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Truman Scholar Nooran Alhamdan shares her family's UNRWA story: a story of displacement, struggle, and hope

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Truman Scholar Nooran Alhamdan shares her family's UNRWA story: a story of displacement, struggle, and hope

Nooran Alhamdan, college student at the University of New Hampshire, was recently selected to be a 2019 Truman Scholar, a highly competitive and prestigious scholarship for college juniors who have outstanding leadership potential, plan to pursue careers in public service, and wish to attend graduate school. Much of her application and desire to be an agent of change drew upon her personal connection with Palestine and UNRWA — her background as the daughter and granddaughter of Palestine refugees, her visits to refugee camps in Jordan, and her fundraising for emergency humanitarian assistance for Palestine refugees through UNRWA USA, including her most recent Ramadan fundraiser. She is a contributing guest writer to the Voices of UNRWA blog, where she shares the role UNRWA played in both her family’s life and her own.


“UNRWA has been a part of my family’s story and the story of millions of other Palestine refugees across the Middle East.” - nooran alhamdan


It was the summer before high school that my father took me to Baqa’a refugee camp in Jordan for the first time. I was in awe at the massiveness of the camp, its maze-like appearance, and its narrow streets. I remember my father pointing out to me the school he attended as a child in the camp for twelve years, its blue and white logo faded but bright in the midst of the lean grey buildings. United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, was written on the sign.

The school my father attended was an UNRWA school. The food he and his family relied on was UNRWA food assistance. The clinics he went to for basic healthcare were run by UNRWA.

My first introduction to UNRWA was made years before I was even born. UNRWA has been a part of my family’s story and the story of millions of other Palestine refugees across the Middle East.

Since that first visit to Baqa’a refugee camp, I have become deeply passionate about rights and justice for Palestine refugees. It has defined my personal studies and organizing. This past year, I realized that I can contribute directly to uplifting Palestine refugee communities by hosting fundraisers for UNRWA USA, the American nonprofit whose mission is to support the critical work of UNRWA.

photos taken during Nooran’s visit to Jerash refugee camp in Jordan in 2017 

Following the recent and major American funding cuts to UNRWA, I felt compelled to act. I knew the impact that UNRWA has on refugee communities and was devastated at the idea of refugees losing this lifeline. Given some of my other experiences in Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, I knew that, if anything, UNRWA has needed more funding, not less. I knew I had to act.

I want to tell the story of my family and all Palestine refugees to the American public. I want my fellow Americans to understand that ideals we claim to care about so deeply in this country; justice, equality, peace, and liberty are being withheld from the Palestinian people. I want my fellow Americans to understand that Palestine refugees are just as worthy of our compassion and empathy as other populations who have been forced to flee their homes and create new lives in tent cities. I want my fellow Americans to know that dignity and human rights are inseparable and it is our duty to uphold and defend the dignity of all of our global brothers and sisters in humanity, including the Palestinian people.
— Nooran Alhamdan

Our first campaign was the Ten for Ten challenge, which challenged supporters of UNRWA to donate at least $10 and invite 10 of their friends to donate as well. This campaign came directly in the wake of the cuts. In almost three weeks, this campaign raised over $10,000. I was astonished and touched to see that the global community had responded so enthusiastically to the campaign which was run purely over social media. I had simply made a video naming some of the Palestine refugee camps that UNRWA operates in and explaining the risk to students, people with health needs, and people who are food insecure.

In December of 2018 I decided to run a second campaign for Christmas. I set the goal to a lofty $25,000 and although we didn’t meet that goal, we still managed raise thousands again. I was yet again touched by the response of hundreds who responded to the call on social media.

I say ‘our’ in regards to these campaigns specifically because I truly believe that they are the result of our collective teamwork, our collective compassion, and our collective humanity. As the granddaughter and daughter of Palestine refugees, I was honored to jumpstart these campaigns, but I can never claim their outcomes as my own; it is all of our efforts and our love for Palestine refugees that made such an impact.

As part of Nooran’s holiday campaign, she created a video sharing why supporting UNRWA’s work for Palestine refugees was and remains critical.

