our current students
incoming class of 2019
Abdallah Abu Al Kheir comes from Gaza, where he is a registered refugee from Al Nosairat camp. After attending UNRWA primary and elementary schools, he completed his secondary education in a government school, where he excelled academically and showed strong leadership abilities. In addition to winning second place in a country-wide English language contest, he was selected for the U.S. Department of State-funded English Access Microscholarship (Access) Program. As an Access student, he also did community service and advocacy work to promote technology literacy amongst his peers. Now a freshman at Whitworth University, studying computer science and business, he asserts, "I would have never made it this far without AMIDEAST's help and guidance. I know that a lot of people would want to be in my place now, and I'm grateful for it.”
|Rulan Abu Nahla is a talented young woman from Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Rulan attended UNRWA schools for nine years before moving to a government high school, where she maintained high grades and was always one of the top students in her class. In tenth grade, she participated in the Scientific Research Competition, with her team earning a high ranking for their research into obesity. Rulan was selected to participate in both the Access Program and a second competitive, U.S. Department of State-funded program, the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program, which enabled her to spend a year of high school in Oregon. Rulan stood out as a YES student; she participated in Model United Nations and the National History Day competition and was one of 100 YES students selected to participate in a civics education workshop in Washington, D.C. Rulan, who is studying business administration at Stillman College, is grateful for these opportunities: “Despite the stress about traveling abroad, the expenses and the separation, thank you, AMIDEAST, for letting me live my dream. Thank you for letting each scholarship be a new start with new opportunities to create our own paths.”|
|Ismail Basel Ajjawi comes from Tyre, South Lebanon, where he attended Deir Yassin UNRWA School in Al-Buss camp. Ismail enjoys a wide variety of hobbies and interests, including reading mystery novels and the classics and playing soccer, his favorite sport. Passionate about science, he enjoys watching online tutorials about biology, chemistry, and the different innovations taking place in the scientific world. Ismail received some of the highest scores on Lebanon’s baccalaureate and Brevet exams, making him an academic star in his community. He was accepted to Harvard University with a full scholarship, where he intends to major in chemical and physical biology. He hopes his rigorous pre-med studies will lead to admission to medical school and his dream of becoming a doctor and medical researcher. Acknowledging AMIDEAST’s role in his journey, Ismail notes, “With the tremendous help of AMIDEAST, I now have the opportunity to learn more about chemical and physical biology and to unravel the scientific laws governing everyday life. Thank you, AMIDEAST, for making such a dream attainable.”|
|Rashed Alfarra is a registered refugee from the west-camp of Khan Younis, where he spent his childhood until his family moved to Khan Younis city in the Gaza Strip. Rashed attended governmental schools, where he excelled both academically and as a student leader. His strong academic performance led to his selection for the English Access Program. In addition to winning an award in a science competition and excelling in science, Rashed is a passionate student of languages. After learning the basics of French at school, he prepared himself for internationally recognized exams, receiving one of the highest scores in Gaza on the Diploma in French Language Studies. Rashed, who was accepted to Bridgewater College to study computer science, notes, “As a Palestinian student, I have always dreamed of joining one of the U.S. universities. AMIDEAST has helped me to make this dream come true.”|
|Ruslan Al-Jabari, a registered refugee, spent the early years of his life living in Beach Refugee Camp before moving to Gaza City. He attended governmental schools as there were no UNRWA schools in his neighborhood. Throughout high school, he was a top-ranked student, with a nearly perfect GPA. His commitment to academics earned him a spot in the highly competitive Access Program. In addition, he participated in many science competitions, served as the president of his high school’s physics club and co-president of the technology club, and was a fellow at Gaza Sky Geeks, Gaza’s largest entrepreneurship hub and tech business accelerator. He also used his science expertise to mount knowledge-sharing campaigns in order to advance STEM fields in Gaza. Ruslan currently finds himself enjoying the many opportunities available to him as a freshman at Stanford University, where he is majoring in computer science: “I always daydreamt about studying in the most supreme universities in the world; thanks to AMIDEAST, the Hope Fund and EducationUSA, I don’t have to anymore. I get to live it.”|
