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.
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.
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.