We continuously reflect on the work we do at LE.O., the reasons behind establishing this program, the tremendous challenges the Palestinian youth we work with continue to face and overcome, and ultimately our purpose. Are we doing enough? Are we doing it right? What processes can we include to truly make a lasting impact?
One of our goals is to empower and support promising Palestinian young women through the gift of education. We honor their resilience, brilliance, and determination as they make their way through the world. We see paving the way for them to reach their full potential as educated professionals, agents of change, and valuable members of society as an important investment in the future of Palestine.
Today, we are sharing with you our most recent and inspiring success stories.
Next Steps Microsoft!
LE.O. scholar Marah completes her Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Computer Engineering from The University of Rochester this spring semester. She is looking forward to continuing her career as a Research Software Engineer at Microsoft, where she accepted a job offer starting this summer.
Marah is a first-generation university student from East Jerusalem. She joined LE.O. almost five years ago. With LE.O.’s assistance, she prepared for the college application process, dedicating endless hours to obtain a scholarship opportunity through one of our partner schools.
With the guidance of the LE.O. team, Marah also committed her time to intern at various organizations both in the U.S. and back home every summer since the beginning of her undergraduate studies. She has also been very active during the school year; participating in several clubs on her campus and supporting the adjustment of new LE.O. scholars to campus life.
Marah is a valued member of the LE.O. Community and we look forward to following her future successes. She plans to start helping fund other students at LE.O. once she is employed.
After two years, we succeeded!
At LE.O., we understand how complex and difficult it is to be Palestinian. Depending on the type of identification document a Palestinian person carries and where he or she resides, a completely unique and different story will be found in each single case. Knowing that each of our students has a unique story, we do everything in our power to tailor our services and support to their needs and we treat each case with sensitivity and care.
One of our most unique cases was Nour, whose parents are Palestinian refugees, each carrying a different type of immigration document. Due to complex laws affecting refugees found around the Arab World, Nour’s family had moved from one Arab country to another. They had moved from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia, where Nour was born.
The beforementioned laws not only affected the family’s financial prospects, but also Nour’s access to educational opportunities. She was not carrying the right type of identification document to qualify for university scholarships in Saudi Arabia universities. She finished her secondary education at the top of her class but had no access to university education.
Nour did not give up on her dream of wanting to attend university. She took a gap year and approached LE.O. to ask for guidance and support. She understood very well that an education is her only way out of the reality she felt trapped in. She was willing to put in as much time and effort as needed, and learn new skills if necessary, to achieve her goal. She was open to any opportunities for university scholarships around the world.
Realizing how brilliant and resilient Nour is, LE.O. decided to invest in her future. Our team member Wael dedicated long hours to help her prepare her for the SAT and TOEFL tests to improve her chances of getting accepted to universities in the U.S. Also, because we have LE.O. scholars studying in Egyptian universities, we decided to look into opportunities for her there. Since she was an intermediate English speaker, we figured her chances of studying in Egypt would be higher. This process took over 2 years.
Nour’s story is the epitome of what makes LE.O. special and different. The entire community rose up to find ways we can make Nour’s access to education possible. Our LE.O. scholars in Egypt, Alaa (Mansoura University) and Mohammed (Cairo University), went out of their ways to collect answers for our questions about how we can secure a scholarship for Nour.
Alaa and Mohamed started to advise Nour and looked into the scholarship funding offered by the Palestinian Embassy. Nour fell through the cracks once again due to the fact she had taken her Tawjihi in Saudi, and the Egyptians did not recognize the results. Knowing how valuable this opportunity would be for Nour and her family, Alaa refused to give up. She spent months traveling many hours back and forth from her campus in Mansoura to Cairo to visit the embassies of Palestine and Saudi in order to learn what was needed to get Nour to Egypt for study. After sorting out the complex registration steps with Alaa’s help, Nour received an offer to attend Mansoura University’s Medical School.