|Amir Amer, from Nablus in the West Bank, is majoring in finance at Lehigh University. He participated in the YES program, representing his country as a scholar‐ambassador and engaging in community service. Amir continued to volunteer after his return home, completing 60 hours of community service in 2018, while maintaining an outstanding academic record and actively participating in extracurricular activities, including Model United Nations (MUN), debate, and racial and ethnic diversity clubs. With the help of the EducationUSA Competitive College Club (CCC) at AMIDEAST, he gained admissions and a scholarship to attend Lehigh University, where he intends to major in economics and business administration. “Never have I felt this gratified from a decision I’ve taken than the decision of applying to AMIDEAST to help me set my future. Thank you to everyone who helped me.”|
Nader Almadbooh, a registered refugee from Bethlehem in the West Bank, is majoring in astrophysics at Swarthmore College. Nader graduated from Terra Sancta High School, where was on a scholarship. He was also selected for the highly competitive English Access Program. Then, determined to achieve his dream of pursuing his higher education in the United States, he joined the EducationUSA College Competitive Club (CCC) at AMIDEAST. In addition to standing out as one of the brightest and top students in his school, Nader won the “Best School Debater” award at the national level in 2015 and was selected in 2016 to represent Palestine in the World Schools Debating Championships (WSDC) in Qatar. He was also a member of the Arab Educational Institute Debating Club and received a Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS)–FMS scholarship to attend a summer leadership program at Yale University for high school students. Reflecting on his experience, Nader says, “In an ever-growing world, one needs more than smartness and skill to achieve his/her ambitions; tools and guidance are as important. AMIDEAST’s role in my journey has been essential in helping make the choices and the decisions that put me where I am today.”
Noor Assi, a registered refugee from the West Bank city of Ramallah, is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in computer science at Brigham Young University. Noor attended an UNRWA school in Ramallah through the ninth grade before moving to a public school. She is an alumna of the English Access Program and the EducationUSA College Competitive Club (CCC) at AMIDEAST. Passionate about technology, she was also involved in several programs related to programming and IT, including An-Nayzak’s “Badir” program and TechGirls, a U.S. government-funded summer exchange program designed to empower and inspire young girls from the Middle East and North Africa to pursue careers in science and technology. These programs opened the doors to her participation in the Intel ISEF competition, for which she developed a device that enables blind and illiterate people to vote in elections without the help of others. Reflecting on her journey, she says, “Climbing the ladder of education takes time, effort and sacrifices. AMIDEAST helped me and hundreds of students climb our ladders and reach places that at some point felt unreachable. Thanks, AMIDEAST."
Nadr Elhelu is a hard-working student and an involved member of his community in Gaza. His feelings of connection to his Palestinian roots are even stronger now that he is representing his country while pursuing his dream of studying computer science at Whitman College. Although he has always been passionate about learning, he finds his coursework at Whitman especially thought provoking. In his free time, Nadr also makes a point of participating in campus clubs, including Justice for Palestine, Man of Color, and Whitman’s archery club, in order to stay connected to his homeland and to help him integrate into his new community. Nadr notes that, "With the poor financial situation in Gaza, I have never dreamt to study in the United States, but with AMIDEAST’s help the dream became a reality."
Yousef Hanafi is a registered refugee from Al-Amal Camp in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. Yousef attended UNRWA schools from grades 1-9 and then transitioned to public/governmental schools from grades 10-12. Always a top student, his outstanding academic record helped him earn a place in the English Access Program. Yousef demonstrated a particular interest in IT and computer science. Through the IT club in his school in Gaza, he developed courses on programming, logic, and game design. At the College of Idaho, Yousef plans to major in computer science while seeking a broad liberal arts education through the university’s unique degree program that he will design. “It has always been my dream to study in a U.S college. I wouldn't have possibly achieved it without AMIDEAST’s guidance and funding.”
Huda Hashash, a registered refugee from Balata Refugee Camp near Nablus in the West Bank, graduated from Pioneer Baccalaureate School, where she was on a full scholarship all through high school. She joined the EducationUSA Competitive College Club (CCC) at AMIDEAST in order to pursue her dream of studying in the United States. An academic achiever, she earned top grades and numerous awards, including certificates of achievement for distinguished character, outstanding behavior, and outstanding performance in mathematics. Her quest to study in the United States was further helped by a full scholarship to attend a summer exchange program at Lehigh University in 2017, during which she studied business and worked with TeenCentral, an online company, and a scholarship to participate in the EducationUSA Academy at CU Boulder-Colorado in 2018. She is looking forward to starting her program in neuroscience at Roanoke College in spring 2020. “I have always had the dream to be an independent, strong, young woman who would travel and study abroad, and my dream has become a reality. I would like to thank everyone who has helped me to reach my dream!”
