By Jowana Nasrallah
When the state of Israel was established in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homelands to the surrounding region, an event fittingly named “Nakba” in Arabic, meaning catastrophe. The large number of displaced Palestinians, who became refugees, lead the UN to create an agency responsible solely for that refugee population and named it the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). This generational refugee population has been displaced ever since, and the descendants of those refugees are still utilizing UNRWA for many of their needs. Today Palestinians are one of the world’s largest diaspora populations and a substantially large refugee population.
I have always dreamed of one day working for UNRWA, an agency that provides social, educational, and health services to all Palestine refugees in the Middle East. Coming from a Palestinian family, I grew up seeing the UNRWA’s sign on their schools and refugee camps whenever I would visit my family in the West Bank. These signs meant relief for the refugees that utilized UNRWA’s services, but also symbolized a seemingly never-ending life of displacement and oppression for those same refugees and all other Palestinians living under the occupation and in diaspora.
During the summer of 2018, I was fortunate enough to intern for UNRWA’s Health Department at their headquarter offices in Amman, Jordan. As a Global Health student with a focus on Epidemiology, I was given the task of working on basic data analysis of hospitalization records from Syria, Lebanon, West Bank, Gaza and Jordan. I found myself increasingly interested in women’s and reproductive health, and having just completed a Reproductive Epidemiology course at OSU, this subject was fresh on my mind. That lead me to conduct an analysis on Palestine refugee women’s delivery methods across the five fields, which was an incredible learning experience for me. My time during this internship not only taught me so much about the internal workings of a UN agency, but also helped solidify my passions and career goals.
Along with this learning experience, I also found a great community of expats in Amman, with new friends who were Italian, Swiss, Jordanian, and American. I am very grateful for the community I was able to make, which was a great reminder of the connectedness of all the various cultures.
Unfortunately, the Palestinian refugee population continues to face new challenges. The “Dignity is Priceless,” a campaign that was started by UNRWA after the US cut $300 million in funding in January, leaving them struggling to stay alive, and threatening to leave millions of Palestine refugees without healthcare, schools, and social services.