When I was named a Student Diplomat by NAFSA for my reflections on my study abroad experience in Egypt in 2007, I was honored and delighted. To return only a few years later as a speaker on a panel at the annual conference is truly humbling. However, the two are directly related.
In 2007, while studying abroad in Cairo, I met up in the West Bank with a Georgetown classmate, Rod Solaimani, who was studying in Jerusalem. As a Palestinian-American, it was a unique experience to be able to go back home and show a Jewish friend around. About six or seven other students joined from Cairo and we travelled around the West Bank. Many remarked about how shocked they were to see the sky rises in Ramallah and the relative calm of life in the West Bank compared to what they imagined.
During the visit, we embarked on a visit to the Dheisheh refugee camp one evening after touring Bethlehem, and the experience would be the kernel of an NGO that Rod and I (along with another Georgetown friend, Indra Sen) would cofound: Inspire Dreams.
It was shocking to see the living conditions in the refugee camp.
Through conversations, I began learning about the lack of opportunities available to its residents. I met with young Palestinians and discussed prospects for the future, focusing on their personal lives and stake, and was moved by their sobering assessment of the reality they face and the absence of hope in their outlook. It was at that point I began to think of ways to contribute so that they are able to have opportunities that changed my life, including the opportunity to pursue an education. I spent the following year brainstorming with classmates and leaders in the refugee camps about the idea for a camp that teaches these youth the skills and philosophies of action that would transform their dreams into reality.
The ideas and entrepreneurial spirit are ever present in Palestinian youth, but often suffocated by the realities on the ground.
Inspire Dreams was born to fill the gap. We seek to promote not only alternative means of self-expression within the youth we work with, but also a sense of agency over their lives, to allow them to see college as an opportunity to improve their lives. Palestinian refugees represent the largest refugee community in the world, and youth make up 55 percent of Palestinian refugees. Inspire Dreams hopes to become an incubator for change, providing these young people with the resources to gain agency over their future and become catalysts for societal development.
I look forward to speaking on the social entrepreneurship panel to tell more of Inspire Dreams journey and the importance that international education has played in the process. A large part of the work that international educators do exposes students like me to the world, and enables us to do the work we do. Thank you. And see you in Vancouver.
Hammad Hammad is president and cofounder of Inspire Dreams. He will be speaking on our plenary panel on international social entrepreneurship on Wednesday, June 1, at 10:45 a.m. in the ballroom at the Vancouver Convention Centre West.