Nour Kanaan is a graduate of Nazareth UNRWA High School in Baddawi refugee camp in Tripoli, Lebanon. She never let being a refugee stand in the way of her dreams. Faced with limited opportunities to receive a quality education, she took advantage of the ones she found. Nour never thought she would have a chance to visit the United States, let alone study at her dream university, but her efforts and determination paid off when she was accepted into Duke University! Nour plans to pursue her passion for neuroscience. While not sure what her next step will be, she thinks that it will involve research, because there’s so much in neuroscience she would like to explore. “Duke is an inspiring place for academic and personal growth. I’m very thankful that I now belong there;” she observes. “Thank you, AMIDEAST, for making this possible. Your guidance, moral and financial support have been incredible.”
As a registered refugee from Gaza, Lana Sabbah went to UNRWA schools for her primary and middle grades, before moving to a public governmental school for high school. She was first introduced to AMIDEAST as a participant in the English Access Program, in which she became known for her thoughtful comments in class discussions about language, culture, and history. She also participated in civic engagement campaigns, such as the Access Back to School campaign to provide underserved children with school supplies, and volunteered at Saja Center for Brain Paralysis in Gaza to help children who had been traumatized during the war of 2014. Lana hopes that her studies at Smith College will prepare her to be able to make a difference in her community, particularly for its children. "I believe that pursuing my future career in the States will put me on the right track to build a concrete experience and achieve my dream of helping children in Gaza. This dream wouldn’t be true without AMIDEAST’s help and support.”
Belal Shaheen is a registered refugee in the Gaza Strip. Although he spent his early childhood in Beach Camp, his family eventually moved out of the camp to live in Gaza City, where for most of his education, he attended governmental schools since there were no UNRWA schools in his neighborhood. During his school life, Belal consistently achieved high marks. His strong academic performance was matched by his leadership skills, which he used to promoted digital literacy, innovation, and entrepreneurship while a leader of his high school’s IT club. That included forming a team that developed Dislep, an application, featured at Gaza’s Startup Weekend, to assist people with disabilities. In addition, he participated in Al-Nayzak’s programs in Gaza and won his school’s nomination to represent the Ministry of Education schools at Expotech, Palestine's Technology Week. Belal is excited that the Hope Fund is enabling him to continue to develop his computer skills. The Hamilton College freshman in computer science says, “I have always dreamt of studying in the United States, but the financial situation in Gaza didn't help, until AMIDEAST came and helped to make this dream come true.”
Farah Suboh graduated with high grades from International Independent Schools in Amman, Jordan. A hard worker with clear goals, she loves outdoor activities such as volleyball and riding horses and being on stage, whether to perform in a play or to give a speech. She also enjoys meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures. She has engaged in a variety of community service activities, which she says has taught her to accept different opinions and to focus on finding common ground. She is attending Coe College, where she plans to major in biology. “I would love to thank the AMIDEAST for making my dream possible of going to one the best colleges ever. I’m having the time of my life and the AMIDEAST name is always going to bring me unforgettable memories!”
A Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon, Saleem Solayman spent his early years in Dubai, where he attended a private school. After his father was fired from his job because he was a Palestinian, his family moved to Lebanon, where he completed his schooling at Al Galilee UNRWA High School in Burj Al-Barajneh camp in Beirut. AMIDEAST, the Competitive College Club, and the Hope Fund helped Saleem discover opportunities for college in the United States and guided him through the difficult application and testing process. Saleem is thrilled to be studying applied physics at Bridgewater College, a major he dreamed of pursuing since he was a child: “With the help of AMIDEAST, I got to learn a lot of new skills. They made my character stronger and taught me how to be a well-rounded student. It was totally worth it because of that moment [when] you realize all your hard work paid off.”
