The University of New Mexico is one of 13 U.S. universities participating in the 100 Syrian Women, 10,000 Syrian Lives scholarship program in its first round sponsored by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and Jusoor. The program is designed to provide women in Syria the opportunity to continue their education in the U.S. or Canada due to the interruption to their studies caused by the on-going conflict in their home country.
UNM is hosting its first scholarship recipient, Sara AlMidany, who began her studies in the fall semester. She is one of 18 other women to participate in this program in the U.S. or Canada in its first year. The recipients study in fields ranging from education and architecture to environmental engineering, politics, and biology.
"Sometimes life doesn't always go according to plan. When what you think you'll be doing your whole life suddenly changes, you learn to accept change and do the best that you can. Being able to study at UNM will give me the skills I need to return to my home and truly make a difference," said AlMidany.
As women’s education is disproportionately affected by war, UNM seeks to help bridge this gap by hosting AlMidany. UNM is among several top universities providing this opportunity including Brown University, Harvard University, Middlebury Institute of International Studies and New York University.
"The University of New Mexico is excited to be participating in this important program and to welcome our first recipient of this scholarship to our campus," said Nicole Tami, executive director for Global Initiatives at UNM.
Tami has played a significant role in making this opportunity possible.
"We are committed to providing scholarship recipients with a comprehensive academic experience that will empower these young women to use their education to change their professional lives and acquire skills that will make a tangible difference for their home communities," said Tami.
The implications of war and the rise of ISIS have been detrimental to Syrians. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as of last fall 4.8 million people have fled Syria and 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria. This upheaval of people has caused a huge disruption in education that has left many people without an opportunity to continue or complete their studies.
According to AlMidany the recipients are working towards trying to improve the image of Syrians who are often subject to negative perceptions due misconceptions produced through the media.
"We worked on a project [last fall] called Peace Letters, in which Americans write and send letters to Syrians letting them know that they are not forgotten and are in the thoughts and prayers of many people worldwide," said AlMidany.
More than 70 letters were written and sent over the holiday season, with participation from UNM students and faculty.
Beyond pioneering the Peace Letters project at UNM, AlMidany has already done an outstanding job of representing her country. She works as a volunteer with the student organization Circle K International, is a member of the Lady Lobos rugby team and has made friends on campus and in all of her classes.
"What keeps me going is knowing exactly what I want to do in the future—helping people no matter who they are," said AlMidany.
As a Biology major, she has aspirations to continue her studies and become an emergency room surgeon. To AlMidany, this is the ultimate way to give back.