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Izzeldin Abuelaish, Founder, Daughters for Life, Gaza / Canada

Izzeldin Abuelaish was born a refugee in Jabalia camp in the Gaza Strip. He battled poverty and war to become the first Palestinian doctor to work in an Israeli hospital, and expert of gynaecology and obstetrics. But tragedy struck in 2009, when three of his daughters, Bessan, 21, Mayar, 15, and Aya, 13 along with their cousin Noor, 17, were killed in his home by an Israeli shell. Since their deaths, he has vowed not to respond with hatred, but love. He set up the Daughters for Life Foundation, which through international partnerships gives girls and young women in the Middle East the opportunity to study around the world.


"I would love to see Daughters for Life International – supporting young women from everywhere"

The PIE News: What do you think educators around the world can do to make access to education more open?

Izzeldin Abuelaish: Number one, we need to discuss what a developed education is. Education for me is a means to an end, not the goal. And at the same time, it’s an investment in the present and the future generations. Education is the light which guides us in times of trouble. It’s the light that shows us our way – not to live in vacuum. And it’s a right! It’s a human right.

If you go to any country and you want to know about the level of development – ask about the level of women’s education.

“Women are the incubator of our world”

Education crosses barriers and has a social, human, free, just, peaceful, healthy impact on all.  In a time when you see fear, incitement, hatred, poverty, injustice and diseases in the world, education is the only way out. It brings people together, towards one goal, to realise and to find humanity – not to see themselves, but to see others, and to connect with others.

The PIE: Your foundation works by moving people without opportunity in the Middle East to Canada and other countries, do you think students can move the other way, is that something you’d like to see?

IA: And that’s the education that needs to be used as a means – in a world which is becoming smaller we need to know each other, in a time a challenge in this world is ignorance of ourselves and others.

We need to communicate, we need to go, we need to travel – travelling is not for fun, it has many benefits! To understand a culture, to know the ‘others’, to find the commonalities between the people, and to be ambassadors to each other. Because most of the challenges come from lack of understanding and not knowing each other.

So I fully support the exchange of education. Because it’s not that they’re going to be educated by the institution, they will be educated about the culture, about the life, about the environment, about everything.  We have to smash barriers.

The PIE: How has internationalisation and moving between countries shaped your life and journey?

It changed my life, my journey. I feel like a world citizen. Travelling everywhere, I can belong to every place I go. It’s not where I am, it’s who I am.

“I want you to express yourself and be open and free in life”

The world is a mosaic. And that’s why it changed me and made me see the beauty of our world. And I belong to this world.

Today I am in London. I am here, and I live here as I am here. I engage with the community. I go to Canada, and I’m a Canadian there.

Education depends on who you are and where you are. We want education that can equalise people. To use it as an engine to promote equality, humanity, peace and freedom for all.

We need education that questions things. I encourage my students– I don’t want them to be receptive, education is a mutual exchange, even between the staff and students. We need to encourage students to express themselves. I don’t want them to satisfy me, I want them to challenge me.

I tell them, I don’t want you to cut and paste – what do you think? If it goes with logic or not, if you accept it or not: tell me what you think. I want you to express yourself and be open and free in your own way of living.

Because in your freedom of thinking, you will be creative and tackle many of the challenges, but if I restrict you, there will be no innovation or creativity. So we believe in the human mind – its ability to be creative is beyond limits.

The PIE: Have you seen changes in the past 10 years, in the west, but also MENA universities and how they accept women?

IA: I see that women are taking more roles in education and they are realising that they have to be educated, to be independent, and to participate and to be active members of the community, and to be decision makers.

You go to many schools, the schools of medicine in Canada and many other countries, you see 60% of the students are female. Even now, they are ‘invading’ the schools of engineering, which is male-dominated.

“Rights are not given in parts – it should be in whole”

Surgeons, they used to be male – now you can find orthopaedic surgeons who are women. They can do everything. And that’s because of education. And women started not to underestimate themselves. Because education builds confidence inside them, and it helps a lot.

The PIE: Are you looking for new partners for Daughters for Life?

IA: My visit to London is to inspire hope. During the visit I will explore the potentials for partnership with academic institutions to support Daughters for Life.

In every bad thing, there is something good. Life is what we make of it, it’s in our hands. If you want to accept the bad life, take responsibility about your life. That’s why the tragedy of the killing of my daughters, I wanted to invest it for good. Nothing is more holy and noble than education of girls and young women, and giving back to people. And that’s one of the messages I want to spread.

So we seek partnerships with HEIs in the UK . We hope for internationalisation and universalisation of education – they are not coming here just to be educated and to benefit, they will be ambassadors of the HEI when they go back. And they will start the process of collaboration, partnership and sharing.

I hope and we appeal through The PIE to UK institutions to join Daughters for Life in this partnership to support these young women. We want to choose these talented young women who are deprived of resources and we will be proud to say we did our part in making a difference in our world.

The PIE: Do you have future thoughts on expanding Daughters for Life outside of the Middle East?

IA: I would love to see Daughters for Life as international – it’s not where I am, or where I’m from, it’s about our world. So I would love to see Daughters for Life International – supporting young women from everywhere. And that’s the message, but this needs the support – we have it as a registered charity in Canada, we look forward to having it in the UK too, and having more partners so it can fulfil its message and mission.

The PIE: How can readers be involved or help?

IA: We need institutional partners to be able to give scholarships – from my side, I am ready to move ahead. This is my mission in life, to speak and communicate with educators to spread the message.

The PIE: What’s your opinion of the Saudi project 2030 and the Crown Prince’s ‘liberalisation of society’ – reforms to change the life of women?

IA: As Izzeldin, not as an Arab, as a human: I belong to this world, and I have seen this world. We, men and women, we’re created from Adam and Eve. Not two men, and one woman. We were born equal. Why? To compliment each other, to support each other. To build, develop, create – not to control or intimidate each other. Once we start to control, we create imbalance in the relationship. So what is needed to fix the imbalance? It’s important for anyone to work on this.

Concerning what is happening in Saudi Arabia, and in many parts of the world, it’s time. That’s why Daughters For Life is making it international, to advocate for equality and education of girls and young women. Because rights are not given in parts. It should be in whole.

They give life, what do you expect from a woman who gives life, nurtures life, sacrifices? She cares. 

Women are the incubator of our world.

You can learn more about partnering with Daughters For Life here

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