incoming class of 2018
Farah Abdel Jawad is a first-year architectural engineering student at Drexel University. Originally from Jaffa, she grew up in Amman, Jordan, where she excelled at the Modern Montessori School. Outside the classroom, Farah is a talented athlete and has dedicated much of her time to community service projects. She is passionate about design and architecture and hopes to use her degree to improve the lives of people in Palestine and across the Middle East.
|Tawfiq Abuaita’s goal in life has long been to create new technologies that will aid Palestine’s development. Thus, it comes as no surprise that he is already looking ahead to graduate studies in medical engineering after he completes his bachelor’s degree in computer engineering at Western Michigan University. Before leaving for the United States, Tawfiq, who comes from Beit Sahour-Bethlehem, had a fear of adapting to American culture. Finding himself well into his first semester, he reports that “people are really kind and ready to answer any question I do have. I am now very happy to experience such a culture and new life in the U.S.”|
|Noor Abu Rabie, an ambitious young woman from Nablus, is majoring in international studies at the University of Oregon, hoping to emerge with strong qualifications to serve in international organizations that aim to assist and empower children in third-world countries. She also hopes to start her own organization to improve, empower, and educate people in Palestine. “My experience so far as a student studying in a U.S university is incredibly rewarding,” she reports, adding that she is thrilled with the connections and friendships she is developing with other students.|
|Malak Abusoud was born in Jerusalem, five days before the beginning of the second Intifada. Raised by a single mother, she studied in the British A-Level system at a French school where classes were taught in Arabic. She also launched a blog, “The Life of a Palestinian Jerusalemite,” to highlight the daily struggles of life as a Palestinian. Malak’s strong academics and intellectual drive earned her a scholarship to Georgetown University, where she plans to major in international political economy.|
|Coming from Gaza, Yousef Al-Amassi considers himself lucky to have a family that always celebrated and supported his academic accomplishments and interests, allowing his intellectual curiosities to flourish, despite the challenges of daily life. Today, Yousef is pursuing his scholarly interests in physics and the natural sciences at Williams College in Massachusetts. The esteemed liberal arts institution is also well suited to enabling him to explore his many other interests and realize his goal of becoming a renowned scientist and well-informed global citizen.|
|Noor Al-Shaer grew up in Rafah, Gaza's southernmost city, in a large family of 10, where she found ample support for her dream to study in the United States. During high school, Noor spent an exchange year in Louisiana on the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program. Now she is excited to be in the United States again, beginning her studies at Washington and Lee University. She plans to major in biochemistry, in preparation for becoming a renowned scholar whose scientific discoveries will advance the quality of life for all people.|
Lora Assi, from Ramallah, is on the premed track at the University of Pennsylvania, preparing for medical school and eventually becoming a surgeon. She is excited to be meeting many students and participating in extracurricular activities, including the Penn Undergraduates for Refugee Empowerment. Looking ahead, Lora hopes to be able to provide surgeries at low cost that are affordable for underserved communities in Palestine and around the world. She also aims to improve mental healthcare across the Arab world.
|Dareen Awwad, from the West Bank village of Jefna, is pursuing a double major in physics and economics at Bridgewater College in Virginia. She is excited to have the opportunity to pursue her studies in the United States, which represents “a whole new world to me―it has opened my mind to new experiences and challenges.” Dareen views this period in her life as an important stepping stone to the future. Envisioning the possibility of starting a nonprofit organization to support Palestinian women who had to drop out of college, she asserts, “when we get educated, we actually can then help other people get educated. You’re basically helping generations, not only one generation.”|
|Luna Bseiso, from Gaza, is thrilled to be embarking on an academic and personal journey that has taken her to Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. By majoring in political science, she wishes to emerge with strong qualifications that will enable her to serve in international organizations and help improve the humanitarian situation in war-torn communities, including her own. She thanks the Hope Fund for enabling her to be on track to fulfilling her goal.|
|Berge Hagopian, from Jerusalem, is a student at Pomona College in Claremont, California. A talented classical guitarist, he has won numerous prizes. At Pomona, Berge is majoring in molecular biology in pursuit of his goal of becoming a forensic pathologist equipped with the tools to solve crimes. He is also excited about the opportunity to try new things; that includes a camping trip during freshman orientation at the California school, which he says took him out of his “comfort zone” in a good way.|
