ADVISERS

Dr Graham Leonard In 2006 Dr. Leonard developed MaHakkaat at-Tafkir, a discussion program in Arabic for the Ministry of Education in Jordan for 6th–9th graders. He currently spends half the year training teacher trainers who implement this program in the public schools. He just completed work on a book in conjunction with the Minister of Education in Jordan: Re-Defining Arab Education for the 21st Century.

Dr. Leonard received his PhD in Education from Harvard University. A lifelong educator, he worked at UNESCO, UNDP, UNRWA, and International Planned Parenthood. Among his many achievements he has taught at the Friends School in Ramallah (1950–51, 55–57), Birzeit University, and was Dean of Students and Associate Professor Humanities at the American University of Beirut (1960–63).

As an instructor he helped to create the Department of Education at the Experimental State University of New York (1970–73). He was visiting professor at National Teachers University, Beijing, Peoples Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution (1979–81).

Dr. Leonard is a fluent speaker of Jordanian colloquial Arabic and French. At the age of ninety four Dr. Leonard continues to work passionately and tirelessly in the field of education.

Few “foreign experts” understand as deeply the vital distinction between modernization and westernization, which is a theme that pervades Dr. Leonard’s consciousness and influences much of what he has to tell us concerning educational reform. As evidence from his work, he can dissect these two elements, modernization and westernization, with the skill of a surgeon performing a delicate operation to separate unwanted tissue from living, healthy tissue. This requires a life-time of careful attention to the differences among cultures, much of which Dr. Leonard acquired through more than 65 years of work in the Middle East.

Additionally, Dr. Leonard has a deep and broad knowledge of the history, theory and practice of education in the West, its failures and its progress.Unlike many educators, his perspective is not one of narrow specialization but a broad yet detailed understanding of all aspects of society that interact and influence education whether we like it or not.

Deep moral commitment to all that is good in man guides Dr.Leonard always. He has devoted his life to education because he is aware that only through education can progress be made which allows every society to become creative and self-sufficient, not dependent on the ideas and then therefore the power of other nations.


Laila El-Asmar Laila is a licensed clinical social worker in Bethesda, Maryland, who has been in private practice since 2007, specializing in psychotherapy and cross-cultural therapy for individuals, couples and families. She earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC and a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Spanish from LaSalle University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Laila’s unique background (First generation, half-Italian and half-Palestinian) has given her a deep appreciation of diverse human experiences. She comes from a multigenerational line of human right activists beginning with her paternal grandmother and father, Dr. Fouzi El-Asmar, who was a distinguished Palestinian writer, poet, academic, and journalist. From her father, a recognized authority on the political and social conditions of the Palestinian people, Laila gained a passion for human rights that became integral to her work in mental health and human services.


Jamilah Shami is a Palestinian-American organizer dedicated to civil and human rights. She served as a board member of several organizations, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). She also served as an ADC National Board Member and as Chapter President of the Washington D.C. Area Chapter where she worked closely with the local Board of Directors to address the needs of the community through coordination and support of social, cultural and political initiatives. She mentored college and university students as they explored activism on and off campus. She is strongly rooted in the grassroots base and enjoys working directly with the community to increase communication and coordination with other marginalized communities. Shami worked as an Education Program Manager at International Business Machines (IBM) and at the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA). She served as a Consultant for the United Nation’s Development Program (UNDP) through their TOKTEN Program in Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s office and as Deputy Campaign Manager on the Farouk for Governor Campaign. She currently handles special projects at Farouk Systems, Inc. She is inspired by her parents, Dr. Jamil and Kamelah Shami, and by her late grandfather, Sheikh Mohammed Shami. As educators, they instilled in her the importance of education. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from George Mason University and a Master’s in Human Resource Management from Marymount University. As leaders, they taught her to treat others with respect, humanity and dignity, to lead by example and to try to make the world a better place.


Samer Anabtawi is currently a Graduate Assistant and a PhD student in Comparative Politics and Quantitative Research Methods at the George Washington University. In 2013, Samer completed his MA in International Relations at the University of Chicago with emphasis on International Political Economy.

Between 2013 and 2015, Samer worked as a Media consultant with Palestine’s General Delegation to the United States and had previously held internship positions at the United States Congress, and the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ramallah.

