When 20-year-old Palestinian-American Nuer Alshaikh entered into a competition for a modest scholarship, she wasn’t expecting to start a movement within her community. But then the unimaginable happened.
Just over one month ago, Nuer from Chicago’s South Side joined an online competition to win a $1,000 scholarship that she would put towards college. The rules were simple and straightforward: collect as many votes as possible over the course of the month. To do so, Nuer would have to share her story and her vision for the future.
Nuer grew up in a part of Chicago where, in her own words, she and her family “laid low because we knew the bullets would be fired in a flow”. In underserved neighborhoods like hers, it is uncommon for young people to graduate high school, much less attend college. Her parents, immigrants from Palestine, worked hard to secure a safe future for Nuer and her siblings.
There were times when Nuer didn’t think she’d make it to her 18th birthday. But this didn’t stop her from dreaming of ways to give back to the community she grew up in. Nuer’s greatest ambition was to earn her education, to succeed in school, and to be a role model for inner-city youth facing many of the same challenges she faced.
Nuer’s inspirational story propelled her to first place. But she was edged out of the lead in the final days of the competition and finished in second, missing out on the chance for a $1,000 scholarship that undoubtedly would have helped her achieve her dream.
A group of her friends and supporters decided to raise the $1,000 on their own to reciprocate the kindness and altruism Nuer is known for. It only took The Amal Project (amal means ‘hope’ in Arabic) eight hours after it went live to raise the full amount.
The Amal Project coordinators took it a step further and bumped the goal up to $2,000 — still a modest amount, yes, but a testament to the community’s growing support for Nuer.
Last Sunday, after only four days of fundraising, The Amal Project coordinators joined forces with many of Nuer’s close friends and presented the check to her at her doorstep. Her family invited everyone inside where Nuer shared with a little bit more detail her future plans in college and beyond.
Nuer, who initially struggled to find funds for college, hopes to graduate with a psychology degree that will guide her towards a career in forensic psychology. She plans on using her expertise in psychology to mentor troubled children and to encourage them to take advantage of any and all opportunities to educate themselves.
Higher education is highly valued in Palestinian culture. Many Palestinian-American families, however, don’t have the means to pay for regular college expenses. The Amal Project’s main purpose is to make college more accessible, particularly to those who face the burden of large economic disparities common between inner-city and suburban populations. It is one of very few scholarships available to Palestinian-American youth.
The Amal Project was developed with one goal in mind: to empower and inspire young Palestinian-Americans to further their education. All it takes is hope, dedication, and education to light the way ahead for generations to come.
Shirien Damra, Sami Kishawi
The Amal Project Coordinators