When students and I conceived of LE.O eight years ago, we imagined opening doors for higher education for our Palestinian youth living in Gaza, The West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon through existing scholarships and our funding, abroad- in Egypt, Europe, Asia, Canada and North America. To a great extent, LE.O has achieved this vision, and as a result, many bright, under-resourced students have been able to study around the world and at home, and give back to their communities.
To date in Gaza, that number totals 31 students, 6 studying in Gaza the others around the world, still at various levels of their educations. 5 have graduated and are in the workplace, 4 in Gaza 1in the US.
But we all understand nothing is easy when it comes to helping Gaza LE.Os.
When LE.O youth wish to study outside of Gaza, and for many defensible reasons, they also face numerous obstacles, from having the freedom of movement to begin the journey to exceptionally long periods away from home and family.
For this reason, LE.O has vigorously pursued opportunities for our students closer to home in the last four years, which can be as valuable as going abroad. We understand why it matters to learn and work close to home, whenever possible, to achieve our goals.
Here are some of our results:
- A LE.O doctor educated at Cairo University in Egypt by a generous donor of ours, has returned home and she now works in Gaza.
- A LE.O college graduate is currently pursuing her master’s in social work to assist families confronting the same challenges she faced.
- A LE.O doctor is now not only practicing medicine but has also become a teacher to younger LE.Os at the same university where they study.
- Our dentist educated in Gaza is now employed at a known dental clinic which serves his community, he also tours schools to inspire youth to focus on their futures.
Not surprisingly, our growing success is accompanied by the growing pressure of ensuring as many deserving students as possible receive educational opportunities. LE.O knows our consistent support is critical to establishing the groundwork for their futures.
Here are a few examples of the many struggles they have faced:
- Scholarships to attend university in Gaza are far more irregular than in the past. So, we have begun to fund these students ourselves.
- For young people of Gaza, picking up side jobs to help support their families or pay for their schooling isn’t possible. Part-time jobs don’t exist in Gaza the way they do elsewhere.
- Four of our LE.O. are also now orphans:
A LE.O lost her father during the week of her Tawhiji exams. He was consistently refused permission to travel to Jordan for his much-needed medical treatments and finally when he traveled it was too late to save his life . She scored high in her exams and is in her final year of medical school.
- Another LE.O lost her parents, two siblings and a nephew during one of the many military campaigns against Gaza.
- A young man who we helped graduate is now a radiologist working as an intern for 3 years at an international hospital in Gaza and is responsible for his ailing mother and younger siblings. He awaits paid employment.
- Another chose to study at her father’s alma mater in Egypt, to honor him.
- We had to place a LE.O scholar in an IT training program in Gaza after he graduated from university, so that he may have practical experience and be eligible for virtual employment internationally. His father is a street vendor and this students’ success is imperative if he is to help support his family.
Bearing witness to these tragic stories is hard but engage we must.
So you see, it is complicated!
And yet, we keep going because letters like this one we received from Iman, our Director of Student Affairs, who, after organizing an impromptu Iftar hosted by board member Fred and host parent Jenny last week inspires us, and had this to say:
“What a heartwarming experience watching LE.O Board members, older students, and current students, all get together to share an Iftar and their stories. While all the students have connections via our private social media account, some were meeting for the first time in person. Each student at the gathering described incredible adversities and challenges. And yet, they were full of grace, strength, hope, and resilience.’
The students discussed why they chose their fields and the difference they hope to make in the world through them. The older students, now working professionals, shared advice and insights with the ones currently studying. We laughed, were deeply touched, and bonded as a community. Listening to every story told, I appreciated how LE.O recognizes that these students do not live in a perfect world with perfect circumstances. Looking at how far the community members have come proves LE.O’s approach is realistic and practical. We are forming a powerful network of individuals who have overcome unimaginable difficulties, yet they have the same goal in common; to make the world a better place. I am so proud to be part of an organization that paves the way for such agents of change to emerge as passionate professionals who excel in their fields and pay it forward by helping others.”
Please consider making a donation to LE.O, because you can make a difference by offering hope to these inspiring and resilient young people who deserve a fighting chance. What better way to set them on a new path for success, than by supporting them with an education.