Roanoke’s Hope Fund partnership featured in O Magazine

Roanoke College provides four-year scholarships for Palestinian students

Yahia Abu Hashem came to Roanoke College from a different background than most students. A Palestinian student from the Gaza Strip, Hashem came to Roanoke in the fall of 2007 through a program called the Hope Fund, a program for young Palestinian refugees who excel academically but whose poverty makes it difficult for them to achieve higher education.

Roanoke College was the first school to partner with the Hope Fund at its beginning in 2001. Roanoke offered four-year scholarships for the students while the Hope Fund provided travel, insurance, books and laptops. A story on the Hope Fund recently featured in O, The Oprah Magazine in an article titled "$100 and a Dream." The article described a small monetary gift which developed into the Hope Fund.

The inspiration for the Hope Fund began when a Palestinian-American Quaker, Fahim Qubain, called Geraldine Brooks about a story she wrote for the Washington Post Magazine about a Palestinian boy named Raed and his educational journey. Brooks developed a bond with him and eventually ended up providing for his higher education. Qubain was inspired by Brooks who is Jewish and Australian and he, as a Palestinian, wanted to help too.

Qubain started the Hope Fund with his wife, Nancy. Roanoke College was the first to help in his efforts by providing two four-year scholarships in 2001. Other institutions have provided Hope Fund scholarships for students since the start of the program after seeing the success of the students at Roanoke. Three Hope Fund students have graduated from the College with honors and three are currently enrolled.

Hashem's journey at Roanoke College is his personal one, but the success he has experienced here is not different from the other Hope Fund students. He was selected for the program after a standardized test that all Palestine students have to take after their third year. He received a 99% on the exam, one of the top five scores in the country. Students with such high potential are offered the chance to participate in programs like Fulbright or the Hope Fund, and Hashem chose the Hope Fund because he wanted to study in the United States.

Hashem was assigned to Roanoke College where he would be a student starting in the semester of 2006. However, he was not granted permission to leave the Gaza strip. It took six months for him to get a visa interview in Jerusalem and another six months after that to be able to leave.

"It was really frustrating to not be able to leave. I started studying at a university at home because you never know if you can get out or not," Hashem said.

He contacted the Red Cross, American Embassy and other organizations who worked very hard with Yahia to get him to the United States for his education. Hashem said he became close with a Hope Fund student at another university who experienced the same waiting game. When Hashem finally arrived at Roanoke in the fall of 2007, he loved it right away.

"There was a culture shock at the beginning with new traditions, language and culture. I got used to life at home. There were explosions and people dying in the streets. It was weird at the beginning not to see that but I think it's better here."

Hashem had difficulty leaving his home country and he faces the same difficulty with reentry. The Roanoke student has not returned home since he arrived on campus but keeps in touch with his family often. Hashem said he misses home and his family but he will be able to go back after graduation. There are two other Hope Fund students on campus and Hashem says they all spend time together. They are just like his other friends on campus, except that they can speak his language.

Hashem said everyone on campus is welcoming and his professors are very friendly. When he arrived on campus, many people who worked on campus knew of his story.

"They tried their best not to make me homesick, especially the people in admissions. I remember the first day I got here, Elise from admissions said, 'There's someone who wants to meet you.' It was President Maxey. Back home my school was so big we didn't meet the President. I said, the real president? I was surprised."

Hashem speaks highly of the opportunity he has received through the Hope Fund to study at Roanoke.

"The people who run the Hope Fund are great. Fahim invites all the Hope Fund students to his home for thanksgiving every year. What he has done is indescribable. He is a great man."

Hashem says that the Hope Fund has changed his life for the better. At Roanoke, Hashem is pursuing a double major in economics and business administration and he is involved in the international club and plays intramural soccer. He plans on attending graduate school in the Washington D.C. area. During his time here, he has traveled with friends and seen most of the east coast. Hashem says the education at Roanoke is education with experience.

"The level of education at home is pretty much the same but it is the life experience here that makes things different. Studying at Roanoke also gives me a chance to improve my English," Hashem said.

For more information on the Hope Fund, visit

Read the Oprah magazine story.

Released: November 23, 2009