I was recently honored to be named a Truman scholar for my commitment to public service. Something I have realized over the years is that my commitment to Palestine refugees has come to define my academics, my organizing, and my future career goals. I am extremely interested in taking back the microphone so-to-speak from a discourse that continually dehumanizes and devalues Palestinians.

I want to tell the story of my family and all Palestine refugees to the American public. I want my fellow Americans to understand that ideals we claim to care about so deeply in this country; justice, equality, peace, and liberty are being withheld from the Palestinian people. I want my fellow Americans to understand that Palestine refugees are just as worthy of our compassion and empathy as other populations who have been forced to flee their homes and create new lives in tent cities. I want my fellow Americans to know that dignity and human rights are inseparable and it is our duty to uphold and defend the dignity of all of our global brothers and sisters in humanity, including the Palestinian people.

I don’t know exactly what the future holds for me yet. I do know that the story of my family and the patience, perseverance, and dignity of Palestine refugees will continue to guide me in the fight for a more just world.


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Great March of Return, A Mother's Perspective

Great March of Return, A Mother's Perspective

Experience the story of a young Palestine refugee whose life was changed forever from injuries sustained during his participation in the demonstrations through the testimony of his mother.

As refugees in Gaza continue to exercise their right to peacefully protest the inhumane conditions under which they are forced to live, you can show them that Americans care by supporting UNRWA counselors like him.

Reflections from an UNRWA math teacher on Gaza's Great March of Return

Reflections from an UNRWA math teacher on Gaza's Great March of Return

Glimpse the impact that the ubiquity of injury and death in Gaza is having on young pupils in an UNRWA classroom from the perspective of their teacher

As refugees in Gaza continue to exercise their right to peacefully protest the inhumane conditions under which they are forced to live, you can show them that Americans care by supporting UNRWA counselors like him.

Testimony from an UNRWA counselor in Gaza: "Kids don't have hope"

Testimony from an UNRWA counselor in Gaza: "Kids don't have hope"

How a child sees the world: a drawing by an UNRWA student during an art therapy session

How a child sees the world: a drawing by an UNRWA student during an art therapy session

Every Friday for the last year, tens of thousands of Palestinian men, women, and children, have taken to the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel, to demand the right of return for refugees and the end of the illegal Israeli blockade.

While the Great March of Return has continued to be largely nonviolent, as of March 2019, Israeli forces have killed 195 Palestinians (including 41 children, 13 of whom attended UNRWA schools) and injured nearly 29,000 people (including over 7,000 shot with live ammunition, 227 of whom are UNRWA students).

Behind these shocking and tragic numbers are stories of lives curtailed or limited in some way. Through their own experiences and through supporting others, UNRWA counselors witness firsthand the physical and psychological trauma this violence has left.

One UNRWA counselor, who requested he remain anonymous shares his heartfelt and heartbreaking words:

“I’ve been working as a psychological counselor for nearly 10 years. I work at an UNRWA boys’ school and the Great March of Return has had a huge impact on our students many of whom have attended the demonstrations. I think we have to stress what makes our students participate: it's the blockade.

These kids don’t have hope, they don’t have dignity, they cannot leave Gaza, they have no employment opportunities, there’s no electricity, they lack money…the poverty, the economic pressure; it’s severe. Students here have a very difficult life.

We have around 20 students in my school who have been injured in the marches, they are mostly 14-15 years old. They have been injured in a variety of ways: live ammunition, shrapnel, tear gas canisters, and rubber bullets...The injuries have a huge impact – especially on those with permanent disabilities who can’t participate in sports, who can’t live normal lives. They become isolated socially. I see the psychological impact. These boys become withdrawn, they aren’t able to focus and concentrate in class, and they have nightmares about what happened.

And then there are the students who have lost family members. One student lost his father who was shot in the head during the demonstrations. Others have had their fathers or brothers injured. There are two cases where the father has undergone amputation. The students are so affected by this. Their behavior changes; they have problems with teachers and other students.”


As refugees in Gaza continue to exercise their right to peacefully protest the inhumane conditions under which they are forced to live, you can show them that Americans care by supporting UNRWA counselors like him.

