CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR 2020 HOPE FUND GRADUATES!

We’re proud of our Hope Fund scholars who graduated this year – 11 outstanding young Palestinian women and men who took full advantage of the scholarships they earned through the Hope Fund to pursue their undergraduate studies in the United States.

Dalia Aita graduated from New College of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in quantitative economics. At New College, she valued the opportunity to deepen her knowledge about American politics, institutions, culture, and professional life through her studies and summer internships. She plans to use the coming year to gain experience in her field, beginning with a research project focused on improving the use of public spaces. An alumna of the English Access Microscholarship (Access), Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES), and Abraham Lincoln Grants programs, Dalia notes, “AMIDEAST has been extremely helpful during this journey and that is something I am not going to forget as I establish my career in the future.”

Raised in a small village near Hebron, Haitham Alatawneh graduated one year early from Bridgewater College with a degree in biochemistry. He valued the community and friendship he found at the small liberal arts college, as well as opportunities to participate in Model UN conferences, conduct research on biodegradable bacteria, and educate people on Islam and the Arab world through the Muslim Student Association. He also found time for sports, including soccer, rugby, and tennis. Haitham heads next to Georgetown University to begin a master’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology. Expressing his appreciation for these opportunities, he notes, “AMIDEAST and the Hope Fund gave me the one-in-a-thousand opportunity to build a life that is away from the occupation and its miseries.”

Mohammed Al Asttal completed a B.A. in international studies from the University of Oregon (UO), appreciative of the “transformative” experience he had at UO thanks to opportunities to match a strong academic program with meaningful practical experience, including a weeklong workshop in the UK with the Oxford Consortium for Human Rights. Mohammed has returned to Gaza, where he plans to use his knowledge and skills to help his community. An alumnus of the Access, YES, and Abraham Lincoln Grants programs, he notes, “Both AMIDEAST and the Hope Fund were instrumental in supporting me during my education experience…The amount of support is priceless, and I am grateful for these experiences and looking forward to giving back.”

Diana Alzamareh from the West Bank received a B.S. in biomedical engineering from the State University of New York in Binghamton. She valued the opportunities she had to share her own culture with the campus’s diverse student body. A high point was an internship at the Mayo Clinic, working in a laboratory setting and contributing to important studies on polycystic kidney disease. Her college experience gave her “more clarity” about what to do next and “opened up new possibilities that I hadn’t considered before — for example renal research and biotechnology.” Diana is grateful to AMIDEAST and the Hope Fund: “Without their help, I would not have been able to complete my undergraduate education here and become the person that I am today. With a degree from an American university, I have access to many amazing opportunities.”

Basel Arafat graduated from the University of Richmond, where he started as a computer science major and then added a second major in mathematics after discovering a passion for the subject through a special class on the history of mathematics. The Nablus native hopes some day to return home and “mentor my students in the same way I was nourished and taught during my time at Richmond.” For now, he is seeking a position in software engineering to prepare for graduate school in the fall of 2021. Grateful to AMIDEAST and the Hope Fund, Basel adds, “AMIDEAST and the Hope Fund trusted me with such a generous gift and amazing support. I don’t even know where to start to thank them for such an incredible life-changing experience.”

Yazan Baara graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where the experience of living and studying among a diverse student body with an incredible faculty broadened his horizons and helped him “realize the magnitude of my potential.” That included participating in clubs such as the MIT Arab Student Association, Palestine@MIT, and MIT’s student government. Yazan, who plans to work as a consultant in Dubai in the coming year, is grateful to AMIDEAST, the Hope Fund, and the Amjad & Suha Bseisu Foundation, which co-sponsored him: “They changed my life in that they allowed me to overcome the financial barrier to attend one of the best schools in the world.”

East Jerusalem-native Mohammed El-Kurd graduated magna cum laude from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, with a focus on writing. He will pursue his MFA at Brooklyn College in the fall. When he began his Hope Fund journey, he had already garnered international media attention via a documentary about the occupation of his family’s home by settlers in Sheikh Jarrah. At SCAD, he built on that experience, continuing to develop his talent as a poet and writer in English and Arabic, as well as a painter and sketch artist, guided by his goal of becoming a voice for his people to the outside world. His passion for speaking out about Palestine is evident in his first spoken word poetry album, “Belly Dancing on Wounds,” and articles published in Al Jazeera, The Guardian, and, in June, The Nation.

Agnes Handal graduated cum laude from Roanoke College with a major in actuarial science — the first student in Roanoke’s history to graduate with honors in her field — and earned an outstanding service award for her three years of service as a resident advisor. Agnes will spend the coming year gaining practical experience as an implementation analyst at an insurance company in Atlanta, Georgia. The Bethlehem native looks forward to bringing her knowledge back to Palestine to improve the insurance system and make insurance more affordable. An alumna of the YES program, she says, “I could not have accomplished any of that without the help of AMIDEAST and the Hope Fund. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be where I am today.”

Iyad Hmidat will graduate this summer from Bridgewater College with a B.A. in political science, a degree program that he chose in order to gain the education and practical experience that will enable him to help create a better future for his community. At Bridgewater, he founded the college’s Muslim Student Association and promoted positive dialogue between students, including initiating a campus-wide conversation about Islam. His contributions earned him the 2019-20 Newman Civic Fellowship, a prestigious national award that recognizes community-committed students who are change makers and public problem-solvers. Iyad has returned to Gaza with a desire to help develop the “untapped potential” that he sees in abundance among Palestinian youth. In this, he cites AMIDEAST as inspiration. “I still remember my first day at AMIDEAST/Gaza, joining their English language program when I was 10 years old. I have spent more than half of my life as a student of AMIDEAST programs. I am who I am today because of these countless and invaluable opportunities that AMIDEAST has provided for me. I believe that benefitting from these opportunities has developed my sense of giving back to my community.”

Yusuf Qaddura graduated with high honors from Swarthmore College with a double major in computer science and mathematics. A Palestinian refugee who grew up in Lebanon, he will start a doctoral program in mathematics at Ohio State University, which awarded him the Susan L. Huntington Dean’s Distinguished University Fellowship. Yusuf credits Swarthmore’s commitment to social change for helping him develop “a well-rounded social-change-oriented perspective of the world” — a perspective that he believes will guide him during his PhD journey and beyond, including in Lebanon, where he hopes to “have a meaningful impact on the lives of young Palestinian generations attending UNRWA schools.” Grateful for the support he received from AMIDEAST, the Hope Fund, and the Amjad and Suha Bseisu Foundation, which co-sponsored his Hope Fund program, Yusuf says, “Without their assistance, none of this would have been possible.”

Sami Zimmo graduated from Washington & Jefferson College with degrees in chemistry and physics. The Gaza native valued the college’s academic program and research opportunities, as well as its many campus extracurricular activities, including serving as vice president of the International Club. He plans to pursue a master’s degree in biomedical engineering in order to acquire the skills that will enable him to contribute to improving Gaza’s healthcare system and develop artificial limbs for people with conflict-related injuries. Looking back on his AMIDEAST journey, which included the YES, Abraham Lincoln Grants, and Hope Fund programs, he gratefully notes: “AMIDEAST has always been supportive and helpful in its programs pushing its students to succeed in life… AMIDEAST teaches us how to give back and support others to make their lives better.”