Palestinian girls take part in a swimming training session, in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, on Oct. 8, 2018. (Xinhua/Stringer)

GAZA, Oct. 10 (Xinhua) — Palestinian girl Fatima Abu Shadak from the Gaza Strip had the opportunity to develop her swimming skills as part of an initiative focusing on the victims of the recent Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014.

The 13-year-old girl was traumatized by the death of her father by shrapnel of an Israeli missile that landed near their home during the war which killed more than 2,000 Palestinians.

Joining such an initiative that aims at forming a female-only swimming team was a turning point to her.

Since the beginning of last year, a special team of girls has been formed after they were taught the basics of swimming and the necessary skills.

A Palestinian girl takes part in a swimming training session, in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, on Oct. 8, 2018. (Xinhua/Stringer)

Fatima took her place in the team of girls aged between nine and 15 and became eligible to compete in local swimming competitions.

“My involvement with the team allowed me to learn swimming and become a professional swimmer … This raised my morale and confidence,” the little girl told Xinhua.

Fatima added that she has the will and determination to move ahead with the dream to represent Palestine at the World Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.

“I also want to be a lifeguard in the future,” she said while smiling.

The girls’ team was formed under coach Amjad Tantish, who runs a cultural center for children that focuses on children and young people who are victims of the Israeli attacks.

“My main idea is to use swimming as a means of relieving the psychological stress suffered by children and young people, as swimming has many physical and moral benefits,” Tanish told Xinhua.

He explained that the team currently consists of 15 girls who have shown great development in their swimming skills, expressing hope that the team would have the opportunity to participate in outdoor competitions.

Palestinian girl take part in a swimming training session, in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, on Oct. 8, 2018.(Xinhua/Stringer)

Members of the swimming team, all from the town of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, meet three times a week for two hours at a time.

The trainings are usually divided to warm-ups and fitness exercises, before they train multiple swimming forms either individually or in groups.

The team has been supported by a German institution which covers part of the financial costs.

But the team still needs a lot to achieve the records that allow girls to participate in foreign competitions and the Olympics.

“We suffer from a lack of equipment, lack of an Olympic swimming pool in the Gaza Strip or a heated pool,” Hassan Moussa, a well-known Palestinian swimmer who coaches the team, told Xinhua.

Moussa expressed hope that the girls will find the needed support to continue to develop their skills.

“We need to continue not only for sports reasons, but also because this initiative focuses on the psychological support of war traumatized girls,” he said.

With great efforts, 12-year-old Rokaya al-Baba competed with her teammates in a race during a training session.

Like her peer Fatima, Rokaya lost her mother and brother during the 2014 Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.

“Swimming helps me discharge my negative energy and provide a unique emotional emptiness … I wish I could swim every day,” the girl enthusiastically said.


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