The Hope Fund Helps Young Palestinians to Study in the U.S.
By: Ani Karapetyan/Contributing Writer
No one knows about the value of the Hope Fund than AMIDEAST president Ted Kattouf, a former U.S. Ambassador. “Hope Fund scholars provide some of the best stories about Palestinian youth which almost no one is familiar.” he says.
The Hope Fund program is producing some of the next generation of Palestinian leaders in a variety of critical fields. Kattouf adds, “It would be refreshing if the U.S. media would feature articles about Palestinian accomplishment, such as a nuclear family in Gaza City whose three eldest sons, educated in Gaza’s UNRWA and public schools won scholarships to MIT, Harvard, and Stanford, where they have excelled,”
Today, Palestinian students from refugee camps have an opportunity to study in U.S. colleges and universities through scholarships provided by the Hope Fund. This institution has been providing scholarships to Palestinian students since 2000. Currently, 41 students are enrolled in undergraduate programs through the Hope Fund.
The program is managed by AMIDEAST, which is a leading American education and training provider in the Middle East and North Africa. Nearly 5 million Palestinians live in refugee camps, experiencing extreme poverty in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon. Education is a powerful tool to help these young Palestinians achieve a decent and bright future.
Palestinian students, who are eligible for Hope Fund scholarships, are academically qualified, but lack adequate financial resources.
The Hope Fund’s mission is “to enrich the lives of young people, creating hope out of despair, while fostering familiarity and understanding between the two different cultures.”
To our question about how they select students, and what their criterias are, Ambassador Kattouf replied, “With established offices in Ramallah, Gaza, Nablus, East Jerusalem, and Hebron, AMIDEAST has a 50-year presence in the Palestinian territories and relationships with their program beneficiaries.
As part of the Hope Fund program, AMIDEAST looks to identify refugees and others from underserved backgrounds who could not otherwise afford the cost of U.S. undergraduate education. Hope Fund scholars demonstrate academic excellence, receive high scores on the standard admissions exams (TOEFL and SAT), and exhibit a well-rounded personality through their involvement in extracurricular activities, sports, and service to their communities. Staff members look for students who are extremely motivated, resilient; and therefore, are most likely to succeed. These are the standards that U.S. colleges and universities look for in awarding admission and scholarships to their applicants.
Kattouf also mentioned that the students of the Hope Fund are free to choose their field of study. Most of them choose majors in the STEM fields.
Although the Hope Fund mostly finances undergraduate education, many of the students show such academic excellence, that they earn graduate fellowships from mainstream educational institutions, to continue their studies. Most of the students also take advantage of the OPT program that allows them to work in the U.S. for a year. One of the students from the Arroub Refugee Camp in West Bank, became the first Palestinian to receive a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University.
Muhammed el-Kurd is one of the many students funded by the Hope Fund. He currently studies writing at the Savannah College of Art & Design in Atlanta, GA. He is well known in his neighborhood. He was the main recipient of an award-winning documentary about the episode called: “My Neighborhood.”
Muhammed is very passionate about social justice struggles and the injustices that he has personally experienced in the world. As he says, his experience helps fuel his writing and keeps him motivated.
We asked Muhammed how he contributes to his college community, “in so many ways, in college, I am the embodiment of an obscured and misunderstood part of the world. I contribute with my voice and my personal narrative as well as the collective narrative of historical Palestine.” This enables him an extended intercultural communication that benefits “both worlds” and works towards a more understanding of “the other”, and the baggage of historical events, power structures, untold stories, and unanswered questions that accompany “the other”.
Finally, Muhammed gives the following tips to future students of Arab descent in order to succeed in U.S. colleges:
- Personalize. I have noticed that students are usually reluctant to tell their own stories because, to them, they seem to be mundane and casual. We, be it aspiring artists or scholars, need to personalize our experiences at college and in life, in order to be as visible and memorable as possible. Everybody is exceptional, but not everyone is bold enough to vocalize, demonstrate, and articulate their extraordinariness.
- Listen. As much as it is important to do storytelling; we need to listen in order grow. Workshopping ideas and offering feedback is a huge part of the U.S. college system, and it is an incredibly beneficial one. Listen to criticism with the mindset that any constructive note will improve you, and have the confidence to respect people’s negative opinions while still maintaining your own, and not letting negativity engulf you.
- Be punctual. Let me put this shortly: a deadline is a deadline.
- Do not be ethnocentric. Students come from different countries, backgrounds, and cultures. Students have different beliefs and attitudes. It is very important to understand that people approach different things with different attitudes, and there is not really a “right” way to do things or live life. This is where respectful eagerness to understanding and appreciation should be employed, creating a pleasant and inclusive environment.”