Youth in Focus: An Interview with Scholarship Recipient Julia Awwad

Julia Awwad, a volunteer in TYO's Spring 2015 Core Child Program session and our current Summer Camp, is the winner of this year's University Scholarship Competition. Hear her thoughts on youth employability and women's empowerment. Julia_scholarship

What is your reaction to receiving this scholarship?

I cannot express how happy I am. The news of this scholarship came at just the right time. My financial situation has been extremely difficult and unpredictable, particularly during the last few years while I have been in college.

Yesterday, as soon as I received the scholarship, the first person I told was my father, who until now has paid for my college education. I always feel guilty because money is tight, and I have many younger brothers and sisters who I know need our family’s money because they are not old enough to work, and they need to stay in school. To add to that, my eleven-year-old brother has a serious medical problem that costs so much in terms of doctor visits and expensive surgeries. I put my brothers and sisters’ health and education first, but at the same time I know how important it is that I continue my higher education. This scholarship has taken a huge weight off of my mind not to worry about how I am going to pay for each university credit, and put that focus towards my studies and future goals.

How will this scholarship help you in achieving your educational goals?

This scholarship has given me the freedom to think long term. Now, my mind is not occupied with paying for each university credit, and knowing that I will be able to finish my degree helps me look past that to future goals. After completing my bachelor’s degree in social work, I am  thinking about pursuing a master’s in psychology, maybe even applying to strong master’s programs outside of Palestine. All I need to do is pull together the funds, make my plan, and go for it.

What do you feel you have gained by volunteering at TYO? What skills did you gain from your experience at TYO that you think will help you when you graduate and look for a job?

When I enter TYO, I feel just like one of our kids: happy, enjoying life, and excited about learning. I forget many of the hardships I have faced in my own life and at home – violence, the political situation, financial and other hardships at home, the list goes on. But at TYO, all of that is behind me and I can focus on my strengths.

Volunteering at TYO has also made me more confident in my ability to find work and succeed professionally. I have learned how to be calm, how to pull together my thoughts before speaking, and how to lead. In the past six months, I have worked with children ages 4-5 and teenagers 13-14 years old. The amount I have learned between those two experiences is a university degree in and of itself! Working with children really teaches you anything else you will have to do in life – in work, as a parent, anything.

TYO believes in women’s empowerment and equality. Has your volunteer experience in any way changed your opinion about your role as a woman in your community?

Since I was very young, maybe 5 years old, I always believed in the importance of women in our community, and how undervalued our power is. I never accepted society’s restrictive view of women, but I was also in outlier in the way I thought. When I came to TYO, I met an entire community who saw women’s empowerment and equality the way I do. I met Humaira and Suhad, and saw how far confidence has taken both of them. Meeting the women who work at TYO taught me that women may make up half of society, but our power to make a change is far greater than just half. It made me ask, “Why can’t we do the same? Why not? We are all smart and strong, so we can be just like that.” With TYO’s community, I gained more confidence, and began to see that I could do more than just being different as an individual in my community; I can also actively change how our community views women, and especially through educating children.

- Interviewed by Niralee, TYO Core Child Program Manager