The message of peace was alive and well in Dera’a on 14 October as participants in the annual Pedal for Peace Bike Ride rode into Dera’a city to promote their message of goodwill and non-violence. Arriving at Dera’a Refugee Camp, the cyclists were warmly welcomed by a large contingent of flag and banner-waiving women from the refugee community.
On the fifth anniversary of the Pedal for Peace bike ride, Adnan Melhem, Area Officer (South), received the cyclists and gave them a brief on the current socio-economic conditions of Palestine refugees living in Syria. In acknowledging their achievement, he commented that: “UNRWA knows a thing or two about reaching important milestones. This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of UNRWA and we thank Pedal for Peace for being here to help us promote human development work for Palestinians living in the region,” Melhem said.
The cyclists and the refugee women and children of the Dera’a Camp mingled, reminiscing about the past and sharing stories of hope for future peace in the Middle East. The cyclists emphasised the peace-building mission of their adventure. One cyclist remarked that, “our purpose was to cycle for peace, to deliver a worldwide message that cultural awareness was the way to unify the world.”
Soon after taking the opportunity to rest and meet with the locals, a crowd soon formed around the Palestinian refugee, Haneefa Abu Jaas, born in 1928, as she told vivid tales of growing up in the Ein Ghazal village in Haifa. She told stories of times past, her marriage, and her three children, as well as of the community she has since left behind, saying: “Our lives have always been very difficult.” She shared traditional songs from her homeland, bringing many to tears as they were moved by her heartfelt anecdotes. Haneefa declared that her people do not like “blood, war, and death; we like peace and joy” and that she dreams of the day when she can return to her homeland and kiss its soil. She then asked the cyclists to send her regards to her fellow countrymen and women when they ride into Jerusalem.
The event, organized by the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs in cooperation with the Follow the Women international organisation and MTN Cellular Company in Syria, ended on a positive and uplifting note, as the refugees bid the cyclists farewell. The group then cycled onto Jordan, continuing their mission of bringing hope and peace to all those who they meet.
Since 2004, several hundred female cyclists have gathered to ride through Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine in order to promote greater awareness and understanding of the conflict in the Middle East. The event strives to empower women to take an active role in the peace process and to campaign for the end of violence in the region.
Text by Haley Bobseine and photos by Adnan Melhem