August was particularly long for the family of Kamilia Abu Hawwash, a student from Saida in Lebanon: they spent the month praying for good news concerning Kamilia’s scholarship application. They need not have worried. Kamilia’s final marks proved good enough to guarantee her the financial support she needed to fulfil her dream of studying health sciences at the Beirut Arab University.
Kamilia is one of 89 young Palestine refugees in Lebanon who have been given the chance to study for a university degree thanks to UNRWA’s scholarship programme.
Four students will be funded through a private donor, but the remainder will be studying through contributions made available from one of UNRWA’s major donors. Previously, UNRWA had forecast it could accept around 50 students per year. The increase arose partly because of UNRWA’s direct negotiations with higher education providers in Lebanon.
For Kamilia and others like her, the UNRWA scholarship programme is crucial. Her father has been unwell and her two younger brothers have had to seek summer employment to help support the family. “I would not have been able to undertake the studies that I wanted to,” Kamilia says. Her intention is to become a medical lab technician and although she commutes to Beirut every day this will not stop her. “I am already enjoying it,” Kamilia says after barely a week back at school.
Maha Ismail Qaddoura is also a resident of Saida, where Ein el-Hilweh, the largest Palestine refugee camp in Lebanon, is located. She too would not have been able to go to university without the UNRWA scholarship.
She comes from a family of six children which until recently was deemed poor enough by UNRWA’s relief and social services department to receive food rations and cash support. Maha will be the first from the family to enter higher education.
Fatima Zahra Bleibel, a graduate of Bissan secondary school in Ein el-Hillweh, hopes that her scholarship success will mean that her younger brother can also go to university.
Fatima intends to study business at the Lebanese International University but because only one year separates her and her brother, the family would have found it difficult to support both of them through university at the same time. Fatima says: “I was very happy this burden was lifted from my father’s shoulders. If I had not received this scholarship I would have joined the Siblin Training Centre [UNRWA’s technical college] and stopped dreaming of a university education.”
Supporting Palestine refugees in seeking a university degree is particularly important in Lebanon where access to employment, education and health care is limited. The result is that tens of thousands live in poverty, face social exclusion and are denied basic human rights.
UNRWA received more than 800 applications for the scholarship programme this year and in addition to supporting successful applicants directly, the Agency is working to reduce fees for Palestinians at universities across Lebanon.