Meet the 13 year old who has raised over $20K for refugee kids her age in Gaza

Meet the 13 year old who has raised over $20K for refugee kids her age in Gaza

At the top of the 2019 NYC Gaza 5K fundraising leaderboard right now is Dunia Mujalli who has raised an astonishing $20,600 (and counting) to provide mental health counseling for Palestine refugee children in the Gaza Strip. This talented and determined girl is just 13 years old, and proves that anyone, at any age, can be a successful fundraiser!

VIDEO: Dunia explains her motivation for fundraising and encourages people of all ages, genders, and abilities to join her efforts!

An empathetic young girl, Dunia’s motivation to fundraise for UNRWA USA’s Gaza 5K sprung from her visit to Ramallah in 2015. She returned shocked by the violence she saw and the difficulties other children her age experienced and was eager to do something to respond to the injustices she witnessed in Palestine. Her father, Nasri, recounts, “when she came back, all she did was speak about her experience. She told me, ‘Baba, I want to help the people in Palestine.’”

When the 2019 NYC Gaza 5K was announced earlier this year, Nasri decided this was a perfect way to make good on his daughter’s request. They signed up and immediately started asking friends and family to make donations to her fundraising page. Dunia’s clear passion and commitment for her fellow kids have resulted in her massive success. When asked why she is fundraising, she says, “Because I saw a lot of things they [Palestine refugee children] lost. They lost their homes, their parents, and I want to help them out to make the world a better place.”

Dunia alongside her family

Dunia has overcome her own obstacles and because of these experiences, she sees the potential in others and wishes to help them reach it, as she has done for herself. Dunia was born deaf, and at the age of 11 months, she received implants so that she could hear. Her father describes her as “a special child, gifted in so many ways that go beyond the challenges she has faced. She is always going out of her way to help others.”

You can help Dunia achieve her goal of doing good for refugee kids by supporting her fundraising or registering for the 2019 NYC Gaza 5K + Dabke Party on Saturday, March 30 in Brooklyn, New York!



Voices of the 2019 NYC Gaza 5K: Team Peace for Palestine

Voices of the 2019 NYC Gaza 5K: Team Peace for Palestine

If you attended the 2018 NYC Gaza 5K, you definitely know Team Peace for Palestine -- maybe just by a different name. Last year, they went by team BHCC (Beit Hanina Cultural Center), and they were nearly impossible to miss. Draped in Palestinian flags and keffiyehs and bursting with team spirit, this crew of family and friends rolled in 124 people deep and raised over $57,000 for UNRWA’s Community Mental Health Programme.

Meet their leader + 2019 NYC Gaza 5K Host Committee member: Rativa Dolah

This year, they are back at it, once again led by their fearless and dedicated team leader Rativa Dolah. Rativa is one of UNRWA USA’s 2019 NYC Gaza 5K host committee members and is keen on making sure her team continues to grow, fundraise, and advocate for the cause that means so much to her -- Palestine refugee kids’ access to mental health care. Last year, Rativa alone raised nearly $13,000 for UNRWA mental health services.

Even among her teammates, Rativa serves as a humble but energizing leader. Though she self-describes as “just a housewife,” her teammates and the rest of the Gaza 5K community know that she is much more than that. Fellow teammate Amane comments, “When I first heard about the Gaza 5K walk/run, I knew I wanted to join to help make a difference. I joined Rativa’s team 3 years ago and every year since, I continue to be part of her team. Rativa goes above and beyond, not only for her team members, but for the people of Gaza and Palestine.”

Rativa shares that she sees her team’s mission to “be a voice for the children of Gaza and to let them know that they will do what it takes to help provide them with the mental health they need.” She acknowledges that this is especially critical following the US government decision to defund UNRWA, sharing that this has further motivated and bestowed upon her a feeling of responsibility “to help promote UNRWA’s work by being at the Gaza 5K and making it the most successful fundraiser ever so UNRWA can continue to provide refugee children with the care they need.”

Rativa describes her team as a collection of Palestinian men, women, and children, housewives, nurses, teachers, and artists. She proudly states that “we all come together on this beautiful day together to help UNRWA get the funding and resources it needs.”

