Cork-based strength coach to build a gym for 5,500 West Bank refugees

Aclaí strength and conditioning facility founder Ainle Ó Cairealláin with Salah Abu Ali, the minder and guardian of the oldest olive tree in the world at over 5,000 years, in the village of Al Walaja in the West Bank.

Christmas stockings across Cork could be filled with handmade Palestinian goods imported from the West Bank if one of Cork’s foremost strength and conditioning coaches has his way.

Ainle Ó Cairealláin, founder and managing director of Aclaí strength training facility at Crawford Business Park on Bishop Street in Cork city, was so moved by what he saw on two visits to the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank earlier this year, that he felt he had to take action.

He felt compelled to not only raise awareness at home in Ireland, but also to undertake his most ambitious project to date -- constructing a gym for the 5,500 inhabitants of the camp, just two kilometres from Bethlehem, the biblical birthplace of Jesus.

The Belfast native is hosting a pop-up shop this Sunday that will see imported Palestinian handmade goods sold for the cause.

The former strength and conditioning coach to Cork’s intercounty footballers said the idea came about when visiting the Lajee Centre, an independent grassroots cultural centre that works for the betterment of the residents of the Aida camp.

Part of the mission of the Lajee Centre is to improve the health of the residents of the camp, which has seen high levels of elevated blood pressure, diabetes, and mental health issues among other illnesses.

He said: "A project that I discussed with one of the founders of the Lajee Centre while at the camp was the possibility of opening a gym for the people of the camp at the Lajee Centre, and helping them start a self-sufficient health and fitness program for the people of Aida.

“This is going to involve the purchase of equipment, development of a long-term programme, and the training of coaches from Aida that can run the program once the facility has been established.”

He said for a small business in Cork, it will be a massive undertaking.

“We are going to do everything we can to make it happen, and we need your support to do it. The first fundraising event for this project is going to be held at Aclaí on Sunday, December 16 from 11am to 6pm, where we will run a pop-up shop of handmade Palestinian goods that we have imported from the West Bank specifically for the occasion.

“We have ceramics, wine glasses, scarfs, soaps, t-shirts, embroidery, olive oil, and lots more very unique and beautiful products of Palestine for sale. I personally visited nearly all of the suppliers in August this year and am delighted to be able to have their products on sale at our facility for this one-day-only event.

“By coming along to the event and buying some things on the day, you will be directly helping out the shopkeepers, ceramics workers, the women who made each embroidered item by hand at the Aida refugee camp, the soap makers, olive growers, and also directly contributing to our project of opening a volunteer gym in the Aida camp."

"Come along and help us make this health project happen,” Mr Ó Cairealláin said.

The event takes place at Aclaí in the Crawford Business Park on Bishop Street near St FinBarre’s Cathedral this Saturday between 11am and 6pm.

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