Introducing the Hope Fund Class of 2017
From top left: Mohammed Abumuaileq, Iyad Amer, Khaled Aboughoush, Diana Alzamareh, Ambassador Kattouf, Aziza El-Banna, Fatima Shaat, and Hadeel Al-Hayek. Seated, from left: Sereen Assi, Haitham Al-Atawneh, and Razan Hamad.

We are excited to welcome 13 new Hope Fund scholars this year. Ten are beginning their undergraduate studies this fall on scholarships received from Northwestern University; Bridgewater, Roanoke, St. Olaf, and Union Colleges; the Universities of Findlay and Rochester; and the State University of New York in Binghamton. The other three received scholarships from Kenyon and Roanoke Colleges and the University of Bridgeport and will begin their studies in spring 2018, pending approval of their visa applications.  

Growing up in Nablus, Khaled Aboughoush attended the Pioneers Baccalaureate School and was selected for three competitive U.S. Department of State-funded programs: the English Access Microscholarship (Access) Program, the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Lincoln Incentive Grants Program, and the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program, through which he spent a year of high school in Denver, Colorado. That year was formative, says Khaled, and motivated him to continue his education in the United States. This fall, Khaled entered Northwestern University in Illinois with plans to major in industrial engineering and a long-term goal of expanding job opportunities for Palestinian youth. He is optimistic about the impact that he and his fellow Hope Fund students can make, saying, “Through us, we can make a change. It’s going to be a cycle. It’s not going to be like a one-year change, it’s going to be over the years.” 

Ahmed Abu Sultan will start a degree program in physics at Roanoke College in Virginia in spring 2018. Talented and ambitious, he is deeply interested in the pursuit of scientific knowledge, especially through experimental and empirical research. His intellectual curiosity helps him to employ innovative scientific solutions as a public service, such as when, at age 17, he created something close to artificial snow to entertain children traumatized by violence. Ahmed hopes to become a renowned scholar in quantum physics one day, a dream he is now working toward with the help of the Hope Fund. “The Hope Fund has put me on the right track to fast progress towards achieving my goal,” Ahmed says. “I am already excited about this journey at Roanoke, especially as I have been given maximum support to reach my full potential.”

Mohammed Abumuaileq is a freshman at the University of Rochester, where he is studying biomedical engineering with a minor in political science. Mohammed, who grew up with five siblings in a refugee family in Gaza, recalls having few opportunities to improve his English skills. That changed when he qualified for the YES program, enabling him to spend a year of high school in Kansas City, Missouri.  Mohammed is thrilled to attend a university with many resources and opportunities where he can pursue his diverse interests. The Hope Fund scholarship, in his words, “really means living the dream…you can do a major in natural science [and] a minor in social science. There is so much available to you—and you actually enjoy what you’re doing.”

Raised in a small village outside of Hebron, Haitham Al-Atawneh has been an academic achiever throughout his schooling. He was selected for the Access Program and won a scholarship to complete his secondary education at the Eastern Mediterranean International School, a prestigious private international boarding school in Tel Aviv. Haitham, who had dreamed of studying abroad since he was young, will major in biochemistry at Bridgewater University in Virginia. The Hope Fund “is going to change my future. Getting to have this level of education […] is something that will bring a lot of success and a lot of benefits,” Haitham says, not only to the students but also their families and communities.

Hadeel Al-Hayek is pursuing a double major in psychology and biology at the University of Findlay in Ohio. She traces her longstanding passion and advocacy for mental health awareness to her own experience witnessing the effects of conflict on children while growing up in Toffah, Gaza. She initiated a first-of-its-kind public debate on girls’ right to safety and education and participated in virtual exchange meetings between Palestinian students and peers from Western countries, an experience she describes as “sharpening her cultural literacy.” She is thankful for the opportunity to continue her studies in the United States, and wants to tell donors, “By helping us, you’re not only helping us get an education. You’re also helping Palestine because we want to give back to our community, and we’re going to be the builders of the coming generation.”

Diana Alzamareh was born in Ukraine to a Palestinian father and Ukrainian mother and moved to Bethany, Palestine, at the age of four. A dedicated student, she graduated from the Orthodox School of Bethany and received a scholarship to pursue an associate’s degree at Joliet Junior College in Illinois. She stood out at Joliet, maintaining a 4.0 GPA and joining the prestigious Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. Determined to continue her education in the United States, she sought the help of AMIDEAST and the Hope Fund.  Today, as a student at the State University of New York in Binghamton, she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. “I feel very lucky and I’m very thankful,” Diana says. “Receiving this scholarship doesn’t just encourage me to do well in school, it also motivates me to be a good human being, and to help my community here and in Palestine.”

