The UNRWA USA board of directors announced that after 8 years of dedicated service and outstanding leadership as the chair, Ambassador (ret.) Philip C. Wilcox, Jr. has been appointed chair emeritus. The board elected Ghassan Salameh as the new chair, succeeding Ambassador Wilcox in that role.
Though Ghassan has been a member of the UNRWA USA board for six years, his connection with UNRWA runs far deeper. Recently, Ghassan spent time with our staff to share more of his personal story.
Ghassan’s family was one of the tens of thousands of Palestinian families dispossessed from their home and made refugees during the Nakba in 1948.
His family fled to Lebanon, and like many Palestinian families faced years of very difficult conditions. The early years were especially hard, extended family members squeezed together in one room and struggled to make a living. His family's problems were further exacerbated by his father's tragic accident, leaving him blind and unable to work. Under these challenges circumstances, UNRWA served as his family's lifeline.
UNRWA provided a monthly allotment of food, healthcare services, and most importantly, an education. For his elementary and middle school years, he attended UNRWA's Carmel School in Al Hadath, a suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. Many of the students at his school were bused from the neighboring Palestinian refugee camps. He graduated in 1968, followed by high school at the Vatican sponsored Pontifical Mission for Palestine refugees in Dbayeh refugee camp. His last year of high school, he attended the Lebanese Evangelical School for Boys.
"My formative memories from my childhood years all come back to UNRWA and the critical role it played in our lives,” reflects Ghassan. "My family is successful today because of what UNRWA did for us then when we had no one else. My three brothers and I are all UNRWA graduates. Without UNRWA, people like me wouldn’t be where they are."
And though 'where they are,' physically translates to scattered across the world, Ghassan and his former UNRWA classmates still remain in touch. From Australia to Canada to the Middle East, they remain connected through a Facebook group where they update each other on recent events, share photos, and reflect on childhood memories.
Each year, they hold a reunion, and this year, more than a dozen of them came together in Las Vegas, Nevada. While they say what happens in Vegas stays there, Ghassan couldn’t help but share his happiness in the opportunity to see old friends. He said what was most rewarding was to see all of his UNRWA classmates now, successful within their own fields, and with families of their own. He proudly commented that the emphasis on the importance of education was a value they all passed on to their children.
Ghassan came to the United States when he was 20 years old and received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from the California State University-Sacramento and an MBA, focusing on marketing and finance, from the University of San Francisco. From there, he rose through the ranks of Booz Allen from Associate to the coveted position of Senior Partner. Since retiring from Booz Allen, he has held senior management positions at top global companies and is currently the Chairman and CEO of Rubix Holdings, a technology and investment company that has just launched its first two global social media platforms, with more on the way.
The embodiment of the ‘American dream,’ Ghassan is thoughtful and soft-spoken. He credits his success to his family, UNRWA, and many other people and institutions who helped him along the way. Consequently, he has dedicated much of his time, energy, and resources, to giving back to those who supported him and especially to the Palestinian community with a dual focus on education and health.
Ghassan has done so through his work as an UNRWA USA board member since 2012 and most recently, through an upcoming campaign and fundraiser through the Bethlehem University Foundation entitled "The Way to Bethlehem.” On May 15, 2018, Ghassan will embark on a 40-day pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostella, as a way to raise awareness for Bethlehem University, draw attention to the issues of freedom of movement facing Palestinians, and highlight the importance of access to education.
When asked about the challenges he foresees UNRWA facing and his focus as board chair for UNRWA USA in the coming year, he advises:
Ghassan's impressive business background and personal connection with UNRWA provide greater insight to our work. His service to the board has and will continue to be instrumental to UNRWA USA's growth. We look forward to the continued guidance and leadership Ghassan will provide our board and staff as we continue to grow as an organization in our pursuit of improving the lives of Palestine refugees.