QF student Asmaa Badwan – a recipient of QF’s 25th Anniversary Scholarships – recalls her struggles of leaving Gaza with nothing but a belief that education would guide her path
On a Sunday afternoon in July 2018, 22-year-old Asmaa Badwan received a call that her request to travel outside of Palestine had been approved. Badwan was ecstatic, as it meant she could travel to Qatar to pursue her postgraduate education; she had received a scholarship earlier that year to study at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.
I panicked, felt lost, and wanted my family back. I was begging for my father and brother to take a decision for me, but they kept silent, not knowing what to say
However, her joy soon turned into anxiety as she realized she only had a little over a day to pack up her life in Gaza and move abroad, not knowing when she could return.
“I had to prepare all my official papers, luggage, and say goodbye to everyone in only a day and a half,” said Badwan. “I was 22—almost like a kid—and I had never been outside Gaza. I was like ‘Is this what I really want?’”
Two days later, as Badwan stood near the border with her luggage to take a bus to Jordan, she still wasn’t sure. Her eyes were shedding tears and her family stood at a distance.
“I panicked, felt lost, and wanted my family back. I was begging for my father and brother to take a decision for me, but they kept silent, not knowing what to say.”
One of the girls traveling with Badwan hugged her and reassured her that everything would be all right. Badwan realized that if she did not leave in that moment, she would probably never be able to travel again. Determined, she prayed to God for strength, and hopped on the bus.
Life in Gaza
Badwan’s decision to travel abroad was a few years in the making. Her hometown Gaza is under an ongoing land, air, and sea blockade by Israel, preventing free movement of people and goods from the Gaza Strip, and negatively impacting its economy and employment rate.
After finishing her bachelors in English in Gaza, Badwan struggled to find a stable job or the right opportunities for her career. Her family’s financial needs also made her time more challenging. She volunteered at different places and applied for multiple positions, but nothing seemed to be working out.
“At that time, I only wanted to escape from the reality I lived in my country,” she said. “I love my country; however, I saw my skills, dreams, and patience in front of my eyes falling and I could not help it.”
It was these struggles that led Badwan to apply for postgraduate studies in Qatar—a country she didn’t know a lot about, but whose reputation for offering quality education she had heard of. After she arrived in Doha, however, it wasn’t easy to adjust to a new life immediately.
“I was the youngest among my classmates with zero experience in the field,” she recalled. “I felt embarrassed, confused, and lost. There were moments when I gave it my all but felt too small.”
Badwan initially struggled with her degree, felt homesick, and suffered psychological stress as she worried about the financial needs of her family back home, whose upkeep she wanted to contribute towards but couldn’t. However, her strong belief in education and the willpower to persevere kept her going.
Earlier this year, when she graduated from the Doha Institute, Badwan was in the top one percent of her class and received a distinction.
Education as a guide to future
Graduating during a global pandemic with economies impacted worldwide, Badwan was quick to realize it would be difficult to find a job right away. She also didn’t want to return to Gaza immediately, as the opportunity she got to travel abroad is something only few Palestinians have the luxury of. So, she decided to pursue a second master’s degree.
Education is what we're living for because we don't have any other opportunities. We have to invest in ourselves, otherwise we're nothing. Education is all we have in life
This fall, Badwan is starting at her Master’s in Public Policy at QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), where she is one of the recipients of QF’s 25th Anniversary Scholarships – merit-based grants recently announced to mark QF’s silver jubilee, making its educational offerings available to a larger number of people.
Badwan said the decision to pursue a second Master’s and not return to her family was hard, but prioritizing education above everything else is her only path to success.
“Education is what we're living for because we don't have any other opportunities. We have to invest in ourselves, otherwise we're nothing. Education is all we have in life,” said Badwan.
As a Palestinian, you don’t plan for yourself according to what you want. You plan for yourself according to what opportunities you can have
Badwan doesn’t know what’s next for her, but one thing she is looking forward to is having a proper graduation ceremony upon the completion of her studies at QF, something she wasn’t able to have this year because of COVID-19.
“I kept dreaming of taking photos at my graduation and sharing them with family and friends. I kept counting the days for that moment, until I received the news of the cancellation of our ceremony,” said Badwan. “Even after the completion of my bachelor’s in Gaza, we weren’t really able to celebrate properly with family and friends because of financial constraints, so I really want to have a proper graduation ceremony.”
And even if Badwan is not sure what the future holds, she is hopeful that her education will point her way toward the right opportunities.
“As a Palestinian, you don’t plan for yourself according to what you want. You plan for yourself according to what opportunities you can have,” added Badwan.
“My first Master’s degree has already given me much more knowledge, and I believe that the public policy program at HBKU will also open many doors for me.”