UAE cyclists gear up for ride in aid of Palestine

Altogether about 50 cyclists from all over the world will start their journey on July 24 in the Dutch city of Alkmaar, finishing three days later in The Hague.

DUBAI // A group of 25 UAE residents are taking part in a cycling challenge in the Netherlands to raise money to aid children in Palestine.

Altogether about 50 cyclists from all over the world will start their journey on July 24 in the Dutch city of Alkmaar, finishing three days later in The Hague, where the International Criminal Court is based.

The final destination for the Cycling4Gaza challenge was chosen to highlight Palestine’s joining of the human rights court as an official member in April.

Now in its seventh year, the challenge aims to bring attention to the ongoing situation in Gaza and, in particular, “the dire need to provide mental health care to children there, an issue that has so far been ignored”, said Miral Alaraj, one of the organisers.

“It is really something that is often sidelined because of the more immediate physical needs of the children,” said Ms Alaraj, a former UAE resident.

“There is a massive number of children who have witnessed three wars so far. They are in desperate need of help that is not available.”

Organisers hope to raise US$286,000 (Dh1.05 million) for the Gaza Mental Healthcare Project in partnership with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF), a US-based charity that provides medical help to Palestinian children. The programme will train social workers in the Gaza Strip on how to identify and screen children that require care and provide them with treatment through collaboration with other local organisations.

So far about $180,000 has been raised, said Ms Alaraj.

Among the riders taking part from the UAE is Sara Amighi.

“It is a great cause and I think it deserves a lot more visibility,” said the 31-year-old Iranian, who has been living in Dubai for more than eight years. “We all grew up in peace and we all forget the toll conflict has had on many children in Palestine.”

The investment services professional is looking forward to the ride and even signed up her friend Yasmine Saade as a surprise birthday gift.

“It is the best gift ever,” said Ms Saade, 29, who works in the marketing department for a major UAE airline. “Not only had I been looking to do something like this but I also really love the Netherlands and had wanted to go together.”

The pair will be joined by their friend Leen Qablawi. Preparing for the event, in which the 50 cyclists will cover 300 kilometres in three days, has not been easy with the hot weather in Dubai, but the friends are managing by taking spinning and yoga classes indoors.

Also joining the team will be Dr Bahar Hashemi, a psychiatrist and current lead of the Gaza Mental Healthcare Project, as well as Steve Sosebee, founder and chief executive of the PCRF. The group will also include Mutussam Abu Karsh, an 18-year-old double amputee from Gaza, and Adham Balboul, 14, a cancer patient from the West Bank.

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