Gaza Women Turn to Sports to Overcome Devastating Impact of Israeli Blockade

Gaza Women Turn to Sports to Overcome Devastating Impact of Israeli Blockade

Ms Fathma Qasha (centre) with Rahma Mu’ammar (right) and classmate Mona (left) hold the trophy for winning the school’s table-tennis tournament. © 2019 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan.

In an enclave that has been blockaded by Israel for 13 years running, Palestinian women have turned to sports as a means of self-empowerment and a refuge from the Traumatic upshots of the crippling siege.

Rahma Mu’ammar is one of Gaza’s refugee girls who have found in sports a means to enlighten her future. She is a ninth-grade student at the UNRWA al-Fukhari Preparatory Girls’ School in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip with a very special dream: she wants to establish a sports centre for women in the Gaza Strip.

UNRWA said that Rahma’s empowering idea to animate women in her community to engage in sports and exercise – something which is often frowned upon as a luxury activity in the embattled enclave, especially for women – came to her thanks to encouragement she received from her teacher, Fatma Qasha.

Ms Qasha, who has been working as a sports teacher for UNRWA for the past 16 years, invited Rahma to join her schools’ sport team after she noticed a certain hyperactivity and anger which manifested itself in episodes of destructive criticism vis-à-vis her fellow students: “I noticed that Rahma is overactive and has an energy that confounded the other girls. I thought that sports might be a way for her of using her energy in a positive way and that will eventually allow her to achieve self-realization.”

UNRWA said that in Gaza, thirteen years of blockade continue to have devastating humanitarian consequences on the daily lives of Palestine refugees. The feeling of despair and hopelessness experienced by many Palestine refugees, in particular youth, is increased by repeated cycles of violence and widespread insecurity, with negative consequences on the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of communities and individuals. Currently the Agency is extending individual and targeting group counseling to between 12,000 and 14,000 girls and boys in UNRWA schools in Gaza alone.

Sports is another healthy outlet to support the psychosocial well-being of children attending UNRWA schools in Gaza. As explained by Ms Qasha, “I believe that sports and exercise can be a good therapy for students who are facing difficulties expressing their ideas or for those who react violently. To this end, sports are not only important for a healthier body but, by reducing stress, they can help children make better decisions.”

Rahma herself recalls the impact that sports has had on her life: “When Ms Qasha asked me to join the school’s sport team, I felt very enthusiastic and motivated, although I wasn’t sure about my ability.   I first played as a goalie for the school’s football team and, when the project ended, I joined the school’s table-tennis team. I won the school competition and then I was upgraded to play for the Khan Younis governorate and I won the first-place honor.”

Like many refugee girls in Gaza, Rahma’s experience with sports has helped illuminate a path for her: “After joining the school sports team, I was very clear about what I will do in future. I will establish a sports centre for women in my neighborhood.”

Ms. Fatma Qasha is one of 73 teachers in two UNRWA schools in East Khan Younis  (the UNRWA al-Fukhari Elementary Co-Ed School and the UNRWA al-Fukhari Preparatory Girls School) who were supported through a generous contribution from the Government of Norway to help safeguard inclusive, quality education for  approximately 2,800 Palestine refugee students for the 2018/2019 academic year.

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