The Daughters for Life Foundation is proud to introduce the five inspiring and accomplished women that have been chosen as the recipients of our 2018 scholarships: Passant Metwally, Sara Saad, Esraa Naguib, Sahar Al Ahmad and Maha Mehanna. Each of these scholars from across the Middle East has been awarded full scholarships by Daughters for Life to assist them in their pursuit of higher education in universities throughout Canada and the US.
Passant Metwally and Sara Saad will be attending York and McMaster University where they will both be studying Engineering. This is our second year in a row to have scholars at both universities, a proud achievement for DFL. Esraa Naguib will be studying Foods and Nutrition at Brescia University College, and Sahar Al Ahamed, who first joined the DFL family through our Syrian Initiative, will be attending the University of Windsor to study Environmental Engineering. Both Brescia and Windsor are new academic partners for DFL and we couldn’t be more proud to have Esraa and Sahar be the first representatives of the Foundation at each of these great institutions. Maha Mehanna will be completing her Master’s degree in Conflict Transformation at Eastern Mennonite University. This is the first graduate scholarship to be awarded by DFL at EMU and Maha couldn’t be more deserving.
Each one of our new scholars has their own unique story, talents, struggles, and strengths, but there is one quality that ties them all together – perseverance. For all of these women, and many others around the world, education is not an easy or clear path. It is one that is often blocked off completely or filled with obstacles. It is a very difficult road for many women to go down, especially without any assistance from their communities. Our new scholars are all well aware of the difficulties that come with pursuing an education, and they have all persevered against the challenges they’ve met along the way. They have all worked hard to make sure that nothing gets between them and their desire to learn and grow.
Passant Metwally hasn’t let the doubts of others get in the way of her dreams. Growing up, Passant’s speech impediment left her feeling a bit “trapped in her own head.” She worried that others were judging her when she spoke, mistaking her stutter for nerves or a lack of intelligence or self-confidence, when in reality it was neither. Passant was determined to prove them wrong, and she did, but not without experiencing, and overcoming, some challenges along the way.
The economy in Egypt was particularly bad following the 2011 revolution, and Passant’s father eventually had to close down his business. Passant was unable to pay her school fees and could not attend school for four months, but she took matters into her own hands and studied everything on her own at home. Eventually, Passant was able to return to school and get the grades required to be accepted at the Maadi STEM School for Girls. At a school that placed a heavy emphasis on communication, Passant knew that she was at a crossroads; she either has to find a way to get past her worry of how others judged her because of her stutter or risk getting trapped in her own head again. She chose the former and began educating her teachers and classmates about her speech impediment. By being upfront about her stutter, Passant was able to overcome her worry; “I spoke freely in front of 50+ people: 27 TechGirls participants, 15 women from NASA, and 7 countries presenters!” Passant proudly says of her time at the TechGirls exchange program she attended.
Passant will continue to silence any doubters, including those who believe the STEM fields aren’t for the woman, by studying Engineering at York University this fall. As well as becoming an engineer, Passant also wishes to start an organization in her home country that raises awareness about speech disorders and helps those who have them by getting them in touch with speech therapists, for example.
Sara Saad, Egypt
Sara Saad has not let the personal and financial hardships she has experienced hold her back from her achieving any of her goals. From a young age, Sara was determined to study hard, learn as much as she can, and grow as a person. “I put my future goals in front of my eyes, [and] started working on myself and my skills,” she says. Sara also refused to compare herself to others, believing that everyone has their own challenges, and instead concentrated only on improving herself.
Sara’s single-minded focus, along with her mother’s support, allowed her to reach her goal of attending the Maadi STEM School for Girls, an acclaimed high school in Egypt. It was there she found an interest in renewable energy and began research on the subject with the assistance of her mentor, a professor of computer engineering at the American University in Cairo. Sara went on to place in the top three in numerous scientific competitions, some of which were international and required her to travel abroad, another challenge that she faced head-on.
As an engineering student at McMaster, Sara will be able to continue down the path of education and personal growth that she determinedly began all those years ago. Sarah hopes that the DFL scholarship will give her a wider platform to share her story and help inspire and motivate other young women who may be struggling: “Maybe there are girls, who have the same challenges and similar way of [thinking] as me, but they are afraid of completing their way of success, but when they can find a girl like them [succeeds] and helps them too, they will listen and trust [in] themselves.”
