31 August 2012
When his father and eldest brother passed away, Khamis Zaqqout – a Palestine refugee living in the Gaza Strip – left his studies at an UNRWA school to support his family. He found work on a construction site in Israel, before the blockade limited employment opportunities for Gazans. Adding to his challenges, he suffered an accident on the job that left him paraplegic.
Wheelchair-bound and without a source of income, he soon became reliant on UNRWA’s services. Through the relief and social services programme, the Agency gave Zaqqout a basic level of support so he could concentrate on overcoming the challenges imposed by his disability. He and his family also receive food rations, an increasing need in the Gaza Strip as unemployment and poverty become more widespread among the refugee community.
That was two decades ago. Now 47 years old, Zaqqout is in London this week for the Paralymic Games, competing in shot put, discus, and javelin. In addition to honouring his country, he says he wants to change the image of people with disabilities both in Gaza and abroad.
Mohammed Fannouna, 32, is another Palestine refugee joining Zaqqout in representing Palestine at the Paralympic Games. Rising above the limits of his visual impairment and a lack of proper training and equipment in the Gaza Strip, he won a bronze in the Athens games and hopes to bring home another medal this week.
Despite overcoming many challenges throughout their lives, both Zaqqout and Fannouna believe there is much work to be done to make life easier for refugees in Gaza with disabilities. Zaqqout dreams of adequate training facilities for athletes with disabilities, while Fannouna hopes to one day travel freely from the blockaded territory to train elsewhere.
In the meantime, they will make do with the opportunities they have, and they have promised to make all of their supporters proud at the Games this week.