As a Hope Fund Scholar, Samer graduated from Illinois College in 2012, Summa Cum Laude , with a quadruple major in political science, economics, French, and International studies. Samer graduated as Valedictorian of his class, and was induct
ed to Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s most distinguished academic honor society. He is also a member of the International Economics Honor Society “Omicron Delta Epsilon,” the National Political Science Honor Society “Pi Sigma Alpha,” the International Foreign Language Honor Society “Phi Sigma Iota,” and IC’s Phi Alpha Literary Society.

Samer has taken a key campus leadership role in developing the social justice tradition at Illinois College. As president of the Progressive Action Coalition, and founder of Illinois College’s first Amnesty International chapter, he led campus-wide initiatives advocating for social and economic justice, as well as racial and gender equality. He was twice the college’s recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Peacemaker award and was named the Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact in recognition of his leadership role.

Through the Hope Fund, he developed a strong commitment to providing opportunities for Palestinian students to pursue quality education and has worked with current and past students to help them meet the highest standards of excellence in their careers. He hopes to build on his experience in higher education to contribute to the success of LE•O in offering academic and leadership opportunities to Palestinian students in the United States.

Samer is a LE•O representative for The West Bank.


Mariam Ashour is a Trinity Graduate Fellow at Marquette University where she is pursuing an M.A. in International Affairs. Her areas of interest are nationalism, ethnic conflict, and regime transitions.

She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a minor in Studio Arts from Columbia College, South Carolina. Mariam currently works at Data You Can Use, a Milwaukee-based non-profit that is dedicated to assist clients in the community analyze and interpret data. Before moving to Milwaukee, Mariam worked at the International Monetary Fund ( IMF ) and the Urban Institute in Washington D.C. In her spare time, Mariam enjoys painting, reading, and hanging out with friends.


Ahmed Musallam is from Gaza. He is currently a technical consultant at Perficient, Inc. Ahmed was awarded a scholarship to pursue his undergraduate degree at Augsburg College, he graduated with a major in Computer Science and a double minor in Mathematics and Management Information Systems.

While at college, Ahmed served as a Technical Intern for Travelers insurance, A webmaster and program assistant for the Nobel Peace Prize Forum and a Technical Assistant and staff member of The Hope Fund. In his spare time, Ahmed helps several nonprofit organizations improve their digital presence and find solutions to their technical challenges. He enjoys playing soccer and building web applications.

Being a Palestinian and a Hope Fund scholar and former staff member, Ahmed realizes the need for an organization the LEO, mission. Through his experience, Ahmed works to help Palestinian youth to attain the education and resources they need to meet their academic and professional goals.

Ahmed is a LE•O representative for Gaza.


Wael Haidar is one of our Alumni, who comes from Bourj Al Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon. A 2018 graduate of Lehigh University with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. He is currently working on his masters in management at Lehigh and will graduate in May 2020. During his undergraduate studies, he worked on various catalysis-related research projects with Lehigh professors. In addition, Wael spent a co-op semester at Infineum, where he worked on developing a test for lubricant aeration. He also worked in the Career Services office, where he helped students with resumes and other career related projects.

Wael is a valued mentor for LEO who helps our team in various ways. He manages LE.O’s financial books. He is our official travel agent, which is always a challenge for our Palestinian students with various passports and travel documents, all of which come with many restrictions. He recently hosted a webinar for our incoming students to help with their on-boarding and orientation and is always available to answer their questions.


Iman AbuAitah, from Gaza, completes her Masters degree in Women’s and Gender Studies (WGST) at Eastern Michigan University in May 2020. She currently serves as a graduate research and teaching and assistant (Courses: Introduction to Feminist Theory, Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies, and Gender in a Global Perspective) in the WGST Department at Eastern. She is also a shelter/helpline volunteer at SafeHouse Domestic Violence Center and volunteers as the Director of Student Affairs at the Leonard Education Organization.

During her graduate education, she has researched feminist movements in the MENA region, women’s rights in areas of conflict, the connection between military aggression and oppressive patriarchal structures in Palestine, domestic violence and sexual assault, women’s rights in a global perspective of universal human rights, and conceptualizing a feminist theoretical approach that could work for Palestine.

Her current research focuses on examining the connection between critical thinking, creativity, and dissidence in contexts that are plagued with censorship and colonization, especially Palestine. Her project seeks to identify the essentiality of critical thinking for liberation and social change. She sees critical thinking education as the most promising starting point to disrupt power imbalances and challenge the status quo. Upon graduation, she wishes to be involved in introducing capacity-building programs that train Palestinian students in critical thinking and problem-solving skills so that they can start seeing the patterns of gender-based oppression and discrimination around them and addressing them appropriately.

