Posted by on August 01, 2014 in Blog

By Elizabeth Adams
Summer Intern, 2014 

On the 28th of June, the Clinton International Summer School welcomed twenty exceptional students from the farthest reaches of the world to their International Summer Program in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  The program is an opportunity for young leaders from underserved communities to come together in a show of brilliant diversity to learn about community engagement, business leadership, and entrepreneurship, all while building life-long ties with other future leaders.

In search for the perfect candidates, the Chairwoman Stella O’Leary contacted AAI to aid in reaching out to contacts in the Middle East to find these remarkable aspirants. Melek el Nimer, founder of the Unite Lebanon Youth Project, came to the rescue and connected us with two remarkable students: Mona Ali Hassan and Fuad Al Banna.

This is Mona’s story.

Hailing from Beirut Arab University, Palestinian refugee Mona Ali Hassan was selected to participate in the program out of the large and competitive pool of applicants.  She is a fourth year student at the Faculty of Medicine, studying on a full scholarship awarded by Unite Lebanon Youth Project.  She is exceedingly intelligent, having scored tenth in Lebanon in the official Baccalaureate exam and third in South Lebanon. 

Not to be outdone by her intellect, Mona also has dedicated tremendous hours to serving her community. To list a few of her altruistic undertakings, Ali Hassan has volunteered with the Lebanese Red Cross Youth Department in Tyre where she is an administrator, with the Unite Lebanon Youth Program, with the Palestinian Children Relief Fund, and with UNRWA.

After being selected to attend the Building Economic Prosperity in Post-Conflict Society program, she told the Arab American Institute that she hoped to use the time in Belfast to solidify her plans to found an NGO called “Palestinian Patient Pride” (PPP) that provides specialized medical care to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. “This project is a dream of mine,” she wrote. “I have already put the structure on paper but in order for it to be applicable it still needs some work and it needs me to have more knowledge and experience, which I am hoping to gain in Belfast.”  

With this in mind, she embarked on the eight hour trip to Belfast without an official Lebanese passport, just travel documentation for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.  During the program, Mona participated in numerous workshops, with topics ranging from engaging the public in projects, sustainability, how to conduct a finance plan, and the utilization of information technology. This will provide her with the necessary skills to build PPP into the organization of her dreams.

One of the transformative moments of Ali Hassan’s trip was learning about the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. She identified the conflict with one closer to home in Palestine.

“It was a huge surprise, I had no idea about the conflict in Northern Ireland… until now after decades people did not completely heal, and if you scratch the surface you will find the roots of conflict are still present. That really showed through the peace walls in Belfast and Londonderry. In each corner you find a symbol, either a flag, a portrait, or writing and how much it means to them. Honestly, I have seen a portrait about the Palestinian prisoners that I cried from. They captured a lot of the struggles on one wall through some drawings and that shows how art is a form of resistance.”

Unfortunately, she was welcomed home at the end of the trip with news of renewed violence in Gaza. It is hard to keep high hopes while knowing her fellow Palestinians are being killed daily, but she keeps on pushing for her dream. Having personally been affected by the pitiful healthcare in Palestinian refugee camps, her passion for PPP burns a slow steady burn.  As she told AAI, “Starting an organization is like starting a fire- once in a while everyone wants to turn it off, but it’s your job to keep the flame alive, and I will promise to deliver.”

We are proud of Mona and are happy to play even a small role in advancing her work.

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