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Looking after myself and others in Gaza

Guest post by Emilia Sorrentino humanitarian aid worker in the Gaza Strip

I arrived in Gaza a few weeks after Vittorio Arrigoni’s murder*, where I joined a group of Italian aid workers based in Gaza City who were working for different Italian and international NGOs.  At the time, although it was not my first time  in Gaza, I immediately noticed that something had changed. Vittorio’s sudden death had affected everyone:  internationals, Gazans, aid workers, activists, and volunteers, as if the very little certainty, the trust, and the confidence that had been built, had suddenly vanished.  We felt overwhelmed by  a sense of loss, sorrow, and by a state of uncertainty. Of course I was affected as well by Vittorio’s death, and I still am. Like many others I am still looking for answers to that murder which probably will never come.

How to stay sane in a such insane place like Gaza?

How to overcome the sense of loss, the sorrow and the state of uncertainty?

Yoga helped me in that process. A few weeks after I started my job in Gaza I suggested to a group of aid workers to create a yoga class. I started practicing Okido yoga more or less 8 years ago in Italy, and since then I’ve  never stopped, wherever I am I look for a yoga classes to join in. What is special about my yoga experience in Gaza is that it ultimately unfolded from my own needs to stay sane in mind and in body in a very difficult context. I then realised that there were other people willing to join in, not because they were  fully aware of what yoga was, but because we were sharing the same needs. This is how “this journey” of self-care started for most of us, many participants are beginners, most of them are aid workers from different countries, including one Palestinian. Through the Okido yoga practice we started both an individual and collective ‘awareness journey’ through which we  are  in search for an internal balance (mind-body-soul), which could help us to deal with our daily difficulties and frustrations, to cope with the stress and adversities of being a humanitarian professional in a fragile, unstable and often violent context.

I do not consider myself as a yoga teacher, I am still a student willing to learn. As aid workers we are often exposed to stressful situations, psychological pressure, sometimes physical danger.  I think that we should never stop being ‘resilient’, and find ways to protect, and care for ourselves. This is what I am trying to do in Gaza through yoga, and I am very happy that other people have decided to join in, and share this journey of self-care and self-awareness. It was, and still is, a very enriching experience for me  as a professional and as a human being.


*Vittorio Arrigoni was an Italian reporter, writer, and activist. He was kidnapped and murdered by a fundamentalist group in Gaza on April 15, 2011.

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