A group of women from the Middle East are in Sarasota participating in a unique educational program to inspire peace.
The group from Israel, Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are in their first year at New College of Florida. All are on a full, four-year scholarship, participating in the Daughters For Life Scholars program, an educational opportunity meant to help women from the Middle East make a difference in the world.
“I represent my country here,” said Ayah Tafesh, 17, from the Gaza Strip. “I represent my people and I would like to be the best. I feel really honored to be here.”
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Gaza physician, author and activist for peace, created the Foundation in 2011, after three of his daughters were killed by Israeli shelling. His hope is that educating women will empower them to bring progress and stability to the region.
“I think he made the great decision to turn this tragedy into something good,” said Tafesh. “It’s helping girls and it makes me happy he didn’t give up. He always tells us he sees his daughters in us and he’s very proud of us.”
Tafesh said she hopes to use her education and return to her country to make a difference.
“I would like to go back home and help my society with what I’ve learned from here and share it and benefit the society,” she said.
It’s an opportunity that didn’t come easy for Tafesh. She lives in a conflict area and had a hard time getting here.
“I was delayed coming over because of the last war that happened in my city, the Gaza strip,” she said. “I was supposed to get my visa in July and travel in early August.”
But that didn’t happen.
At one point, she thought she wouldn’t make it and almost gave up hope. But then the war ended and she left for the United States the next day.
David Gulliver, New College’s media relations coordinator, said while the new students are getting a good education, they’re also helping educate their classmates.
“We think it’s very important to bring diversity to the campus,” said Gulliver. “So many students are from Florida and the United States and they’ve never met anyone from the Middle East. It’s a good learning experience for our students and it’s great for the women who come here too.”
“My classmates are so open-minded and accepting of different viewpoints and ideas,” said Loureen Sayej, who attended high school in the West Bank. “I have made a lot of friends, and most of them are so interested in knowing about our lives.”