Why they move for mental health

When I showed up to the race, I could not believe how many people were participating and supporting the people of Palestine and Gaza. It was a beautiful moment, seeing so many people taking a stand for a much-needed cause. Although I am in a wheelchair, Rativa customized my wheels and designed them with the Palestinian flag. This was a highlight of last year’s 5K walk for me.
— Amane, Peace for Palestine team member

This team believes this day is for their family, a way to connect with their culture and heritage, support their fellow Palestinians, and create a culture of connection, community, and charity in the US. One member states, “as Palestinians it’s very important for my husband and I to show our support for our Palestinian people but to support a great cause. It’s important for us as parents to show our children to be active and be supportive of the less fortunate.” Amane adds, “I decided to take part in the Gaza 5K because I’m a proud Palestinian. I think that it’s very important to participate in these events to show our support for all the people in Palestine, including Gaza.”

Beyond a cultural connection, the universal concern around good mental health is something that unites and invigorates this team. In the US, though the root causes are different than those in Palestine, people face similar stigmas and struggle to cope with mental health concerns. Amane draws upon her own struggles with anxiety, empathetically stating that she can understand how providing services in Gaza could make a huge impact on the lives of people, given how much they have suffered and endured. In solidarity, she asserts, “It’s important that we take a stand to show our support by providing the [UNRWA] mental health services needed in Gaza.”

Other team members echo this sentiment, stating mental health issues are a serious issue that are not nearly taken as seriously as it should. One reflects on her family in Palestine, who face daily violence imposed by the Israeli occupation forces and military, affecting their physical and mental wellbeing. She draws upon her own family’s experience with mental health and the taboos surrounding openly speaking about trauma. One of her uncles, a Palestine refugee, had severe mental health issues following trauma to the head. Their family, though enduring so much, did not openly speak about the issues, silencing or medicating them due to lack of true medical support and understanding. She sadly states that he ultimately was killed by an Israeli military officer when he was in the middle of a suddenly triggered episode. It is his memory that propels her and her family to support UNRWA’s work to not only provide mental health care services to Palestine refugees, but knock down the stigma associated with it.

Mental health is extremely important. The only way for the children of Gaza to live a healthy and successful life is if they have good mental health. Every child should be able to smile, and we send love, hope, and peace to Palestine.
— Rativa Dolah, team captain + 2019 NYC Gaza 5K host committee member


Memories + motivation

The team reflects on what brings them back year after year, reminiscing on favorite memories. For many, it was the feeling of pure joy crossing the finish line surrounded by friends and family, beating their personal best race times from previous years, dancing dabke with their fellow New Yorkers before and after the race, or ending the day knowing they had done something meaningful for the kids in the Gaza Strip.

For Rativa, it was crossing the finish line with her 7 year old son Aziz. She said she couldn’t describe how proud of him she was, not just for finishing the race, but for knowing that they were doing something important for the children of Gaza together. For Amane, it was truly the spirit of togetherness. She says, “when I showed up to the race, I could not believe how many people were participating and supporting the people of Palestine and Gaza. It was a beautiful moment, seeing so many people taking a stand for a much-needed cause. Although I am in a wheelchair, Rativa customized my wheels and designed them with the Palestinian flag. This was a highlight of last year’s 5K walk for me.”

In sharing a final message with her fellow New Yorkers, Rativa exclaims, “Gaza 5K, here we come -- a loud, proud, and colorful invasion, but don’t be intimidated, we come in peace!” And knowing Rativa and her team, they will certainly do just that.

A meaningful New Year's resolution you can commit to

A meaningful New Year's resolution you can commit to

It’s hard to believe January is coming to an end and with it, our deadline to set some 2019 resolutions. Justin Connor, a long time UNRWA USA supporter, is a few steps ahead when it comes to identifying what ‘sparks joy’ for him. Last year, Justin incorporated participating in the DC Gaza 5K as part of his resolution to be more active and healthier in 2018, and is committed to doing it again in 2019.

Since its inception in 2012, the DC Gaza 5K has been a part of Justin’s annual routine and goal setting. Before returning Stateside, he was in Dubai, where he said that he had been doing fewer outdoors activities as he would have liked because of the weather. Somehow, convinced that the humid DC summers were an upgrade from the arid desert heat, he picked up running and used the Gaza 5K as a platform to inspire his health goals. He reflects, “it was a great opportunity to raise money for a cause I believed in and get in shape.”

