA staff to keep up the good work and come back at the end of high school (12th grade) to apply for a scholarship to help with my college expenses.

UNRWA’s work is vital on so many levels but above all it gives Palestinian kids education and hope for a better future. In my opinion, hope is as important as water and food and is pivotal to maintaining stability and peace.

shadi’s family + childhood

Though I’ve worked hard, I definitely hit a lucky streak. I don’t believe that the education, healthcare, dreams and hopes of the most vulnerable Palestinians should depend on the luck factor. That’s why UNRWA’s work is so important. I’m forever indebted to UNRWA. UNRWA changed my life and the lives of many people around me.

I completed my 11th and 12th grades at a public school supported by the government in Jordan. Jordan has been my home and a country that has supported Palestinians immensely and with unwavering commitment throughout the years. Again I scored high, but I have to say that I was very frustrated and sad at the end of high school, as I didn’t see how I’ll be able to cover any tuition expenses considering the lack of resources.

In this moment of need, my UNRWA sister school in Sweden made a one time financial contribution that allowed me to register for medical school in the fall semester of 1996. The cost of tuition for the entire year was about $1500, which is negligible compared to costs in the United States, but nonetheless, it was an insurmountable amount for me and my family at that point. That contribution allowed me to get my foot in the door and gave me time to circle back with the UNRWA education division and apply for a tuition scholarship. When the grants were announced early in 1997, I was very happy to learn that I was a recipient of the scholarship. It was this scholarship that carried me through medical school. There was no way I could have attended medical school without UNRWA’s financial support.

One thing lead to another and I ended up moving to the United States in 2004 to pursue training in internal medicine. I further specialized in pulmonary and critical care, which has allowed me to enjoy a very rewarding relationship with my patients and community.

Shadi with his wife Carisa and two sons Sami and Ramzi

Shadi with his wife Carisa and two sons Sami and Ramzi

I feel fortunate to have continued to develop and prosper in my personal and professional life, and my successes helped me support many people in my circle, whether in my immediate community or thousands of miles away. I've recently decided to become an American citizen as I've always believed in the core values including "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and how those notions apply to individuals and nations alike.

I believe that the most vulnerable Palestinians deserve to live in freedom and have the chance to pursue their dreams and hopes, as well. UNRWA's work and support makes this possible, and I'm a living example of how UNRWA's work not only benefits Palestinians but also Americans and people around the world. With the opportunity and support that UNRWA provides, UNRWA alumni are more likely to become productive world citizens. UNRWA’s work is vital on so many levels but above all it gives Palestinian kids education and hope for a better future. In my opinion, hope is as important as water and food and is pivotal to maintaining stability and peace.

Though I’ve worked hard, I definitely hit a lucky streak. I don’t believe that the education, healthcare, dreams and hopes of the most vulnerable Palestinians should depend on the luck factor. That's why UNRWA's work is so important. I'm forever indebted to UNRWA. UNRWA changed my life and the lives of many people around me.


More about Shadi

I spent most of my life in Jordan where I attended UNRWA’s Al Jofeh school from 7th to 10th grade. I finished high school with honors from Al-Hussein College High School in Amman, and enrolled in medical school at Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid. My tuition was mostly paid for by an UNRWA scholarship, without which I would not been able to attend college. I graduated in 2002, and shortly afterwards, I decided to come to the US to pursue higher medical education. I finished my residency in internal medicine from Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati in 2007, and then I went to University of New Mexico Hospitals in Albuquerque where I did a fellowship in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. Afterwards, I moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where I joined a private practice as an Intensivist. I've been providing critical medical care to Alaskans for the past 8 years or so both at the bedside and via telemedicine platforms. I'm currently enrolled in the Certificate of Physician Leadership program and will be starting work on my MBA from the University of Massachusetts in 2019.

I got married to my wonderful wife Carisa in 2013, and we have two boys and are expecting another baby soon. We live in Alaska and spend a significant amount of time in Northern California, where my wife's family lives. In my free time I read, play chess, and join local pick-up soccer games. I have a keen interest in startups, especially in the healthcare space and in high tech.

Founder of Palestine Marathon Runs NYC Marathon to Raise Money for UNRWA USA

Founder of Palestine Marathon Runs NYC Marathon to Raise Money for UNRWA USA

This weekend, more than 50,000 runners will hit the streets of New York for the annual NYC Marathon. Among them will be George Zeidan, a Palestinian Christian refugee and Fulbright scholar who is running to raise awareness and funds to support UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) work in the Middle East.

This cause is personal to George. He was born in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, where his mother is still a UNRWA employee. After graduating from college in Murfreesboro, North Carolina, George returned to Bethlehem and co-founded the first Right to Movement Palestine Marathon in 2013, the only marathon in the world that requires runners to complete four laps on the same 10-kilometer path due to lack of space and movement restrictions. He is now living in Los Angeles and pursuing a master’s degree at USC thanks to his Fulbright fellowship.

Following the US administration’s decision to completely de-fund UNRWA in August 2018, George capitalized on his love for running to raise awareness and funds to the Agency that has so deeply impacted the lives of people in his family and his broader Palestinian community.

Running and advocating for Palestinian rights are my greatest passions. As one of the co-founders of the Right to Movement marathon in Bethlehem, the occupied West Bank, I’ve seen how running can create a movement of global proportions. So, while in the US, I want to follow in this tradition and use this race [NYC Marathon] as a way to make an impact in the lives of 5+ million refugees.
— George Zeidan, co-founder of Right to Movement + fundraiser for UNRWA USA

UNRWA was established in 1949 and provides food, healthcare, and education to more than 5 million refugees across the Middle East. But now these vital services are in jeopardy following the funding cut.

Support George as he runs 26.2 miles for Palestine refugees and help fill this funding gap. If you’re in NYC this weekend for the race (Sunday, November 4), you can cheer George on in person, or you can contribute a donation to his fundraising page and share words of support!


Interested in supporting UNRWA USA’s work? You can but certainly don’t have to run a marathon to do so. Set up a fundraising page and help fund UNRWA and show your solidarity with Palestine refugees.

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: