Samia Hawamda, Palestine
Master’s in Psychology, University of Jordan, Jordan 2003
Born to a refugee family with nine siblings in Nablus, West Bank, Samia faced many financial barriers in her efforts to pursue her education. Thanks to the encouragement of her family, especially her mother, she was able to complete secondary school. However, the First Intifada put her post-secondary studies on hold for three years as she waited for the Israeli military to reopen universities in the West Bank. Eventually, Samia received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and was hired as a counselor working with women and refugees in Palestine.
Samia initially wanted to study sex education during her IFP fellowship, but because of pressures and rigid social norms in her conservative community, she chose to study psychology instead. The Second Intifada hurt the job market, so despite her new qualifications, Samia had difficulties returning to Palestine and finding work after IFP. She was unemployed for months and spent four years working outside her field before being hired as a counselor at the Women’s Studies Center in Nablus. Eventually she was hired by the Counseling Department at Birzeit University.
In her time at Birzeit, Samia has worked hard to open the department to students who suffer from social, psychological, and academic problems. The department has grown to support more than 13,000 students, an accomplishment Samia’s colleague attributes to her efforts: “There is no doubt that without Samia’s hard work and qualifications […] and the work of the rest of her team, none of this could have been achieved.” Samia has implemented several initiatives, including group counseling sessions for students and workshops on domestic violence, sexual assault, and reproductive health.
She leverages the network she gained during IFP to attract partners for her initiatives and increase the capacity of her department to better serve students. In addition to the capacity-building Samia has engaged in at her institution, she established an IFP-like scholarship for her students at Birzeit. Inspired by her own financial difficulties to accessing education and the IFP model, Samia worked with disadvantaged students attending Birzeit to find them financial support through her extensive networks in Palestine and abroad. She has, herself, financially supported students during their university studies. She has also extended her impact and commitment to education by continually working to provide resources and financial support to local refugee communities and schools.