The sense of family and community reflected in the runners is what really brings it home. I’ve done many races, and they are nothing like this one [Gaza 5K].
Justin (left) alongside fellow long time UNRWA USA supporter Kate Gould (right) at the 2016 DC Gaza 5K

Justin (left) alongside fellow long time UNRWA USA supporter Kate Gould (right) at the 2016 DC Gaza 5K

Justin has cared about issues facing Palestine refugees since he was a teenager. At 19, while he was a sophomore at Earlham College, he participated in a foreign study program in Jerusalem, spending some time in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. He says that it was at this point, in the summer of 1991, his long standing concerns surrounding peace and social justice for Palestinians came to life. During his study abroad, he had a ten day break where he was free to do whatever he wished. He and a friend reached out to Save the Children in Gaza and did a ten day internship. In traveling through the Gaza Strip, he got a sense of the people and challenges there. “I got a sense of the culture -- the joy, maqluba, coffee, and weddings,” Justin says enthusiastically.  

Beyond a sense of physical achievement, Justin says “the Gaza 5K brings back a little bit of that summer and reminds me of the sense of community and family that I experienced in Gaza.” He notes that he has a red keffiyeh from his time in Gaza which he has taken with him every place he has lived. The keffiyeh. The Gaza 5K. They are all reminders to Justin of his global citizenship and the connections that unite all people.

He comments on the experience of the Gaza 5K and says, “something that is always moving to me each year is to see families running together. Parents with their kids and sometimes grandparents all come together around the cause. I love the sense of family and community that is evoked in the Gaza 5K. There are people with flags, zaatar, food, and culture that remind you of the cause, why we are doing this, and who it is for. The sense of family and community reflected in the runners is what really brings it home. I’ve done many races, and they are nothing like this one.”

For others looking to do good and feel good in 2019 by signing up for this charitable race, Justin offers his personal advice:

I encourage anyone who is on the fence to register so that they are motivated to make their goals a reality, too. When you register and commit to your decision, it really helps solidify and advance your goals. Every year, whenever I hear about the race, I register immediately, start fundraising, and put together a team. It helps me get going on my goals!
Justin (right) at the 2015 DC Gaza 5K

Justin (right) at the 2015 DC Gaza 5K

If you’re feeling inspired by Justin’s commitment to Palestine refugees, their mental health, and his physical fitness goals, you can follow his lead by registering for the NYC Gaza 5K on March 30. Look out for tickets for the DC Gaza 5K available later in the year. Whether you choose to focus on a fundraising goal or a fitness goal (or both!), we look forward to seeing you move for mental health with us at a Gaza 5K this year!

Going the extra mile for Palestine refugees in 2018

Going the extra mile for Palestine refugees in 2018

The end of the year is often synonymous with reflection, gratitude, how far we’ve come, and how far we aim to go in the following year. At UNRWA USA, we are reflecting upon some of the incredible supporters that went the extra mile (literally) to show their solidarity with UNRWA and the Palestine refugees it serves.

One such supporter was James Crosby, who ran the Palestine Marathon in March of this year. To run 26.2 miles is an incredible feat on its own, but James chose to add on an extra challenge by making the race a part of a campaign to raise funds and awareness to work in the Middle East.

James is not the only one who hit the pavement as an act of solidarity. George Zeidan, the co-founder of the Palestine Marathon (the very race James ran in 2018) ran the NYC Marathon in response to the current US administration cutting all funding to UNRWA, and Udi Pladdott ran the NYC Marathon and the NYC Gaza 5K to raise money for UNRWA’s mental health programming for refugee kids in the Gaza Strip.

We caught up with James to see why he ran the race as a fundraiser, what he learned while being in Palestine, and how the experience of changed him.


[UNRWA USA] : What made you decide to run the Palestine Marathon? 