The next step was to sort through the travel logistics. Nour had never travelled alone before, and she had never been to Egypt, so her family was concerned for her safety travelling alone. We at LE.O. do our best to treat such concerns with cultural sensitivity and understanding. Therefore, LE.O. scholar Mohammed met Nour at the airport in Cairo upon her arrival and delivered her to the bus station where she got on a bus that took her to Mansoura. Alaa met her at the bus station in Mansoura.
Since Nour arrived towards the end of the first semester, it was a little too late to find affordable housing. Alaa arranged for Nour to move into a small room in the apartment she shares with another LE.O student Hadeel, from Gaza. After spending several weeks working extremely hard to make up the classes she had missed, Nour is finally caught up in her studies. Alaa, Hadeel and Mohammed continue to be available to her for guidance when she needs it. She has adjusted well to university life and to living in Egypt. Nour also has the ability to take summer courses to fully catch up, should she need to. We are very proud of Nour’s determination and relentlessness in going after her dream. We are also proud of Wael, Mohammed, Hadell, and Alaa’s sense of responsibility towards the Palestinian community. Our students are living proof of the importance of opening doors to a brighter future.
Graduation from Oxford University!
“It's unbelievable! I never thought I, the girl who spent her childhood running from one UNRWA office to another trying to secure food, am actually going to Oxford Law.”
This past November, Loureen received her Master’s in International Law from New College, Oxford University.
Deya’ traveled to England to witness the graduation and celebrate Loureen’s tremendous achievement. Loureen had approached LE.O. during her gap year after receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in International and Area Studies from The New College of Florida. She needed LE.O.’s support to secure housing ( which we facilitated ) while she attended her Work Study year at the office of the General Delegation of the PLO in Washington, D.C. After receiving an acceptance letter from New College, Oxford, our challenge was to find funding so that Loureen could take up her place at Oxford. Through lots of research and the recommendation of a LE.O. partner, we identified a funding source and matched Loureen.
Reporting on the trip to England to attend the commencement ceremony, Deya’ writes: “Early morning, I made my way to Paddington train station to travel west to Oxford for Loureen's graduation ceremony at Oxford University. The train trip took an hour, and I was met by Hashem Abu Sham’a (who is currently working on his PhD at Oxford) at the gates of the Sheldonian Theatre. We had wonderful seats on the front row of the first balcony level. The ceremony was officiated in Latin by Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, Louise Mary Richardson. It was a rainy, cold, miserable English day, but no one noticed on such an exciting day! What a momentous occasion! LE.O. is so proud of Loureen and all the hard work she put into achieving this tremendous honor. Her journey was not in any way free of obstacles and complications, but she made it through with determination and grace and made us proud!”
Loureen’s next step is to continue on to the next step of her education and become a Juris Doctor.
Our High School scholarship!
This past Fall LE.O. matched a Palestinian student from The West Bank to a High School scholarship offered to us by the founder of a new school in Germany.
As you can imagine, it was a challenge for us to find an under-resourced student that fit not only LE.O.’s criteria, but also that of the school’s, with the language and academic ability to thrive in this new environment.
Almost two years ago, LE.O. Board Advisor Mrs. Dagmar Tawil was approached by a colleague Mr. Detlef Ernst, the founder of a new international school in Germany, which includes 9-12th grades. Mr. Ernst inquired as to the possibility of finding a qualified under-resourced Palestinian student and offered a full scholarship to attend the school.
Privatschule Schloss Crassenstein. In Brief:
“Our students reflect the intended international mix of our school, coming together to learn in peaceful co-existence from around the world. We embrace diversity and this includes a blend of different cultural, religious and social backgrounds. We welcome both boarding and under certain conditions day students. All students enjoy pastoral care and academic mentorship.”
Link to Privatschule Schloss Crassenstein
LE.O. set about finding such a candidate. We contacted our partners in the region and found that this was going to be a bigger challenge than anticipated. LE.O. also reached out to the ELCJHL Schools in the West Bank and with the help of Dr. C. Haddad, Director of Education, began the search. Dr. Haddad engaged the Principals of the four schools in The West Bank and provided LE.O. with three candidates.
