When Jarah al-Hawamdeh was having treatment for bone cancer, he lay awake at night dreaming of his future as a mountaineer. He was just 15 years old and suffering lengthy bouts of insomnia after doctors amputated his right leg. But Jarah refused to let this ruin his life. The Palestine refugee student from the al-Jofeh in South Amman was determined to turn his situation around. He has since become a certified climber and this week begins his greatest climbing challenge - trekking to the Mount Everest base camp.
“It gave me the opportunity to be anything I wanted. It made me special,” says Jarah. “Not everyone has one leg, and I am using my story to show the world that even if you are facing problems you can overcome them.”
Jarah is one of six children was born to Palestine refugee parents in al-Jofeh. He grew up with stories of how his grandparents fled their home in Palestine during the Nakba and how they never stopped hoping they could return. Their story affected him deeply, but also inspired him to achieve great things no matter what the obstacles in front of him.
Jarah also never let go of hope. While he was undergoing cancer treatment at the King Hussein Cancer Centre in Amman, he continued to go to the UNRWA al-Jofeh Boys School as often as he could.
At the time, he was in a wheelchair and couldn’t get up the stairs to join his class on the second floor. But because he was so determined to continue his education, the school moved his whole class to the first floor, so he could join in. A bathroom was also modified to fit his wheelchair.
Two years after he lost his leg, Jarah had become an accomplished climber and the first Palestine refugee climber with an artificial limb. In 2015, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with a message of hope for cancer patients – that “nothing is impossible”.
“I wanted to make a strong statement. To be a climber you need to push yourself a lot. Not everybody can be a mountaineer. Let alone someone with one leg,” says Jarah.
Now, with his former school at risk of closing due to drastic funding cuts to UNRWA, he is taking on a new challenge climbing to the Mount Everest base camp, to raise US$1 million to keep the school open.
Jarah started his climb, which is about 17,500 steps, to the base camp on April 2. He is expected to reach the base camp around 20 April.
Follow his journey #MyFirstStep on Instagram, twitter and facebook.