Iyad Amer is an inquisitive young man, majoring in biomedical engineering with a concentration in cell and tissue engineering at the University of Rochester. Despite facing many challenges growing up in East Nablus, near Balata refugee camp, he excelled scholastically, maintaining a 4.0 GPA at Pioneers Baccalaureate School and joining the Competitive College Club at AMIDEAST. He is interested in cutting-edge medical technology and is already working at the university medical center to research 3-D printing organs for transplant. In the future, he dreams of founding a medical technology company in Palestine that he hopes will help establish a new industry. “When you come [to the United States], you know it’s your responsibility to go back [to Palestine] and change it,” Iyad says. “I think that health and medical technology is one of the ways that Palestine and the Middle East in general could benefit.”

Sereen Assi comes from Ramallah, where she spent nine years in an UNRWA school before attending a public high school. She also participated in the two-year Access Program, which she credits with improving her English, leadership, and public speaking skills. Her flair for English reading and writing led to several notable achievements and prizes, helping her qualify for the MEPI Lincoln Incentive Grants Program. She is excited to pursue her diverse interests at the University of Rochester, where she is majoring in computer science. “I would like to thank each and every donor who is helping students like me go from small places to big places like Rochester and the United States. It is truly inspirational,” Sereen says.

Aziza El-Banna grew up in Saida, Lebanon, as a third-generation Palestinian refugee, unable to obtain Lebanese citizenship due to her status. While her parents were financially unable to attend college, they have actively supported Aziza and her five older sisters in obtaining higher education, and she is now the sixth child in her family to attend university abroad and the fourth to be awarded a Hope Fund scholarship. The YES program alumna is now studying clinical psychology at St. Olaf College, with hopes of one day earning her PhD and opening a free clinic to offer services to underprivileged patients. “Without the Hope Fund, I could not have been here, and my dream would never happen,” she asserts, adding, “when we get educated, we actually can then help other people get educated. You’re basically helping generations, not only one generation.”

Razan Hamed is studying astronomy, physics, and communications at Roanoke College. She grew up with her three siblings in Al-Bireh, in the West Bank, and faced financial hardship throughout her childhood as her father was unable to work due to disability. Despite the challenges she faced, she excelled in school and was selected for the Access Program and MEPI Lincoln Incentive Grants Program. She loves languages and has studied Spanish, Hebrew, and German in addition to English. Receiving the Hope Fund scholarship motivates her to give back in the future, she says. “I really want to help other people as I was helped […] it’s like a circle. It doesn’t just stop [with] one person; it doesn’t stop here.”

Hanaa Ibrahim will begin her studies in spring 2018 at Kenyon College, where she plans to major in neuroscience with a minor in English. Hanaa excelled at Holy Family School in Gaza City, where she grew up. Her passion for writing was evident early on. She was selected to write and deliver the English version of the graduation speech and spent a summer as a teaching assistant in an English language summer program for young children, where she served as their mentor and hosted sessions on short-story writing. She was also selected to participate in a creative writing program in Norway, but was unable to attend due to a border closure. Hanaa is an accomplished performer of the traditional Palestinian dance, the dabkeh, as well as passionate about learning other languages. 

Mohammed Najjar will begin his studies in mechanical engineering at the University of Bridgeport in spring 2018. A dedicated student, he studied at UNRWA schools and attended Arafat Gifted Secondary School. In addition to maintaining a perfect GPA in high school, he took classes at AMIDEAST to improve his English and participated in the MEPI Lincoln Incentive Grants Program. During high school, he volunteered in a program that aims to improve the leadership and interpersonal skills of children. He then worked in mental health support in both his high school as part of a peer support group for fellow students with mild depression and in the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, where he assisted with psychological treatment for Palestinians, especially children, who had been traumatized through repeated cycles of violence.

Fatima Shaat is a biomedical engineering major at Union College in Upstate New York. Growing up in Rafah, Gaza, she engaged in numerous school activities, such as serving as president of her school’s parliament, belonging to the science club, and playing on the basketball team. She was also involved in several international initiatives, including an UNRWA human rights trip in 2013, the Seeds of Peace camp in 2015, and the Yale Young Global Scholars Applied Science and Engineering session in 2016. To Fatima, the Hope Fund is not only enabling her to pursue her education, it also provides a supportive community—and she is thankful to all the Hope Fund supporters. “You don’t know how important it is,” she says. “Maybe you see it as a small action […] but you’re actually creating opportunities and a path for us in life.”