Because she believes youth are Palestine’s biggest hope for a better future, she thinks that incorporating liberatory pedagogies in supplementary educational programs is key for disrupting the status quo. Young students should have access to training in skills the education system lacks such as critical thinking, advocacy, environmental awareness, problem solving, gender equality, and sociopolitical awareness. Put simply, she believes that if we can get youth to start thinking critically, they will no longer be passive recipients of cultural norms and oppressions and will start resisting them. She strongly believes that educational programs like LE.O. can pave the way for Palestinians to become creative critical thinkers and agents of change in the world.


Mahmoud AbuEid is a Palestinian who grew up in Zarqa , Jordan. He came to the US in 2012 to attend Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota ,graduating in 2016 with a BS in Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry . Mahmoud then accepted a research technician position at the Medical College of Wisconsin taking advantage of the Optional Practical Training ( OPT ) visa for a year , his research was in neurodegenerative diseases . Currently he is a PhD candidate at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Mahmoud is the LE•O representative for Jordan.


Sally Shami is the Branch Manager and Country Representative at Challenge to Change Swiss Foundation. She earned a Bachelor of Media and Political Science from Birzeit University and a Master’s in Nonprofit Management and Leadership from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is a board member of the Jerusalem Center for Women (JCW) that aims to empower Palestinian women. She is passionate about education and community building and enjoys working directly with youth. While growing up in Ramallah- Palestine she always had a strong support system from her family, school, and community. According to Shami this support system was, and still is, very instrumental in her life and she believes in the importance of just being there for a student.Sally is eager to share her experience with L.E.O’s students as it relates to her career and passion, and we are lucky to have her as part of our team .


Mai Zaru
Engaged with LE•O since the beginning Mai has been an invaluable mentor and advisor to our incoming students.

With a degree in Special Education from Brigham Young University, Mai Zaru returns to Palestine once more to serve as an educator and endorsed teacher for English Language Learners on the premises of The Ramallah Friends School. With her ongoing efforts to serve as an educator, Mai believes that her continual education aids in promoting self advocacy through a student-oriented coaching lense. As a Palestinian female, she aspires to focus on low-income families and destitute refugees unanchored by the simplest of privileges, to read, write and speak. Mai currently presides in Ramallah while pursuing her graduate studies in Reading and Literacy from University of Florida.


Luisa Sonnek was raised in the Washington,DC area by a Lebanese mother and a Sicilian father.A world traveler she lived in Egypt for several years as well as attending culinary school in Paris, France. Upon returning to the U.S., she continued her culinary education at La Academia de Cuisine earning a professional culinary degree. She had a 25-year career as a professional chef before moving to NW Pennsylvania to be near her daughter. She has a BA in fine arts and Psychology and a Masters in Community Counseling. Then returning one more time to finish her Art Therapy training.
Luisa has a passion for working with young people who have experienced trauma and often uses Art therapy as a tool to open avenues for healing.She has designed a program using her culinary skills and mental health training in the treatment of mental illness. The program teaches young people how to cook and eat for their diagnosis.
Luisa is available to our students 24/7

 


German born Dagmar Tawil has been dedicated to the education of Palestinian youth for many years and a supporter of the LE.O program since its inception.

She is married to a Palestinian from Haifa and they live in Virginia, USA.

Amongst her many achievements Dagmar is licensed in Child Development, a field she has worked in for over 18 years. She is currently the Vice President on the board of directors of the German International School Washington and also the Chair for Advancement Outreach and Development. She is also on the LE.O Advisory Board.

This year Dagmar facilitated a LE.O scholarship to a private boarding school in Germany and took on the challenging role of guardianship and benefactor for our student Rama, from The West Bank.


Muna Aghaalnemer is currently finishing her Master’s degree in Education from the University of Bath, UK. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 2013 with a Major in Biology and Minor in Computer Science .She returned home after graduating, and has been teaching Biology and science On The West Bank of Palestine. For the past 4 years, she has been the head of Science department at Rawabi English Academy.

In the summer of 2017 Muna started her journey of mentoring with LE.O and has since immensely enjoyed working closely with her mentees, fellow mentors and Deya. She appreciates getting a chance to give back to her greater community through her mentoring.

Muna is very passionate about education and loves her students greatly. In her spare time, she enjoys an active life in nature where she goes camping, hiking and rock Climbing.