Reflecting on Five Years Running the DC Gaza 5K

Today I ran my 5th Consecutive Gaza 5K in Washington, DC!!!

Year Five of the DC Gaza 5k warrants some deep reflections, but this post will have to be brief. I have written seldom on this blog the past year, as I’ve been consumed by my doctorate studies… but I remain committed to sharing some brief reflections on significant moments while I make progress on closing that critical chapter of my life…

Today was certainly another “breathtaking”, beautiful, and empowering experience, touching on the intersecting elements of two causes that are near to my heart: helping the people of Palestine and Mental Health.

Image may contain: 10 people, people smiling, outdoor

The DC Gaza 5K raises funds for the UNRWA Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP), which provides mental health counseling to thousands of refugee children and their families in the Gaza Strip. UNRWA was able to raise over $140,000 from the DC Gaza 5K fundraiser this year, to address the critical Mental Health Crisis in Gaza. The funds will provide necessary psycho-social support to Palestinian Refugee children and their families, who continue to endure significant psychological trauma from the Gaza Blockade, surely a “forgotten crisis” within a crisis…

Image may contain: 1 person, crowd and outdoor

One highlight was the presence of Two UNRWA student “parliamentarians”, who were Palestinian Refugees in Syria and Lebanon (14 year old boy, and 15 year old Girl) at the event. They flew in just for these events and had to leave for the airport immediately after the race. Prior to the race, they spoke on behalf of all the voices of the children of Palestine, about their fears, trauma, and hopes. It was truly moving, heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, which helped ignite the spirit of the race!

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing, tree, outdoor and nature

Even though the DC Gaza5K is a race/competition, it doesn’t feel that way with this particular 5K, as I am always inspired, uplifted, and empowered by the infectious and magnetic solidarity for the people of Palestine, and in this beautiful crowd….

It was the hardest year running for me…because of all the health complications I have faced upon returning from Pakistan on the sprint towards completing my doctorate. And the Gaza 5K is like the Ramadan holiday, it comes once a year, reminds us to think outside ourselves, and you tell yourself every year, you are going to run/fast the whole thing…and do your best to make it happen…but you always fall short!

So for me the miracle was simply making it out there in the morning, in spite of my health and terrible insomnia. I was already smiling the moment I woke up at 6am…proud of myself despite having only 4-5 hours of undisturbed sleep. And I still jogged most of the 5K, especially the first half and “soccer-mom”-power-walked uphill for the rest. And then had a little energy left to sprint the finish line with a fist in the air and a dorky smile on my sweaty face!

Admittedly, the part of my body that hurts the most after the 5K, are my cheeks for smiling so much throughout… If you saw the dork in BIB Number 50 excessively smiling, taking two pumps of her inhaler prior to the race and then after, that was Warrior Queen ETK! Wouldn’t let my Asthma hold me back!

So I guess Placing 287 out of 564 overall is pretty good considering! Having gained 12-15 lbs (what I call the “PhD-15” for ABD status Candidates!) since last year, I didn’t think it would be easy… Its been six months since I returned from Pakistan, but I blame the Peshawari Chapli Kabaabs, chicken biryani, and chai paape from the 5 months of fieldwork, which I proudly carried with me through the finish line today! Still seem to be pumping through my veins..  I think it was a much needed at this time in my life….

And I’m enlightened and determined to push forward!

For an experience like this serves as a beautiful reminder to take care of ourselves in order to be in a position to help others... As I said last year for this occasion, I hope to be able to have the opportunity to give more to this movement in the future….

This year I stuck around briefly for the Dabke dance party and award ceremony afterwards…

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, grass, outdoor and nature

AND I finally got to introduce myself to one of the key organizers after the race, the wonderful Laila Mokhiber! (Seen in photo with me below).. It was nice to have the opportunity to thank her for all their efforts, and tell her I’m a PhD Candidate and that I really appreciate this 5K being a part of my journey as well…. & She generously gave me a hug and a selfie!

Image may contain: 2 people, including Elsa Talat Khwaja, people smiling, closeup and outdoor

Much gratitude to UNRWA for giving us an empowering medium to express our care and love and recognition for Palestine!

I am grateful that I have included this 5K as part of my journey and I hope I am in the position to do more for this cause in the future, especially for the Mental Health of those in difficult circumstances, in places of conflict and turmoil…

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, closeupIn my post last year, I shared how I wanted this to be the year I pass the finish line for my doctorate too. But you can’t always control these things.  Admittedly, this past summer, was the hardest summer I have gone through in my doctorate studies, let alone my life. I don’t even have the words to express it. And this song became my anthem to pick me up at times, as I am sure it has for many others: ….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPXIgEAGe4U

No matter what continues to be thrown at me, I remain hopeful for a “happy ending” to my research…and my very small part/contribution in the larger narrative… And causes like the Gaza 5K remind me of why I must work in/for development and human rights…that the efforts towards investing in my education has a higher purpose, something bigger than myself … a reminder of the importance of humility and striving to build character, and a collective consciousness towards the notion of public service… and a reminder on why we should always remain faithful…and never give up on our dreams… especially if it involves a service to others.

Thanks again to all for supporting and donating this year and over the past 5 years of my participation… you can continue to donate to this cause here: https://getinvolved.unrwausa.org/fundraiser/2280215 or through https://www.unrwausa.org/ ….

Whether or not I am able to make it out next year…participating in the UNRWA DC Gaza 5K the past 5 years has been very special to me. And I will always hold this event close to my heart. The run has been an important part of my life during my professional and personal journey here in the Washington, DC area. By helping others have access to mental health, you are reminding yourself of the need to take care of your own. Being involved with this has brought great joy and peace for me over the years, as it has for others. And the important thing to remember is that it has and will continue to make a difference in people’s lives.

Image may contain: text

Peace, Love, Warmth, and Blessings,

your Elsa

Warrior KQueen

“When you find yourself in the thickness of pursuing a goal or a dream, stop only to rest. Momentum builds success.” – Suzy Kassem

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through, no matter what.”
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
– Maya Angelou

“Only from the heart can you touch the sky.” – Rumi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *