The reason I work with refugees is not an attachment to my region or my wish to serve the marginalised. I work with refugees because they are in the best position and [have the] ability to lead the change we desperately need to see in the world. If we [dare] to dream about living in a peaceful world, we [will need the guidance and wisdom] of those who have seen its full spectrum and understand it in a way others couldn't.”
Growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, Mohamad and his family faced many hardships. Due to conflict with Israel, and the many challenges that arose from this, he can recount apartment hopping at least six times, and the lack of stability and trauma that came with such a dysfunctional living situation. Despite this, however, Mohamad’s parents remained committed to providing him and the family with the most comfort possible, including access to education. As their situation continued to deteriorate, further compounded by the Syrian civil war, Mohamad quickly realized that his only hope at continuing with school, and eventually obtaining financial security, would require leaving home and Lebanon behind.
Mohamad was accepted to United World College in Costa Rica and continued on to Duke University in the United States, pursuing a degree in engineering. He soon secured stable and lucrative work as a result of his prestigious educational background, and while what resonated most deeply with him had yet to reveal itself.
While Mohamad and his family endured many challenges in Lebanon, and often thought the answer to their problems was the ability to emigrate, the obstacles placed in one’s path not just as a refugee, but once resettled, are lessons he is grateful he never had to learn first-hand. So often the external perspective is that once the refugee obtains legal status and is relocated in a new country, the suffering is over.his however, could not be more wrong. Getting out is one hurdle, but resettling successfully in a foreign land void of all things familiar, is another hurdle all its own.
Mohamad came face to face with this reality, existing parallel to his own, while working as an Arabic and French interpreter for refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. It was through this work that their challenges became apparent to him, and he realized he both needed and wanted to do more to help. “I came to understand the hidden reality of refugees. They were kicked out of their homes only to be thrown into the illusion of salvation. Parents heavily depended on agencies (both governmental and non-governmental) for their most basic needs, their language inability meant the job market was [severely limited], their children had little to no English as a Second Language teachers. As I met the community, I saw a flash of what my potential future would've been had my family “won” the emigration lottery. I never knew I would feel grateful for our inability to emigrate.”
Mohamad found himself compelled to fill the language gap refugee children faced in whatever way he could. He decided the best way to do this was to immerse himself in their daily environment, and while assisting in an English classroom, Mohamad came to learn that there were 2.5 teachers for over 100 newcomer students aged 6 to 12 with no English knowledge whatsoever. These students got an hour of English per day, and spent the rest of their school time sitting in on classes they could not understand.
“I [secured] funding from Duke and organized a summer school for 10 of the most at-risk newcomer refugees. [In them], I saw some of the most socially intelligent, critical, self-aware children their age. Being able to communicate with them in their language, I could see the depth of their thoughts, and their analytical abilities [currently] hindered by their inability to speak [English].”
Mohamad had found his true calling and while a degree in engineering promised a future he thought he wanted, life’s meaning had now presented itself to him and he could not deny it. He graduated from Duke with a degree in neuroscience psychology and psychoanalysis alongside education and documentary filmmaking.
Equipped with the brains, talent and relentless passion to improve the lives of refugees, Mohamad’s most recent venture has brought him to Sky School, for which he is overseeing development of the Sky School course, Narrative and Language. “The purpose of the course is to equip students with the skills, methodology, and practice of storytelling. The ability to document the past and imagine the future [will help] refugees challenge common world -- views, change perceptions, and shape identities. By the end of the course, my hope is that students produce stories that help them learn about themselves and the infinitely complex history that led them to where they are and then to teach everyone what they discover.”