A rare training opportunity for Gaza's amputees

A rare training opportunity for Gaza's amputees
A British-Irish amputee football coach and long-time player is working with the International Committee of the Red Cross to help train young amputees in the Gaza Strip.
3 min read
18 April, 2019
There are around 1,600 amputees receiving some sort of special care in Gaza [Rami Almeghari]
Scores of Gaza-based amputees have received a unique sports training at the hands of an international coach, who himself is an amputee. 

British-Irish coach and long-time football player, Simon Baker, has been training the youngsters, with support from the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

"It is a gradual process," Simon, founder of the Amputee Football Association (IAFA), tells The New Arab. "What we are mainly trying to do is help these youngsters with their development and help give them their self-confidence back. We want them to believe that they can be somebody again, and we want those who watch them play to look at them as normal sportsman and not men with disabilities."

He has been training dozens of amputee football players at the Mohammad Aldurra Football ground in central Gaza Strip.

In the Gaza Strip, there are around 1,600 amputees receiving some sort of special care. More than 80 people have been training with Simon in various fields including football players, coaches and referees. But the 53-year-old hopes that over time, these numbers will increase. 

"We hope to return in about six months to work with more people from various parts of Gaza. We want to create something fantastic and get these youngsters out," Simon says, adding that he plans to help the players participate in worldwide tournaments.  
British-Irish amputee football coach and long-time football player, Simon Baker, has been training the youngsters in Gaza [Rami Almeghari]

Amputees, who have received Simon's training, told The New Arab that this is a rare opportunity for them. 

Waheed Rabah, a 43-year-old amputee from the Maghazi refugee camp, spoke to The New Arab, as he rested following his morning training with Simon.

"We have the chance to feel like we are more than just players with crutches. We have been given the chance to learn something that may not have ever been possible," says Waheed, who lost his right leg 13 years ago during an Israeli army attack on the Maghazi refugee camp.

"Because of Simon, we now have this opportunity."

Other amputee trainees also expressed their pleasure with the international training they are currently receiving.

"Simon is teaching us new techniques, like fitness, tolerance and speed, which we did not know about before," 29-year-old Elian Abu Samra says. 

In the Gaza Strip, the only body that cares for people with disabilities is the Paralympics Committee. Since 2012, the committee has been unable to take part in international tournaments or contests.

"In 2012, we got silver and bronze medals at Arab and international levels as well as a gold medal in a Britain-based contest for athletics," Chairman of the Paralympics Committee in Gaza, Kamel Abu Hassan, told The New Arab.

Since 2006, the Israeli army has carried out several military attacks on the coastal territory of Gaza, killing thousands and leaving tens of thousands of others wounded. Furthermore, during peaceful border protests since March last year, at least 136 young men have now also been left amputated after attacks by Israeli army snipers, the Gaza-based health ministry has said.  

But they still have hope. 

"With this training we are now getting, we may one day be able to go outside of Gaza and represent Palestine at an international level," Elian says. 

Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza. 

Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari