Read WANN: "Disability No Barrier for True Athletes in Gaza"

We Are Not Numbers (WANN)

Written by: Fadi Al-Naji

I was eager to meet the 20-year-old disabled athlete, Ahmed Abu Namous. I heard about him from Eid Shaqoura, director of the Al-Basma Club. Eid told me about Ahmed’s strong spirit and his fierce refusal to let his disability impede him from achieving his goals.

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

A term that means “smile” in Arabic, Al-Basma is a Palestinian nonprofit established in 2005 by Eid to bring parasports to Gaza. His ultimate mission: to develop the skills of people with disabilities and reintegrate them into all aspects of life—particularly sports and recreation. And with the number of amputees created by the violent Israeli response to Gaza’s Great Return March at a staggering 54, his “business” is booming.

When I arrived at the school yard in Beit Lahia—a town in the northern corner of the Gaza Strip—I heard the coach whistle during a wheelchair-basketball match. One of the players, situated well in front of the basket, took two throws—with the ball sailing in successfully. The crowd erupted, whistling and applauding raucously. I realized it was him—Ahmed Abu Namous!

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

Ahmed’s right leg was amputated in 2013. He was just 15 at the time and thought he could slip right through the fence separating Gaza from Israel. However, the second he got too close, he was shot with an exploding bullet by an Israeli sniper.

On that day, he lost his leg, not his love of sport or his determination to play. And his drive paid off: Ahmed was named best football (soccer) player in a 2017 competition for disabled people in Gaza and is working hard to become a professional [para] basketball player so he can participate in global contests held in Turkey (assuming he is allowed to leave).

Ahmed said,“Joining the Al-Basma Club was the turning point in my life after my injury. I had little contact with the community until I found it. Watching other players deal with their hardships taught me a lesson about my own suffering. Now, I can compete even with normal players. Whenever I play basketball, I feel strong and free.’’

In addition to wheelchair basketball, Al-Basma organizes competitions featuring volleyball, marathons, javelin and swimming. Periodically, the players train with and even compete against able athletes, to better integrate them socially.  

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

“Every detail of their daily life is a challenge,’’ said Eid Shaqoura. “Our main goal of this club is to work with love and spirit. Disabled people shouldn’t feel ‘odd’ or like outcasts. We believe the best way to accelerate their rehabilitation is by helping them integrate into society and make sure their voices and views are heard.’’

Mohammed Dahman is one of the basketball coaches and manages a team of five disabled players.

“These disabled players are learning fast. They have the capability to sharpen their skills and win many contests in the future. But our major challenge is a lack of equipment, courts and wheelchairs,’’ Dahman said. Recently, the club asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to donate wheelchairs for more than 40 disabled girls.

Eid agreed, saying, “A lack of funding is the organization’s main obstacle. International donor organizations want to contribute or finance food and clothes. But activities like sports are important too, to build self-esteem and pride.”

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

Photo by: Mohammed Mansour

In addition to a shortage of proper equipment, the funding shortfall also means the club cannot accept more than its current 150 members.

Due to the lack of funding, I can’t work properly. For instance, I can’t achieve my suggested project to let our players play in public areas such as squares and corniche. It’s a simple project which doesn’t need much funds, but I struggle to find enough donors.   

Another challenge faced by the club and its members is a lack of electricity. Currently, power is on only an average of four hours per day due to a shortage of fuel.

However, thanks to t Rebuilding Alliance, solar-powered lights have been donated to the Al-Basma Club as part of the “It’s Time for Light” campaign. These “Light of Hope” (Nur al-Amal) solar lamps have been distributed to all of Al-Basma’s members.

“Now I can light up my room when I return home and can give up using candles, which are dangerous because they cause fires,’’Ahmed said. “In a way, it’s a symbol. It’s a light of hope like the club has been for me.”