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From Alaa: Hope is the Path to Success

A couple of years ago I had a dream, a dream to pursue my masters abroad and to be a successful woman advocating Alaa smiles at the camera in a light green blazer and navy headscarf.for women’s’ rights and freedoms. But as a young woman living in the Gaza Strip, I knew that this dream is like a mission impossible, I knew that there is no way to leave the Gaza Strip. A place where two million people are living under siege for 15 years and lack of basic human rights. I grew up in Gaza and survived 3 wars but despite every thing I had to go through I am writing my blog today to inspire women all over the world to fight for dreams and not to give up because there is nothing impossible.

Three years ago, I received the Andi Parvomavich fellowship award from the National Democratic Institute. It is a very competitive fellowship granted to one young women leader from 60 countries. I moved to the United Sates to work on my initiative called “Sharki” which means “participate”, designed to empower young women in the Gaza Strip. In Gaza, we have very talented, motivated and skilled people, but unfortunately, they have no opportunities; the unemployment rate is more than 50 percent. That is where the idea of my project came from. It focuses on building a network of empowered young women as future leaders by enhancing their professional leadership skills and increasing their participation in civil society. Despite all the challenges young Gazan women are facing, they work tirelessly and continue to fight for their dreams.

Alaa speaks to a group of peers around a conference table.
Alaa at the National Democratic Institute.

Before I moved to the United States I worked in different fields. I was working as an advocacy media officer with the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. It is a non-profit organization that provides specialized psychological support to victims of human rights violations. Part of my work is to advocate for women’s and children’s rights. In addition to raising awareness about protecting women from violence, I have experience working in the humanitarian field, journalism, and youth development and I have also worked as a translator with international organizations in Gaza.

Alaa is in the center of a group of young students. Almost everyone smiles at the camera. Alaa is wearing a beautiful black and gold dress and the students are in blue robes.
Alaa with students in Gaza.

I believe that education is the path to making change and it is the catalyst for peace. A couple of months after I finished my NDI fellowship, I heard about the Rotary Peace Fellowship and decided to apply. Receiving the fellowship is a dream coming true, it restored my hope. I am currently doing my master’s in public health with a Global Health concentration at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  Pursuing a master’s degree with 3 kids during the pandemic is one of the most challenging experiences I had in my life, especially that I had a newborn baby. I remember the first days in the first semester when I said to myself, “I can’t do this”, and decided to give up, but coming from Gaza has taught me that giving up is never an option.

For my summer Applied Field Experience (AFE) I am interning with the UNICEF, working in the Water and Sanitation field with the country engagement team. It’s such a great opportunity to work with the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) team and to learn from their expertise. Through my 200 hours training I am working with the Country Engagement team to develop an engagement strategy so that we can expand their partners in the Middle East. I am enjoying attending SWA’s teams’ meetings and webinars on important topics. I have also participated in discussions on how to engage more countries from the MENA region in SWAs’ work. It was very interesting to learn about the great work those teams are doing all over the world. I am also working at the Humanitarian Initiative at UNC, where I am working with the WHO team on quality of care in fragile settings. I am helping them assess what quality of care tools exist in the MENA region and how we can develop them.  I am so hopeful that by the end of the internship I will gain more practical skills which I can apply in my future career

Alaa and her 2 daughters smile at the camera surrounded by trees on UNC campus.
Alaa with her daughters on UNC’s campus.

Since my childhood I was so passionate about humanitarian work and empowering young women living in conflict zones and marginalized communities. After my graduation I will employ both the professional and practical skills I gained from my graduate degree and the Applied Field Experience to uplift and alleviate the suffering of young women around the world. I will also use the resources, skills and connections I made to work on establishing my own NGO to help uplift and empower young women in Palestine.



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