|George Kassis, who comes from Beit Jala in the West Bank, is studying neuroscience at the University of Rochester. Driven by his dedication to improve medical services in Palestine and other countries, he endeavors to become a surgeon and researcher in the area of neurological diseases. As a student in the United States, George reports that he is discovering new cultures, ideas, and views, an experience he describes as inspiring. “I am starting to discover myself more and assure my belief that…it is indeed possible for anyone to make a difference in this world,” he says.|
|Salma Khalaf grew up as a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon. Passionate about history and literature, she attended La Cité Culturelle School but her family’s limited finances precluded her from participating in many extracurricular activities. However, she took part in the Model United Nations and the Model Arab League, experiences that nurtured her interest in political science and economics. She also interned with EducationUSA in Lebanon, helping younger students prepare for the SAT and TOEFL exams. Now at Earlham College, she plans to double major in political science and physics, with a minor in French.|
|An ambitious young woman and talented cellist from Gaza, Nicole Khouri currently attends Smith College in Massachusetts. Nicole, who spent the 2016-17 academic year as a YES exchange student in Wisconsin, is excited to be in the United States again to expand her global and intercultural awareness. Smith has a lot to offer to its thriving academic community, and Nicole is eager to take advantage of these exceptional opportunities to grow her knowledge, skills, talents, and connections.|
|Akram Sbaih, from Kufr Rai’ in the West Bank, is passionate about computer science. Even before beginning his studies this fall at Stanford University, he travelled to Japan to participate in the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI 2018) as part of the Palestinian team. He also participated in Bridge Palestine, an initiative of the Welfare Association-Taawon that helps outstanding Palestinian youth prepare to apply to universities abroad. Akram is eager to take advantage of the exceptional opportunities offered at Stanford, already joining the school’s junior marching band. As he told us, “Classes are overwhelming with all the readings and assignments but in a way that expands one’s curiosity to new extremes.”|
|Khaled Shehada attends the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he plans to major in electrical engineering and computer science and minor in physics. Growing up in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, Khaled worked hard to excel in his community, learning programming from a young age and contributing to several community service projects and extracurricular activities. Grateful for the opportunity to study in the United States, he is committed to sharing and exchanging his people's stories with the diverse community at MIT.|
|Diaa Sirsawi from Gaza is attending Seattle Pacific University, with plans to major in English. Driven by a fascination with languages and literature, he hopes to one day become a writer – a talent already in evidence when he won the Novell Gaza 2 award in January 2018 for his short stories Scars of Wars and My Cat. He is also passionate about music, having played the classical guitar for nine years, and looks forward to performing with his fellow students at Seattle Pacific.|
|Saad Teeti is from Nablus, Palestine. He spent a year of high school in the the state of Washington through the YES program. Saad currently attends New York University Abu Dhabi, where plans to study computer science.|
incoming class of 2017
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.”
incoming class of 2016
Dalia Aita is a passionate young woman who aspires to a career in science. Her path to a scholarship at the New College in Sarasota, Florida, began in ninth grade, when she was accepted to the highly competitive English Access Microscholarship (Access) Program in Rafah, the Gaza Strip. An excellent student, Dalia was selected to spend a year in Oregon on the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program and afterwards qualified for two other competitive scholarship programs: the Abraham Lincoln Grant program and the Hope Fund. Dalia appreciates the freedom that the Hope Fund scholarship has given her. “Back home, I didn’t have the chance to express who I truly was. I was in a bubble,” she recalls. “Now I have a lot of opportunities, now I am open to the world.”
Mohammed Al-Asttal comes from Khan Yunis City in the Gaza Strip and is studying at the University of Oregon, where he is thinking of double-majoring in international studies and business or civil society, fields that he believes will best prepare him to make an impact in his community. Mohammed grew up amid the anxiety and unrest typical of a childhood in Gaza. But a chance during eighth grade at his UNRWA school to join the Access Program, along with a year spent as a YES student in Oregon, changed his view of the world and his possibilities. As he begins his university studies, Mohammed appreciates the new “turning point” that the Hope Fund has offered for his life. In his words, “The Hope Fund is life changing. It’s definitely given me hope for a better future.”
