In the alleys of a refugee camp, a commitment to fitness

The United Nations has sponsored a fitness center in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan. The $7 membership fee is steep, but residents are paying up.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

David Fox is wearing shorts as he confidently strides through the alleys of the Gaza Camp, one of 10 refugee camps set up in Jordan to house Palestinians displaced between 1948 and 1968. He greets store owners and children at play. “I’ll get some flak for the shorts,” he says.

For Mr. Fox, however, the exposed legs – a taboo for men and women above a certain age – are part of his nightly uniform. For more than a year, the former-marine-turned-community-worker has trained young men in his self-financed, United Nations-sponsored fitness center. The Gaza Camp Fitness Center provides a weight-training room and boxing room for local residents, with men’s memberships costing about $7 per month.

That is a steep price here in the poorest camp in a network of impoverished refugee quarters where unemployment is high and social services are few. But the Gaza Camp Fitness Center has gained a loyal membership, with nightly weight-training classes and weekend children’s programs.

Recently the center began promoting women-only hours. Middle-aged women often need permission from a husband or son to leave the house, let alone gather at a gym.

Gym manager Anas Backroun, a lifelong camp resident, was hired by Fox shortly after he gave hitchhiking Fox a lift, takes the long view. “We can work to change the next generation,” he says.

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