Dubai climbers rise to the challenge for Gaza children

Six amateur climbers from Dubai aim to raise money for the charity Palestine Association for Children's Encouragement of Sports

Six amateur climbers from Dubai are trekking 4,100m in the Himalayas to benefit a sports charity that works with children in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan.

The team has raised nearly $14,000 of their target sum of $20,000 for the charity Palestine Association for Children's Encouragement of Sports (PACES). The money raised will be donated to the charity’s Gaza Appeal.

After setting off on October 1, the climbers – Zeina Maktabi, Tarek Saidi, Leila Khatib, Amr al Masri, Alaa Khorshid and Deema Khoury – plan to scale 4,100m on a nine-day trek to the base camp of the Annapurna mountain in Nepal. The group approached the charity after learning about PACES’ work through Facebook.

PACES launched its Gaza Appeal in July to restart its stalled sports programmes for Palestinian youth in the territory. It also hopes to double the number of young Gazans reached from 1,000 to 2,000 children. The money raised by the trekkers will add to the £37,500 ($60,895) already raised by the campaign.

“We thought there is more need for programmes in Gaza [now] because of the situation [following the conflict during the summer],” said Hani Qattan, founder of PACES. “More kids are on the streets, so we need to provide more sanctuaries for them.”

PACES halted its programme in Gaza during the recent 50-day conflict, which left some 2,100 Palestinians and 73 Israelis dead, and devastated Gaza’s infrastructure. Some of the money raised by the climb will go towards building basic sports pitches if the old facilities – currently being assessed – are deemed unsafe or unusable.

PACES provides sports programmes for marginalised and refugee children in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan. The charity trains and employs coaches to provide after-school training in football, basketball and volleyball to children between seven and 17-years-old, three times a week. Each $500 raised funds one coach and one assistant coach for a group of 25 children, for one month.

The sports provide a platform to teach the children about health issues – such as personal hygiene and brushing their teeth – and the importance of education.

“Thousands of houses were demolished, so not only are these kids traumatised by the war but some of them don’t even have homes anymore or schools. We need to provide safe havens, sanctuaries, where they can come and play,” said Qattan. “The recovery process hopefully starts then.”

Close to 24,000 children have been through PACES’ programme since 2006, 50 per cent of which were girls. Currently, 7,000 Palestinian children in the region benefit from the programme, which provides employment to some 636 coaches.