I also learned how much freedom I enjoy in my own life, freedom of movement, freedom of enterprise, freedom to live my life as I please and provide for my family. This is something I have completely taken for granted until now. Palestinians have so little freedom, due to checkpoints, permit systems, restrictions on travel, detention with no charges, and so on. I have now witnessed this with my own eyes and will be spreading the message about what they have to go through.
— James Crosby


[James]: For a long time, I've had an interest in the Middle East and particularly Palestine. The people there have suffered such terrible injustices for so long. So when I started looking for a marathon to take part in and saw this event happening on a running website I immediately started putting the wheels in motion to make it happen. I had always considered Palestine off-limits and not a place that I could just visit for tourism purposes, particularly as I had read that Israel make it very difficult to enter the West Bank and Gaza. But seeing the Palestine marathon event made me realize that it is possible after all. So all this pent-up, somewhat subconscious desire to go suddenly erupted into my consciousness. And once I get an idea into my head, there is little that can detract me from it! 

[UNRWA USA] : Why did you decide to make it a fundraiser for UNRWA?


Once I had decided to take part in the marathon, my next thought was to raise money whilst doing it. I do quite a few events  but with the Palestine marathon I really wanted to raise money for a cause that was relevantSo I started to look up refugee organizations involved in the region and of course quickly came across UNRWA. I read up about the history of the organization, and then started to see how I could actually raise funds for them. The US National Committee’s website was particularly well geared up towards fundraising, which made the process very easy.

[UNRWA USA]: What did you learn in your experience running the race?


[James]: I learned that the Palestinians, despite all their troubled past and often negative portrayal in the media, are incredibly open, hospitable and welcoming. They have had to endure such unimaginable horrors, and yet open their arms to visitors from around the world. I also learned how much freedom I enjoy in my own life, freedom of movement, freedom of enterprise, freedom to live my life as I please and provide for my family. This is something I have completely taken for granted until now. Palestinians have so little freedom, due to checkpoints, permit systems, restrictions on travel, detention with no charges, and so on. I have now witnessed this with my own eyes and will be spreading the message about what they have to go through.

Highlights from James’ trip

[UNRWA USA]: Do you have any interesting stories or anecdotes that you'd like to share from your conversations with Palestine refugees and/or your observations/experiences while visiting Aida Camp?

[James]: Our guide Mohamed, who led us on a tour of the Aida refugee camp, was such an inspiring person. He had lived almost his entire life in the refugee camp, and despite his meager surroundings and lack of resources available to him, managed to keep focused on his education. He is studying to become a lawyer, and hopes to complete his education in the UK. He shared with us a harrowing tale which gave a very moving insight into daily life as a Palestinian. In order to get from the refugee camp to his school, he has to pass through a cemetery. Many of the members of his family are buried there, and so it holds a very special place in his heart. Unfortunately, the cemetery also adjoins the separation wall which passes through and divides Palestinian neighborhoods of Bethlehem. From one of the intimidating watchtowers along the wall, gun-toting Israeli soldiers regularly throw their rubbish into the cemetery, including bottles filled with urine. To see this beautiful cemetery defiled with these piles of rubbish and yellow bottles honestly brought a tear to my eye. This utter lack of respect towards fellow humans I found absolutely shocking.

[UNRWA USA]: What message would you like to share with the world about Palestine and/or Palestine refugees after participating in this incredible event?

[James]: Book your flight today! It is such a wonderful part of the world, so rich in history and culture. The food, the people, the architecture, the religious sites, the museums - Palestine has everything and I felt completely safe the entire time.  I am so glad I got the chance to go there myself and at the same time hopefully bring some awareness of the situation to my friends and family through the fundraising. It was a truly unforgettable experience.


Thank you to James and all the other fundraisers who helped fill UNRWA’s massive funding gap left by the US government’s funding freeze. Make sure to keep an eye out for others running and fundraising for Palestine refugees in 2019!

UNRWA changed my life and the lives of many people around me: Dr. Shadi Battah's UNRWA story

UNRWA changed my life and the lives of many people around me: Dr. Shadi Battah's UNRWA story

Dr. Shadi Battah is an American doctor, Palestine refugee, and former UNRWA beneficiary. He is a contributing guest writer to the Voices of UNRWA blog, where he shared the role UNRWA played in his and his family’s lives.


My name is Shadi Battah, and this is my UNRWA refugee story. It’s a story that both represents the unsettlingly common narrative of Palestinian displacement, loss, and reconstruction, but also my family’s unique journey from our homeland in Palestine.