Basel Arafat is excited to begin his studies at the University of Richmond, where he plans to major in computer science — his dream since he was seven years old — and minor in physics or mathematics. Basel, who grew up in Nablus, will also continue his love for track and field and cross country, a passion nourished during the year of high school that he spent in the United States with the YES Program. Happy to be in a challenging college environment, Basel says, “The Hope Fund means a lot to me because it’s an exceptional opportunity…It has really opened a lot of doors to me.” Looking ahead to the future, he adds that he hopes to have an opportunity to return to Palestine some day “to bring back what I’ve learned here…Giving back is important to me because it’s like how I would feel good about myself.”
Yazan Ba’ara describes himself as inquisitive by nature, a dedicated student, and a self-starter who is committed to social entrepreneurship — traits that will serve him well at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he plans to double major in mechanical engineering and business. Although originally from Nablus, Yazan spent his early years in Saudi Arabia before settling with his family in Amman to complete high school and, he notes, get closer to his Palestinian roots. As he did so, he was motivated to volunteer as a mentor to Palestinian orphans and support other activities that further educational opportunity for underprivileged children — reflecting a degree of commitment that he expects will shape his long-term goals. “For me, giving isn’t for show. It’s for a real cause. It’s for furthering the Palestinian diaspora. It’s about the making the Arab world a more knowledgeable place to be.”
Mohammed El-Kurd came to the Hope Fund with a compelling story that has already garnered international media attention via a documentary focused on the impact on his life of the confiscation of his family’s home by settlers in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. He is a prolific and talented poet and writer, plus a painter and sketch artist. He aspires to become a writer who contributes to his country’s cultural, artistic, and political life, as well as a voice for his people to the outside world. By studying in the United States, he hopes to acquire the education he needs to become an influential bilingual writer. “I’m beyond grateful for this opportunity,” Mohammed says. “The Hope Fund is not only investing in us as individual people, but in a whole homeland.”
Agnes Handal grew up in Bethlehem, where she graduated from Terra Sancta Sisters of Saint Joseph Girls School. She spent her junior year of high school as a YES student in Indiana, where she received a “scholar-athlete” award recognizing her high GPA and participation in varsity track, a sport not offered in her home country. Agnes has an eye on a career in international diplomacy in order to represent her country, and is therefore thinking of double-majoring in international relations and creative writing or public affairs. She has already participated in a panel discussion about the Palestinian issue at Roanoke College, where she is happy to be continuing her studies: “I love the community. People care about you and they show love, and I love it.”
Born and raised in Gaza, Iyad Hmidat is driven by a dream of a better future for his country and people. At Bridgewater College, he is double majoring in political science and economics with a minor in global studies as he seeks the education and practical experience that will help him achieve his goal of becoming a diplomat for Palestine and helping to provide solutions to the problems facing his society. Iyad attributes his decision to study in the United States, first as a YES student in high school and then as an undergraduate, to his conviction that, by sharing the experiences and knowledge he gains abroad, he can help find “solutions to some of our problems that we struggle [with] back home.” Iyad, who has amply demonstrated that conviction through many hours of community service during his YES year and in Gaza, adds, “The Hope Fund gave me the chance to follow my dreams."
Growing up in Sidon, Yusuf Qaddura experienced firsthand the challenges that face Palestinians in Lebanon. After making the difficult transition from an UNRWA school in a refugee camp to a Lebanese high school, he was desperate for a college education that would allow him to pursue his passion for computers and mathematics. Through the Competitive College Club at AMIDEAST/Beirut and the Hope Fund, he earned a scholarship from Swarthmore College, where he is double majoring in computer science and applied mathematics. Yusuf hopes to obtain a doctorate that opens the door to a teaching or research career. He would also like to spread interest in mathematics among Arab youth and thereby advance their analytical skills. "People living in such detrimental conditions, specifically in the refugee camps, find brilliant ways in order to facilitate their lives," he observes. "The youth especially deserve the opportunity that I got through the Hope Fund."
Sami Zimmo participated in the YES and Abraham Lincoln programs before coming to the Hope Fund. An outstanding, passionate student who has always striven to be on top, he received a scholarship from Washington and Jefferson College through the Hope Fund. Sami aims to pursue a degree in engineering and believes that the Hope Fund program will enhance his potential and life skills. His departure from Gaza was too late for him to begin his studies this fall, but we look forward to his arrival in time for spring semester!