x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Cyclists gear up for Gaza Strip fund-raiser

Twenty three riders are expected to take part on the Pisa-to-Rome trip to raise money for education and construction programmes run by a UK-based Palestinian-aid charity.

Nohma Kaaki shops for a bicycle to ride from Pisa to Rome to raise funds for the people of the Gaza Strip.
Nohma Kaaki shops for a bicycle to ride from Pisa to Rome to raise funds for the people of the Gaza Strip.

Some of the cyclists have not been on a bike for 20 years, but to raise aid for the Gaza Strip they are willing to pedal from Pisa to Rome. They hope the 340km journey, part of a Cycling for Gaza initiative, will raise £100,000 (Dh564,000) they hope.

"When there is a cause, you make the effort and time for it," said Nohma Kaaki, one of the riders. Although the 29-year-old Lebanese architect and Dubai resident said she has not been on a bicycle since she was nine, when she heard about Cycling for Gaza, she instantly joined and cancelled travel plans for her Eid holiday. The initiative began last year, after the Israeli military incursion of Gaza, when a group of 25 cycled to Paris from London to raise awareness about the suffering in the coastal enclave. Funds were collected for healthcare projects before and during the trip. The £90,000 they collected was used for projects by Medical Aid for Palestinians.

This year the funds collected by the team - now at 23 riders - will be spent on education and construction programmes by the Welfare Association, a non-profit UK charity created in 1993 to support Palestinian communities. The team will cycle ride from September 29 to October 2, speaking to people along the way about the situation in Gaza and collecting donations. The goal for each year's ride is to get a little bit closer to the Gaza Strip itself.

"I was involved in charity projects before: regular fund-raising events and donations campaigns," but nothing like the bike ride, Ms Kaaki said. She said she always wanted to do something to improve the situation in the Gaza Strip, so when she heard about the initiative she felt the need to participate, even though she believed it would be extremely difficult to be fit enough for the challenge in less than two months.

"It is supporting a cause in a fun and healthy way, and I think my strong will and belief in the issue will help me continue." First, though, she had to get a bicycle. And that only happened last week. "I was so excited, I went out on a ride on it immediately," she said. "I haven't been able to practice much before because I live in Dubai and work in Abu Dhabi. Also, during Ramadan I was fasting so I had to wait until after iftar. So I have only been doing spinning classes in the gym."

Seif Sammakieh, a 27-year-old Saudi banker, and his wife, Lulu Sakka, who are behind the idea, are not professional cyclers either. "I was with a group from Lebanon United [a charity], climbing Kilamanjaro to raise money for building schools in Lebanon after the 2006 war and we were able to raise over 100,000 pounds, and that's how the idea initiated. Because after the war on Gaza, my wife, Lulu, who is from Gaza, wanted to do any kind of challenge to raise awareness," Mr Sammakieh said. He said he was optimistic the team would be able to meet its donation goal.

Tamara Ben-Halim, a 25-year-old Palestinian-Libyan filmmaker who lives in London, another founder of Cycling for Gaza, reflected on some of the mishaps their group faced during its mission last year. "None of us were fit; it was a big thing for all of us," she said. "Everything that could go wrong went wrong on the first day. We lost a member of our team and we couldn't get through to him because his phone was off."

Their first day ended with their ferry being delayed for an hour, which only added to the organisers' stress. But, Ms Ben-Halim said, she never regretted her decision, especially with the aid of some members' comic relief. "We were waiting for the ferry, and then a Pakistani-Scottish member started teaching everybody the Scottish dance," she said. hdajani@thenational.ae Donations can be made at www.justgiving.com/cycling4gaza