Like many Palestine refugees, UNRWA has been a part of my life and the life of my parents. Both of my parents are UNRWA students and beneficiaries. My dad was born in Ein Karem (Southwest of Jerusalem) in 1941. During the Nakba, my grandparents and family were forced to flee to Jordan in 1948. My dad lived in a refugee camp until 1957 when he left to pursue an education and hope for a better life. It was his education that gave him the foundation and confidence to take this step. All his elementary and middle school education were at UNRWA schools. Through hard work, he ultimately became an electrical engineer.

My mother was born in Deir El Balah refugee camp in Gaza in 1951. Gaza was a very different place then. She was an UNRWA student and beneficiary from birth until she left to Egypt to pursue her education in the late 60s. Ultimately, she became a sociologist. I remember while growing up, she would repeatedly tell me about the UNRWA preventive health services and the daily milk, vitamins, and meals that she had received during her years at UNRWA schools. At this point, they were very poor, and as a result, the nutritional support she’d received at UNRWA schools was vital to her physical and mental growth.

Flash forward to 1978. I was born in Lebanon at the height of the civil war and we fled the country to Jordan where I spent my early childhood. We spent a couple of years in Kuwait and we were vacationing in Jordan for the summer when Iraq occupied Kuwait. This was a severe blow to my dad’s career. In the aftermath, my family faced severe economic hardships. Despite being a middle class family in terms of level of education and aspirations, we lived at the poverty line (and frequently slipped below it) through my teenage years.

I was enrolled in UNRWA’s Al Jofeh elementary school, in southeast Amman from the 7th through 10th grade. I can’t emphasize the importance of what UNRWA has provided me during those formative years: despite over-crowded conditions (40 students or more per teacher) and limited resources, I received an excellent education that prepared me for an uncertain future.

I have fond memories to this day of my math teacher Sameeh, English teacher Sami, and many other very dedicated staff that managed to steer the ship and deliver good results, despite all the odds. This staff, refugees themselves, was exceptional and received employment opportunities through UNRWA. Some of the experiences I had during those formative years included correspondence with a twin school in Sweden that sponsored a science day at the modest lab we had then. This dramatically helped and positively impacted me and my fellow students. This relationship became very important for my personal story down the line. I finished the 10th grade with top scores, and I was instructed by UNRWA staff to keep up the good work and come back at the end of high school (12th grade) to apply for a scholarship to help with my college expenses.

UNRWA’s work is vital on so many levels but above all it gives Palestinian kids education and hope for a better future. In my opinion, hope is as important as water and food and is pivotal to maintaining stability and peace.

shadi’s family + childhood

Though I’ve worked hard, I definitely hit a lucky streak. I don’t believe that the education, healthcare, dreams and hopes of the most vulnerable Palestinians should depend on the luck factor. That’s why UNRWA’s work is so important. I’m forever indebted to UNRWA. UNRWA changed my life and the lives of many people around me.

I completed my 11th and 12th grades at a public school supported by the government in Jordan. Jordan has been my home and a country that has supported Palestinians immensely and with unwavering commitment throughout the years. Again I scored high, but I have to say that I was very frustrated and sad at the end of high school, as I didn’t see how I’ll be able to cover any tuition expenses considering the lack of resources.

In this moment of need, my UNRWA sister school in Sweden made a one time financial contribution that allowed me to register for medical school in the fall semester of 1996. The cost of tuition for the entire year was about $1500, which is negligible compared to costs in the United States, but nonetheless, it was an insurmountable amount for me and my family at that point. That contribution allowed me to get my foot in the door and gave me time to circle back with the UNRWA education division and apply for a tuition scholarship. When the grants were announced early in 1997, I was very happy to learn that I was a recipient of the scholarship. It was this scholarship that carried me through medical school. There was no way I could have attended medical school without UNRWA’s financial support.

One thing lead to another and I ended up moving to the United States in 2004 to pursue training in internal medicine. I further specialized in pulmonary and critical care, which has allowed me to enjoy a very rewarding relationship with my patients and community.

Shadi with his wife Carisa and two sons Sami and Ramzi

Shadi with his wife Carisa and two sons Sami and Ramzi

I feel fortunate to have continued to develop and prosper in my personal and professional life, and my successes helped me support many people in my circle, whether in my immediate community or thousands of miles away. I've recently decided to become an American citizen as I've always believed in the core values including "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and how those notions apply to individuals and nations alike.

