Jehad has created a model to improve access to university education for poor and underprivileged students while ensuring and instilling seeds of social responsibility among youth.
Jehad is introducing an innovative approach to addressing the issue of unequal access to higher education in Palestine and also breaking the cycle of poverty. Many underprivileged students who are determined and willing to pursue education are denied the chance of higher education because they lack the necessary funds to pay for tuition. Even when given highly subsidized loans, their families fail to meet the payment deadlines due to poverty and high unemployment rates in the country.
Scholarships, grants and funding exist, but many are catered towards graduate students or for higher education outside of Palestine in universities in Europe or the United States.
Through the Student to Student Initiative, Jehad is funding the education for underprivileged students to attend university in Palestine. Instead of having to pay back the money, the students are required to give back to the community by teaching and providing mentorship to primary and secondary school students in rural, poor, and marginalized areas. Since poor students don’t have the luxury of hiring private tutors, a common trend in the Middle East given the poor quality of public school education, Jehad has the university students create and run tutoring programs for primary and secondary schoolchildren throughout Palestine.
In this way, Jehad is not more than just providing education grants and scholarships, but he is also instilling in the students the value of volunteerism, civic engagement and giving back to their community. Furthermore, he is raising the academic standards amongst the younger generation and is using education to tackle the issue of poverty.
His model is scalable and replicable throughout the Levant and the greater Middle East as it addresses the issue of unequal access to education, raises the academic standards and eventually, breaks the cycle of poverty in such countries.
In the Levant and the greater Arab World, education policies and decisions is highly centralized, regulated and managed by a national Ministry of Education. The government coordinates the curriculum, textbooks and regulations and is responsible for recruiting and training teachers, professors and staff for primary, secondary and higher education facilities.
Over the years, the governments in the Levant have made considerable investments in the education system to raise the level of academic achievement amongst its burgeoning youth population. This emphasis on education has resulted in increased literacy rates in the Levant. Palestinians are the most educated population in the Arab region with youth literacy (ages 15-24) at 98.2% and adult literacy at 91% as of 2006. Jordan has the third lowest illiteracy rate in the Arab world, with 90% literacy according to a World Bank report in 2009. Lebanon is close behind with a literacy rate of 89.6%.
However, despite increased expenditures and emphasis on education, there has been a large strain on resources as youth population in the Levant continues to increase. This makes it difficult to maintain resources, infrastructure and facilities and provide necessary services and appropriate education to the students. School and university infrastructure is left to deteriorate as school buildings are not renovated. In Palestine, few new schools are built as permits for expansion or building are constantly turned down. Damaged schools lack toilets and water and electricity networks. Schools and universities lack essential education materials and basic items. Classrooms are overcrowded and operate on a shift-system. At the same time, it is difficult to maintain quality and relevance of education. According to the 2002 Arab Human Development Report, “the most worrying aspect of the crisis in education is education’s inability to provide the requirements for the development of Arab societies.”
Furthermore, in the Levant education expenditure is often allocated for primary and secondary education, instead of higher education. For example, the Palestinian Ministry of Education and High Education (MOEHE) only spends 5.6% of its expenditure on higher education (2006 World Bank study). In Jordan, public expenditure for higher education has actually declined over the years while the number of university students has increased.
Recent economic and political conditions have led to an increase in college dropouts as a result of financial constraints. In Palestine, due to internationally imposed sanctions on the Palestinian government and high unemployment rates, students are finding it difficult to secure university fees and continue their education. According to UNDP indicators, poverty in the Palestinian Territories was as high as 68 % in 2006. Education, once a natural right, is now considered a luxury. For example, in 2007 Birzeit University, Palestine’s second-largest university reported that nearly half the students, about 3,200 students asked to be on a fee arrangement schedule. Already there were 1,500 students on a fee arrangement schedule and only 300 of those students were able to keep up with their payments. The university had to reject the request of most of the students who wanted fee arrangement and require them to pay tuition in full.
