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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
13 December 2011

When refuge turns into a “blessing”

December 2011, Lebanon — “I say to you, do not surrender to despair and do not weep on top of the ruins, but learn how to turn suffering into a blessing”. So began Talal Abu Ghazaleh’s address before a gathering of Palestinian students receiving UNRWA scholarships for their college education.

Talal, a Palestine refugee who was forced out of his land, home and school in Jaffa for Lebanon in 1948, smiled at the students gathered before him, as if they were his own children. He urged them to do away with a permanent sense of victimhood, and instead to take control of their futures.

“Opportunities are always available,” he continued. “You should have the wisdom to know how to seize them.”

Turning adversity into opportunity

He shared his own story of academic success, which started when his parents couldn’t afford transportation to send him to school. Talal walked for two hours each way through heat and rain, but he used the time to review his studies and plan for the future.

When they moved to Beirut, Talal’s family didn’t have the money to enrol him in school, but he persisted nonetheless. He challenged the principal of the Maqased School to let him prove himself within three months. If he didn’t finish first in all subjects, he would leave. Otherwise, they agreed, the school would provide him with a grant to continue his studies.

The plan worked. The school funded his education until the end of secondary school. And in 1956, Talal was granted an UNRWA college scholarship— a fully paid university education for the top refugee student in Lebanon.

Even during his studies, he supported his family’s income by working in the vegetable market every morning before classes.

“There I discovered my passion for accounts,” he recalls. And in the afternoon and on weekends, he worked in a record store, where his love for music grew.

Lessons learned and shared

Despite many exhausting and tiring years of hard work and studies, Talal has always faced his difficulties with a smile, knowing that he emerges from each frustration a stronger and firmer person.

He believes that the components of true success in life are no surrender, hard and diligent work, modesty, and good time management. Even today, at 70, Talal Abu Ghazaleh has not tempered his activity, because he believes that time is money, and one learns something new every day of his life.

Sharing his story with others who were now beginning to follow in his footsteps, Talal serves as an example of the possibilities that await Palestine refugee students.

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