As a young girl growing up in an environment that placed little value on female education, Esraa Naguib found inspiration instead in her readings about prominent female figures who had challenged the status quo. Esraa was encouraged by the stories of these strong women to pursue her dream of working in the medical field, despite being taught that “my worth is in marriage and that my intellect is frivolous.”
Esraa’s determination to see through her dream led to her acceptance at the very competitive Maadi STEM School for Girls and her participation in the 2016 I-SWEEEP (International Sustainable World Engineering Energy Environment Project). Esraa and her team’s project worked on improving the hemodialysis process, earning them third place and a special award for creativity. The project also further motivated Esraa to focus on research for kidney disease when, during her visits to the hospitals to do research for the project, she found that many of the young female patients didn’t attend school because of the many hospital sessions they had to go to.
Esraa wants to continue working on her project and conducting more research during her time at Brescia studying Foods and Nutrition. She also aspires to create a kidney disease research center at the university and become a part of Doctors Without Borders. “I dream of showing the girls here in my community, who come from the same humble background as mine, that they matter and that they have the agency and capacity to make a change,” Esraa says. Esraa has already proven that her intellect and her academic ambitions are not just frivolous dreams but attainable realities.
Sahar Al Ahmad
Sahar Al Ahmad’s journey in pursuit of her education may have been a long and difficult one, but she has arrived here winningly through sheer will and resolve. Sahar was in her last year of high school when war broke out in Syria and, despite the chaos that was erupting around her and the numerous challenges she and her family were facing, she was determined to continue to study hard and take her final exams. Attending the final exams posed a great risk in and of itself: “Going to the exams was very dangerous as I had to cross many checkpoints and shelling was all around,” Sahar explains. Sahar could not be deterred, however, and she was able to successfully complete her last year of high school before having to flee to Turkey with her family.
Sahar’s refusal to let anything get in between her and her education brought her to Canada to study at ILAC through the Daughters for Life Syrian Initiative, a program dedicated to helping young women obtain the required English skills in preparation for higher education. Once again, Sahar’s perseverance was rewarded and she successfully completed her program at ILAC.
Sahar will study Environmental Engineering at the University of Windsor, a field she was moved to pursue following the passing of her friend due to the unhealthy environmental conditions in Syria. Sahar believes that the post-war environmental clean up is an important topic that shouldn’t be ignored, and she hopes to be able to be part of the conversation when the time comes.
Maha Mehanna was the first woman in her family to be educated, an achievement that did not come without great hardship and one that has not always been met with positivity. Maha insists, however, that instead of weakening her, these struggles have built her character; “Education is the key to my success in life. It made me discover myself and believe in myself. It added meaning to my life and provided me with the means to achieve success. It also provided me with the ability to think independently. It helped me face and overcome hardship.”
Maha received her Bachelor’s in Community Rehabilitation from the University of Calgary, as well as having obtained a diploma in Rehabilitation Services from Mount Royal College. She believes that the more educated and informed she is, the more effective she can be as an activist and as a member of peace organizations like Other Voice and Friendship Across Borders.
Maha will be pursuing her Master’s in Conflict Transformation with the hopes of being able to translate the theoretical knowledge she gains to more practical work with organizations dedicated to helping women and girls in Palestine and the rest of the Middle East. As Maha eloquently puts it, “Education is important for everyone, but it is a critical area of empowerment for girls and women.”
How the 2018 Scholars Were Shortlisted
Passant, Sara, Esraa, Sahar, and Maha were all chosen from a very competitive pool of applicants from across the Middle East. A large number of candidates were first narrowed down to 39 top candidates according to their academic performance and achievements, their English language skills and their financial need and hardships, as well as getting admission at partnered institutions. These candidates were then interviewed by the DFL scholarship panel in order to get to know each one of them better and to hear their experiences and stories, including how they’ve been able to overcome the hardships or obstacles they’ve faced in their lives. We also evaluated their motivation, their self-confidence, and their demonstration of compassion and creativity. Top candidates along with their families go through a second interview with DFL Founder, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish to select the winners.
As an organization dedicated to improving the lives of young women and their communities through education, another one of the important factors we look for in each candidate is their contributions to bettering the lives of girls and women in their own communities. It is also important that they are committed to returning home and continuing to do so once they are finished their studies.
The determination, passion, and strength Passant, Sara, Esraa, Sahar, and Maha have shown in their lives and throughout this entire process has been very inspiring and we are immensely proud to be having them representing Daughters for Life at all our distinguished academic partner institutions this fall. Congratulations scholars and we look forward to seeing you soon!