Saddleworth swimmers go extra mile to raise funds

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A fund raising challenge set by the Saddleworth Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund to swim 25 miles – the length of Gaza – surpassed all expectations earlier this month, with supporters completing more than five times that distance to raise money to support women into higher education in Gaza and the West Bank.

Swimmers took part independently across the month of October with 15 supporters completing the event on Sunday November 3rd at Manor House Barn Pool, kindly donated by Jane Dronsfield and her family for the cause. 

They completed 17.5 miles between them over four hours, taking the combined effort to an eye watering 136 miles, raising £2500.00.  

At a social event held afterwards at Uppermill Methodist Church Hall, around 60 people gathered to hear why the charity chose a swim to raise money.

‘Controlling water means controlling life,’ explained committee member Magda Sachs. ‘The Israeli authorities tightly control the quantity of water from the aquifer that Palestinians in the Gaza strip can extract.’

Such is the control, Palestinians receive less than two thirds of the WHO recommendation of 100 litres per person per day. 

Dr Mona El Farra who lives and works in Gaza and was the inspiration for the fund, spoke first hand of the life threatening difficulties facing the Palestinian people due to poor access to clean fresh drinking water. As well as working with the scholarship fund in Gaza, she is also involved in efforts to implement water purification units in 56 schools and 30 kindergartens in order to combat severe renal problems that have increased from 600 cases last year to 900 today. 

Goods on sale at the social

She extended a warm thank you to everyone who supports the scholarship fund and pointed out how much this show of solidarity means to the students: ‘You give hope to the girls and their families. Hope is important for everybody, to hold onto so they are not destroyed by the occupation.’

She explained that of the 90 students that have graduated since the fund began in 2007, 70 per cent of those have successfully found jobs despite poor employment prospects in Palestine. She said many are involved in improving the lives of their community.

‘Nearly every day we receive messages thanking the Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund. Many families cannot afford even the transportation and clothes needed, the need is very high.’

Her comments were echoed by MP Debbie Abrahams who congratulated everyone for their support of the scholarship fund in what she described as ‘very dangerous times nationally and globally in the context of a fragile and precarious Middle East.’

Sara Gowan of the Sheffield Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund, to which the Saddleworth group is affiliated, explained that they were now able to fund a further three students in the West Bank and that this included additional support to help them travel to their University or provide accommodation because of the road blocks.

She quoted words from Nursing student Waed Bahjat Abu Sweerih: ‘I am determined to complete my education. By studying I benefit myself, my family and my village. I become stronger, more confident and more capable of facing the difficulties of life. The Scholarship Fund has helped me and filled my heart with hope again.’ 

With further donations from refreshments and home made cakes, stalls selling Palestinian goods, jewellery, second hand books and handmade crafts and preserves, the event raised nearly £3000 towards the fund.

It was not just a personal best for the group – some swimmers took to the water for the first time in years whilst others completed distances they had never attempted before.  One team of regular swimmers from Saddleworth did a grand total of 64 miles which included a total of 24 miles swum by Jenny Grindrod . Regular Scholarship Fund supporter Maggie Magner completed her first mile in her local pool and a fourteen year old in Manchester swam nearly 2 miles after school, raising money from family and friends.

More than 95% of all the money raised goes directly to the women to pay for their education.

University education in Gaza costs around £600 per year, but due to the widespread poverty this is beyond the means of many women. 

Families are struggling, often amid homelessness, to meet basic needs. Fewer families can now afford to pay for education, which is often prioritised for sons rather than daughters. 

‘Life in Gaza is intolerable on so many levels. Access to clean fresh water is a fundamental human right recognised by United Nations and yet denied to so many Palestinians,’ said Jacqui Greenfield one of the event’s organisers.

‘It is heartening that coming together to raise funds in this way, we are at least able to give support to women’s organisations in Palestine that see education as powerful tool for a better future with a direct link to the 58 students currently studying in Gaza and the West Bank’. 

*The Saddleworth Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund group meets regularly and welcomes new members.

If you are interested in joining the group, or supporting events, please email the group at saddleworth.pwsf@gmail.com.

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