To address the lack of financing for higher education in the Levant, most organizations grant scholarships to excelling students interested in pursuing further studies. Scholarships, however, are mostly geared towards supporting students who wish to study abroad and pursue graduate studies there. For instance, the Palestine Solidarity Initiative provides underprivileged Palestinian students the opportunity to fulfill their academic potential by encouraging and supporting their application for Masters programs in the UK. USAID and AMIDEAST also make scholarships available for Middle Eastern students wishing to study at American universities.
In 2008, the Bank of Palestine in cooperation with a number of organizations including the World Bank and IFC have created a subsidized loaning structure that pays for the tuition fees upfront, but the students are required to pay back the amount over a period of 8 years with lower interest rates.
Jehad’s initiative is unique in that he provides funding and loans to underprivileged university students and requires them to “pay back” the money by giving back to their community in the form of community service. The grants are not given to students based on merit and grades, but on the need and desire of the students to continue their education. This grassroots approach builds the idea of volunteerism and civic engagement amongst students while also providing them with the necessary funds to continue education. Jehad’s approach helps young adults attain higher education, while at the same time building the academic base of the younger generation of schoolchildren.
Combining his years of experience and social activism working with a range of development organizations focused on youth and education initiatives, Jehad wanted to create a grassroots and community-based approach that would make education more universally-accessible, raise academic standards and break the cycle of poverty. While working at BirZeit University’s Center for Continuing Education, Jehad launched his initiative “From Student to Student” in 2007.
Initially, the idea was to create a group of 8 individual donors called the “Group 8” who would pool their monetary resources in order to fund a promising, underprivileged university student. Members of this group would then form their own “Group 8” after. Jehad set up “Group 8” by visiting various organizations and convincing groups of employees to put aside a small portion of their monthly salary to finance the tuition of the chosen student. The university student who receives the grant would “repay” it by volunteering their time by teaching and mentoring a group of 5-6 primary and secondary school students in rural communities twice a week. Some of the conditions of maintaining the scholarship is ensuring that they do not get a failing mark and that the students that the scholars are mentoring also perform well academically.
Jehad sponsored his first student in 2007. He quickly realized there were a number of obstacles in creating more and bigger “Group 8s”, as individuals had relatively low salaries and were resistant to give money without any return on investment. Jehad instead shifted the focus to recruiting local private companies and civil society organizations to sponsor university students. The university students must apply for the grant through a rigorous application process which involves background research on their financial capacities; culminating in an interview with the selection committee of the Student-to-Student Initiative composed of representatives of the potential sponsoring company and members of Jehad’s team. The selection committee ultimately chooses 20 students to sponsor from among an average of 100 applicants.
Jehad has used the success of the program to attract a number of local Palestinian companies to provide tuition money. In 2009, Jehad established a relationship with the large, private company Aramex. Aramex is currently Jehad’s biggest donor, sponsoring about 20 students every semester for a total of $10,000 since 2009. Jehad has established a relationship between the university and private companies, such that the private companies give the funding for tuition directly to the university. Furthermore, private companies received tax benefits.
Since the program launched in 2007, Jehad has provided grants to 130 university students in seven different universities in the West Bank and Gaza. In turn, the university students have taught, mentored and given back to their communities, raising the academic levels for over 600 primary and secondary students in poor, rural areas of Palestine.
Jehad’s program has helped primary, secondary and higher education students all over the West Bank and even Gaza. Although due to the political situation in Gaza, Jehad and his team cannot physically go there, they are sponsoring students through several organizations in Gaza who manage and distribute the funds to the students.
