Wardah Alakrah: The Girl who Dared to Dream and Broke Gender Stereotypes
As a child, Wardah often accompanied her father to work at the Lebanese Welfare Association for the Handicapped. This opportunity opened Wardah’s eyes to victims of war and accidents, leaving an indelible mark on her. At that young age, Wardah felt a strong urge to help alleviate their suffering. This experience established Wardah’s yearning to become a doctor.
Wardah has always stood among the top five students in her class, and remained heavily involved in extracurricular activities. On top of school and extracurriculars, Wardah is the responsible elder sister to her two younger brothers, taking care of household chores while both her parents went out to work.
In 2016, Wardah secured herself the chance to shadow two attending physicians in the Pediatric Department at Lebanon’s Hammoud Hospital University Medical Center. This proved to be a life-changing moment for Wardah, who set her sights on medical school and becoming a pediatric doctor.
Seeking higher education in Lebanon and as a young woman comes with many hurdles and prejudices.
“Lebanon has passed through wars in the past and I experienced one myself, there would be times when school had to be canceled or I had to leave school because of some stray incidents of violence. However, I never allowed such adversities to overcome me or stop me from studying or even putting my life at the end of the line” Wardah recalls.
The high cost of living in Lebanon and her parent’s modest income led her to seek financial assistance when it was time to apply for colleges. Wardah reached out to Daughters for Life, who instantly recognized the fire in the belly of this bright young girl.
“I consider Daughters for Life as my savior from all the ignorance and pressure I received with regards to achieving my goal of a proper education, one of the main reasons why I applied to this program was how it cares about peace in the world in the midst of wars and tension in our globe and how it gives girls and women in the Middle East the chance to have a better education” says Wardah.
Today, 20-year-old Wardah has completed her second year at Manhattanville College in New York. She is majoring in biology, pre-medicine, and minoring in psychology.
Alongside her studies, Wardah is an active member of the Beta Beta Beta National Biology Honor Society, and as well as the American Chemical Society. Wardah serves as a Student Instruction leader, hosting review sessions for her peers who seek help in certain subjects. Wardah also worked as a Chemistry Lab Assistant, helping prepare lab tests to be conducted later. In addition, Wardah attended the Women’s Leadership Conference at Pace University on March 24th, 2017 and just got awarded the Biology Department Sophomore Award!
“I keep sharing my accomplishments in academics and my activities at Manhattanville on social media. And when I went back home in the summer, I saw the impact I had on girls, they now see me as a role model. I saw hope in young girls who expressed their desire to excel at school and reach where I have. I feel great optimism for them” she quips with excitement.
To the girls in the Middle East who now look up to her, Wardah says, “I want to tell them that education has no limits. It is an open gateway for whoever wants to pass through. Your gender or some oblivious social perspectives shouldn’t stop you from fulfilling your dream in whatever career you choose to pursue.”
After Wardah accomplishes her dream, she wants to return to Lebanon to transfer her world class knowledge to improve medical treatments in her community. She even has the vision of opening a small clinic later in the future for the free medical service for girls and women.
Waad Hassan: The Poet from Palestine has a Message for the World
“We all have a Wonder Woman inside us,” 19-year-old Waad Hassan wrote in her blog. A sophomore at Manhattanville College in New York, Waad is another one of our talented Daughters for Life Foundation scholars. This flourishing poet from Palestine is pursuing a double major in creative writing and English literature with a minor in political science.
Waad is a passionate young woman and started giving back to her community at a young age. Waad dedicated her time after school to work in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. She taught English and poetry to young girls, providing an outlet to express their thoughts and emotions. This experience assisted Waad in discovering her passion and purpose. A pen became her source of joy and catharsis.
“As a child I was fascinated by libraries and reading was my main hobby. It intrigued me to see thoughts and opinions being translated into a book. I being a young Palestinian girl living in the Middle East and engaged in social work, I saw so much potential in my community that I wanted to project to others. I think writing is a great medium for women from the Middle East to earn a voice in the world,” says Waad.
Waad has composed over sixty poems published online. She is a celebrated student in her literature classes and regularly creates thought-provoking pieces on current issues. Her writing is courageous and dares to raise imperative questions relating to feminism, freedom of speech, refugee rehabilitation, and the plight of nations in conflict. Additional to her studies, Waad continues her passion for social work as an activist for Palestinian refugees.
Waad’s dream is to become a published writer and uplift citizens of the Middle East through her words.
This young scholar works tirelessly to ensure her time at Manhattanville College is as vibrant and rich as possible. Waad is an active student organizing and participating in events like the Malala Day and the Breast Cancer Walk.
Waad acknowledges, “the Daughters for Life scholarship is more than just an open door towards an opportunity for me. Yes, the scholarship allows me to pursue the goal of becoming an active, well educated, and goal-oriented women in my community. It also means a lot to me because of the message it carries. Having seen the severity of the situation faced by young men and women living in the Middle East, I understand and respect the foundation for working towards alleviating some of this suffering.”
Waad has recently started the Daughters for Life Club at Manhattanville College with her fellow Daughters for Life scholars. The club aims to promote the message of ‘Hope above Hate’ that Daughters for Life Foundation advocates, through organizing a project that reflects the true vibrancy of the Middle Eastern and engages in informed dialogue about the region.
Waad believes there is nothing more important that what she is doing now – using her scholarship to grow a generation of strong and goal-oriented women.