I believe that the most vulnerable Palestinians deserve to live in freedom and have the chance to pursue their dreams and hopes, as well. UNRWA's work and support makes this possible, and I'm a living example of how UNRWA's work not only benefits Palestinians but also Americans and people around the world. With the opportunity and support that UNRWA provides, UNRWA alumni are more likely to become productive world citizens. UNRWA’s work is vital on so many levels but above all it gives Palestinian kids education and hope for a better future. In my opinion, hope is as important as water and food and is pivotal to maintaining stability and peace.

Though I’ve worked hard, I definitely hit a lucky streak. I don’t believe that the education, healthcare, dreams and hopes of the most vulnerable Palestinians should depend on the luck factor. That's why UNRWA's work is so important. I'm forever indebted to UNRWA. UNRWA changed my life and the lives of many people around me.


More about Shadi

I spent most of my life in Jordan where I attended UNRWA’s Al Jofeh school from 7th to 10th grade. I finished high school with honors from Al-Hussein College High School in Amman, and enrolled in medical school at Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid. My tuition was mostly paid for by an UNRWA scholarship, without which I would not been able to attend college. I graduated in 2002, and shortly afterwards, I decided to come to the US to pursue higher medical education. I finished my residency in internal medicine from Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati in 2007, and then I went to University of New Mexico Hospitals in Albuquerque where I did a fellowship in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. Afterwards, I moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where I joined a private practice as an Intensivist. I've been providing critical medical care to Alaskans for the past 8 years or so both at the bedside and via telemedicine platforms. I'm currently enrolled in the Certificate of Physician Leadership program and will be starting work on my MBA from the University of Massachusetts in 2019.

I got married to my wonderful wife Carisa in 2013, and we have two boys and are expecting another baby soon. We live in Alaska and spend a significant amount of time in Northern California, where my wife's family lives. In my free time I read, play chess, and join local pick-up soccer games. I have a keen interest in startups, especially in the healthcare space and in high tech.

Founder of Palestine Marathon Runs NYC Marathon to Raise Money for UNRWA USA

Founder of Palestine Marathon Runs NYC Marathon to Raise Money for UNRWA USA

This weekend, more than 50,000 runners will hit the streets of New York for the annual NYC Marathon. Among them will be George Zeidan, a Palestinian Christian refugee and Fulbright scholar who is running to raise awareness and funds to support UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) work in the Middle East.

This cause is personal to George. He was born in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, where his mother is still a UNRWA employee. After graduating from college in Murfreesboro, North Carolina, George returned to Bethlehem and co-founded the first Right to Movement Palestine Marathon in 2013, the only marathon in the world that requires runners to complete four laps on the same 10-kilometer path due to lack of space and movement restrictions. He is now living in Los Angeles and pursuing a master’s degree at USC thanks to his Fulbright fellowship.

Following the US administration’s decision to completely de-fund UNRWA in August 2018, George capitalized on his love for running to raise awareness and funds to the Agency that has so deeply impacted the lives of people in his family and his broader Palestinian community.

Running and advocating for Palestinian rights are my greatest passions. As one of the co-founders of the Right to Movement marathon in Bethlehem, the occupied West Bank, I’ve seen how running can create a movement of global proportions. So, while in the US, I want to follow in this tradition and use this race [NYC Marathon] as a way to make an impact in the lives of 5+ million refugees.
— George Zeidan, co-founder of Right to Movement + fundraiser for UNRWA USA

UNRWA was established in 1949 and provides food, healthcare, and education to more than 5 million refugees across the Middle East. But now these vital services are in jeopardy following the funding cut.

Support George as he runs 26.2 miles for Palestine refugees and help fill this funding gap. If you’re in NYC this weekend for the race (Sunday, November 4), you can cheer George on in person, or you can contribute a donation to his fundraising page and share words of support!


Interested in supporting UNRWA USA’s work? You can but certainly don’t have to run a marathon to do so. Set up a fundraising page and help fund UNRWA and show your solidarity with Palestine refugees.