“A tough, amazing journey”: Nahed earns Master’s degree while living in refugee camp
The Palestinian humanitarian worker was one of 20 students in Lebanon selected for scholarships delivered by the Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University and Theirworld.
Studying for a Master’s degree is tough enough under normal circumstances. Graduating with distinction while living in a refugee camp and working as a humanitarian is a special achievement.
After two years of online studies, Nahed Mansour graduated at the weekend with a Master in Business Administration (MBA). She was one of 20 students selected in 2020 for the Lebanese Refugee Scholarship, which is delivered by the Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University and Theirworld. The programme has just won a prestigious global award.
The 34-year-old Palestinian was unable to travel to Edinburgh, as she lives at the Beddawi Refugee Camp at Tripoli in northern Lebanon with her parents and seven sisters.
She said: “The MBA is the start of a new chapter in my life. Growing up in Lebanon as a Palestinian refugee has not been easy. My insistence to complete my studies was my way of showing resistance and revolting against the situation – to show I am in control of my life, despite the external circumstances.”
The fully-funded scholarships were given to Syrian and Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon and vulnerable Lebanese citizens. The programme was so successful that Theirworld and Edinburgh Business School teamed up again this year to give another 20 people the opportunity to study for an MBA.
Nahed was determined to get an education and a career and to improve the human rights and quality of life for Palestinian and Syrian refugee communities in Lebanon.
She has been involved in humanitarian projects for more than a decade, working on programmes to assist Syrian and Palestinian refugees. She is a project manager for a local aid organisation and volunteers to provide tailored education for children with disabilities.
In August 2020 – just as she was starting her MBA course – an enormous explosion shook the Lebanese capital Beirut, killing more than 200 people and injuring at least 7,000. Nahed travelled to the city to assist the injured and witnessed the devastation. She distributed first aid kits and held psychosocial support sessions for those affected.
She said: “It impacted me deeply. However, meeting with the survivors was very empowering and helped me to realise that I have a mission in my life to complete.”
Nahed said the MBA programme was “tough but an unforgettable, amazing journey”. She plans to start a PhD in Political and Humanitarian Studies that will empower her to have a louder voice and advocate for her community.
Another graduate of the programme is Wissam Alghati (30), who left Syria with his family in 2012. He started an initiative called Salam Ya Sham (Peace for Syria), which brings young Syrian and Lebanese people together through art. Its latest initiative was a documentary project with Oxford University.
He said: “Art is magic. It is understood by all people of different languages and social status, rich and poor, refugee and citizen. If the world is a person, then art is the soul and work is the body.”
Wissam hopes to use the skills gained through his MBA to launch his own production company. He said: “The biggest lesson I learned from the programme is that the world is vast and worth exploring, even if technology makes it seem like a small village.
“Professionally, I learned that passion is very important but it is not sufficient for success. Discipline and continuity are the secrets of achieving success.”
Palestinian refugee Asia Abu Hlaiwah (31) also earned an MBA degree through the programme and hopes to continue her education with a PhD in project management.
She said: “It enhanced my leadership, management, analytical and communication skills, as well as my self-confidence.
“It was challenging but every step we take is valuable, inspirational and give hope to our community. So I do not intend to stop – my journey will continue to benefit my community.”
Days before the Edinburgh graduation, the Lebanese MBA scholarship programme was named as the winner of the 2022 Going BEYOND Award, which celebrates institutional initiatives that serve communities worldwide. There were submissions from 31 countries.
Theirworld President Justin van Fleet said: “Theirworld is utterly committed to the ideal that every young person deserves a safe place to learn, so we are incredibly proud that our partnership with Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University has been recognised in this prestigious award.
“Despite learning in the most difficult of conditions, these remarkable young scholars have excelled. Whatever they do next, I am excited to see how they will use their skills to build a brighter future for themselves, their families and their communities.”