Waad says she wants to reach out to as many young women as she can and tell them, “remember, you can be the impossible.”
Marwa Soliman: A Science Whiz Kid from Egypt to Studying Medicine
From a modest home in Cairo, Egypt came a young girl with an extraordinary gift for science. Marwa Soliman has always been the sharpest mind in her class, scoring top grades, and sometimes even a score of 100%l. At age 14, she was chosen to speak on Egypt’s national television to advise students on ways to balance time and studies.
This shy whiz kid was soon scouted by Egypt’s top science school for exceptional students, STEM. The school chooses only 120 girls to study at their institution. Marwa’s brilliance in science and critical thinking got her the coveted spot at this school. However, the challenge of learning in English took her aback. Although, Marwa knew it was now or never. Soon enough, Marwa not only picked up the language but also won many other academic awards.
“At STEM school, my first project was to produce biogas from organic waste. We also tried to solve the water problem in Egypt by building a desalination system using graphene sheets and silver Nanoparticles. This project won us the first place in Egypt, qualifying us for the world’s biggest science fair for high school students in Los Angeles, California. There, I learned that anything is possible and the different cultures and languages of the world are actually the same in their core” Marwa share with a smile.
Today, this 19-year-old is studying biology and pre-medicine at Manhattanville College in New York.
Marwa shared her story of how she came one of our scholars, “fortunately, one of my school mates, Mayar, got the Daughters for Life scholarship to complete her undergraduate degree in Canada. At that time, I heard about the story of a strong man, Dr. Abuelaish, who lost his three daughters because of war. But in return, he decided to establish a foundation to help Middle Eastern girls pursue their dreams and give them a new life experience. I’m very grateful to Dr. Abuelaish and the Daughters for Life board for giving me this chance.”
“It is not that easy to be a young Egyptian girl who wants to study medicine abroad,” Marwa recalls. “It took me 19 years to shape my personality, interests, hobbies, and language in order to be able to do this one day. 19 years of fighting, accepting challenges, living away from my family just to one day be what I want,” says Marwa with a sigh of relief.
Beyond just knowledge, the experience of studying at a top university is instilling within her a confidence and a self-belief that girls possess the power to change the world.
“As a future physician, I hope one day I would be able to find cures for diseases, help people worldwide, and help the developing communities, especially Egyptian girls, to know that nothing is impossible. That’s my dream,” reveals Marwa.
Marwa is a true champion of the notion empowering young women through education to promote peace that Daughters for Life Foundation advocates. Marwa believes her degree from Manhattanville College will help her to build peace in the world and her home country of Egypt.
“I deeply believe that I’m a daughter for life. I want to help others and every single step in my journey is pushing me towards that goal” Marwa says with confidence.
Alaa Hajjar: A Champion of Women’s Rights and a Budding Doctor
Fighting against all odds, 17-year-old Alaa El Hajjar is building a future for herself and her home country of Lebanon. Decades of civil war, bloodshed, and political turmoil in Lebanon have exposed Alaa very early on to the vulnerabilities of humanity. The hardship endured living in such a volatile environment sparked in Alaa’s sense of purpose. Alaa wants to make a difference to her community.
With the encouragement of her family, Alaa continued to succeed in her academics. She invested her time in gaining extracurricular skills such as: learning French, swimming, and playing the piano. She immersed herself in contributing to the humanitarian efforts that her school participated in. However, it was losing her beloved grandmother to cancer that steered Alaa towards her destiny. The passing of her grandmother grew her aspirations of becoming a doctor.
Alaa recalls the life-changing moment, “I wanted to convert my sense of helplessness to motivation and ability to make a change.” Daughters for Life Foundation has helped to encourage and support Alaa’s dreams and ambitions of becoming a doctor.
Today, as a Daughters for Life Scholar, Alaa is pursuing a major in Biology and a minor in Pre-Medicine at the Manhattanville College in New York, USA.
“This scholarship has opened doors and opportunities for me to get a higher education so that when I come back to Lebanon, I can make a difference,” shares Alaa.
The crippling shortages of medical care in the Middle East conflict-torn regions motivates Alaa. She hopes her continued education and university resources can help increase medical care within the Middle East.
“A highly acclaimed university will have advanced facilities and research that can enable me to contribute to my field of study or help in tackling medical issues on a global scale. I might be able to find treatments and cures for diseases that were a dilemma for mankind generally and the Middle East especially,” says Alaa.
Alaa is already making a name for herself at Manhattanville College. She is an active member of Manhatanville’s Biology and Chemistry Club. Whether it is volunteering in lab experiments or participating in college events, such as the Breast Cancer Walk, Alaa is eager to gather as many new experiences as she can.
The soft-spoken and gentle Alaa is also geared up to champion the cause of women’s empowerment in Lebanon. She describes, “being a woman in the Middle East is still somehow considered as a drawback to some people. Through my education, I want to show that we women are strong and independent. We are capable of making a huge difference. This scholarship gives hope for all girls in the Middle East that they can make something of themselves and achieve their goals if they work hard.”
Alaa’s message of hope and education for the girl child echoes with what the Daughters for Life Foundation stands for. Lasting peace in the Middle East can only be achieved if its women are at the forefront of dialogue and change. Brave young girls like Alaa have traveled thousands of miles away from their homeland to access quality higher education with the help of the Daughters for Life Foundation.