At this point Ms. Mirjam Lucas, coordinator for German Language for the ZfA in PSE joined the process to help evaluate the preparedness of the applicants. Rama was selected as a viable candidate as it was decided that with some intensive German classes, she would be able to reach the B1 level of language ability necessary for her to study in the language.
There were still many details to work out: who would settle her in and who would be her guardian throughout her education? Would there be a donor to pay for her return trips home during the holidays? Who would chaperone her as she was only 13 years old at the time? Other than the school, who would be the emergency contact in Germany?
Mr. Detlef found a donor for Rama’s summer holidays travel home and Mr. and Mrs. Georges Tawil stepped up to the plate becoming her official guardians and also supporting her extra financial needs.
Mr. and Mrs. Georges Tawil welcomed the opportunity to work with LE.O. as they have been long time supporters of our program. They felt that this would be a meaningful engagement opportunity and a way to uplift the future prospects of a Palestinian student by helping to pave her path towards becoming a valued world citizen.
The school has provided Rama with one on one academic advisors and guidance counselors and invested in extra German language classes for her. She is well cared for by the school and a special diet has been established to suit her dietary needs. Dagmar Tawil checks in with Deya’ regularly to give progress reports on Rama’s academic progress and adjustment status. Georges and Dagmar Skype often with Rama’s parents and coordinated travel home for the winter holiday. And their son Philip meets with Rama via Skype every Sunday for German conversation.
Rama has adjusted well to her new environment, is very thankful for the scholarship opportunity, and is very happy where she is. She has been known to cook Palestinian delicacies for her school mates, as she loves to cook. She also admits that sports are not her favorite school activity, though she is learning to enjoy them!
Our youngest community member, Rama is also engaged in our group FB page and has gotten to know the other students through this medium.
Our first doctor!
Five years ago, we received a letter from Razan (Gaza) requesting that we fund her education at Cairo University Medical School. At the time, LE.O.’s focus was centered on supporting Palestinian youth with educational opportunities in the United States, so we rejected Razan’s request for funding. However, her response to our rejection letter was so charming and moving that we decided to learn more about her needs. For six months, we exchanged correspondence in which we asked her for proof of her financial need.
From our communication with her, we could tell that she was a determined and brilliant young woman. She is the middle child of ten siblings. She was already enrolled at a university about to finish up her first year. In many universities in the region, you can enroll in an installment plan and pay a certain percentage of the fees annually, but of course, you must pay the outstanding balance before you can receive your degree.
While at that point, we hadn’t expanded LE.O.’s work beyond securing educational opportunities in U.S. universities, we decided that supporting Razan would be a good investment in her future. So, we called a friend in Canada, himself a doctor, and asked if he would take on all of her expenses, tuition, room and board, books, etc. and he agreed. He established a fund in honor of his late son and mother. He also stayed in touch with Razan offering guidance throughout her education.
Razan graduated in January 2020, one of the top students in her class, and plans to be a gynecologist.
Proud of our achievements!
LE.O is pleased to report that we received Gold Star rating from Charity Navigator and can now display their award on our web-site and all of our PR materials.
Founded in 2001, Charity Navigator has become the nation's largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities. In their quest to help donors, their team of professional analysts has examined tens of thousands of non-profit financial documents. They have used this knowledge to develop an unbiased, objective, numbers-based rating system to assess over 9,000 of America's best-known and some lesser known, but worthy, charities.
Specifically, Charity Navigator's rating system examines two broad areas of a charity's performance; their Financial Health and their Accountability & Transparency. Their ratings show givers how efficiently they believe a charity will use their support today, how well it has sustained its programs and services over time and their level of commitment to good governance, best practices and openness with information.
These students' achievements represent only the tip of the iceberg. Please partner with us so that we can offer more transformational educational opportunities.
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