Currently, Student to Student is an initiative that is not an established organization. Jehad and his dedicated team of 6-8 volunteers work on the initiative in addition to their full-time jobs. Jehad works through a network of local organizations that also supports them by providing them meeting space, supplies, materials and resources. There is also a base of 40-50 volunteers which Jehad and his team relies on to help implement and monitor the progress of the university students through getting a copy of the academic records of the scholars and the students they teach and conducting visits to tutorial sessions of scholars. Scholars are also asked to document their mentoring sessions and experience with pictures and reports. When scholars graduate, “Student-to-Student” Initiative will also be in-touch with them to monitor how the scholarship has benefitted them and how it has helped them get a job to help their families. Jehad plans to establish From Student to Student as an organization in Palestine.
If awarded the Ashoka fellowship, Jehad will leave his full-time post and devote his time fully to the Student to Student Initiative. The immediate first step will be to create an established organization.
To raise the profile of From Student to Student, Jehad has participated in a number of regional conferences focusing on youth and has connected with local media outlets in Palestine. Recently, Jehad was interviewed by local television and radio stations to discuss his innovative work and its impact on the lives of hundreds of students. He has also produced a short documentary film about his work to increase awareness of the need for equal access to education in Palestine.
In ten years time, Jehad plans to expand his initiative to rest of the Levant, starting with supporting studies of Palestinians that live in the refugee camps of Jordan and Lebanon and then expanding to include underprivileged groups and minorities. Furthermore, he plans to replicate his model throughout the Middle East by partnering with other organizations, providing training and follow-up support for them to implement his model.
Jehad was born and raised in Amman, Jordan in 1982. Of Palestinian origin, he and his family moved back to Palestine where he completed his high school and university. From a young age, Jehad was in pursuit of social justice for the youth, looking for ways to alleviate poverty and provide equal access and better educational opportunities for them.
While in Jordan, at the age of nine he participated in a youth conference organized by the government of Jordan for 150 youth. At the end of the program, he was one of two participants given the Leadership Award. From then on, Jehad has continued to participate in youth-based community development activities in Palestine, taking leadership roles and organizing and facilitating groups of youth in development initiatives. While attending BirZeit University in Ramallah, Jehad continued to be actively involved in the development scene. Jehad has led a number of training courses for the youth in Palestine on a range of issues including sexual education, tolerance and acceptance of differing opinions, teambuilding, communication and leadership skill development.
During the Second Intifada, Jehad had to stop university for several semesters to work full-time in order to personally fund his university education. Furthermore, his parents and other siblings were working to fund his sister who has mental disabilities to attend a private school catered to her needs. With money really tight, Jehad’s parents urged him to transfer to a 2-year technical college which cost less than the 4-year university institutions. However, through resilience and perseverance, Jehad was able save money and to finish university, eventually also attaining a master’s degree. This is one of Jehad’s main inspirations behind starting “Student-to-Student Initiative.”
After graduating from university in 2004, Jehad started leading training programs for the UNICEF-led “We Care” project and also became a trainer for the Palestinian Central Election Commission, Al-Aman Center for Pscychological and Social Consulting, and the Center for Human Rights and Democratic Participation.
Jehad worked for Center for Continuing Education in the Unit for Learning Innovation at BirZeit University. It was during his time at BirZeit that he launched the “From Student to Student” Initiative as his experience working with civil society organizations and working in BirZeit University has allowed him to see the pressing problem of the lack of access to education among university student and how addressing this gap can radically impact the Palestinian society. It was through his personal and professional experiences that Jehad realized how he can best help the Palestinian society.
Jehad has been invited to attend and present at a number of conferences on youth development in the Arab World. In 2007, he attended the International Youth Forum in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt and in 2008 he attended the Third Annual Arab Youth Congress at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. He was a contributor to the UN Arab Human Development Report in 2008. Jehad has also published a collection of short stories through Al-Mawrid Cultural Foundation in Egypt. Jehad is a Synergos fellow.
Currently, Jehad is also the Ambassador for Palestinian Youth of the Fiker Foundation in Lebanon and is actively involved in Sharek, the biggest youth organization in the West Bank.