Nineteen-year-old Tala Shalkhati is a bright Palestine refugee student with a dream to 'leave a fingerprint on society’.
Tala received the highest score on the Tawjihi exams (secondary school matriculation examination) in Jordan in 2012, with an average score of 99.6 per cent. She is now in her first year of medicine at the Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid.
“I worked extremely hard to get that grade”, Tala says. “Since seventh grade, I have been concentrating on my studies. I averaged 99 per cent over my last six years of school. During this time, I basically stayed in my room studying and almost had no social life.”
Dreaming of helping others
The limited social life has not damaged Tala’s ability to connect with others, and it is these people skills that fed her dream to be a doctor.
“I have wanted to study medicine since I was a small child. I’m attracted to the human side of medicine. There is no other profession where you have so much ability to help people. My uncle is a doctor and he has always encouraged me. He continually says 'the most suitable job for you is a doctor because you understand people’”, said Tala.
Thus far, Tala’s success has continued at the University, where she is averaging 97 per cent.
Albeit limited, Tala’s spare time is filled with volunteer work. During a breast cancer awareness campaign, she was in charge of gathering up women and encouraging them to get screened.
Planning the future
After her undergraduate study in Jordan, Tala hopes to complete a higher degree abroad before returning to Jordan to practice.
“I want to help my people,” she says. “I want to leave a finger print on society.”
Tala credits her success to hard work and the unwavering support of her family.
“My family always tried to give me the best support they could. My family, teacher and friends all believed in me and continue to encourage me to work hard.”
No scholarships available
Despite her academic success, Tala has not been able to find a scholarship, and her family is struggling to cover the cost of her study themselves. The family pays about JD 800 per semester, plus an additional JD 120 for books. This is a huge sum for a Palestine refugee family residing in Jordan to meet, and it is only going to get tougher next year when Tala’s younger brother, who is also an outstanding student, starts university.
“The biggest challenge is that there is no support from other sources,” she says. “My family and I are doing it all ourselves.”
About UNRWA’s scholarship programme
Higher education is an important means of facilitating the development of human and economic capital in the Palestine refugee community and giving Palestine refugees the skills to take control of their futures. However, the cost of university education is prohibitively high for many Palestine refugee students and their families. A significant number of Palestine refugee students who graduate from secondary school with high grades and the desire to pursue higher education are unable to enroll or abandon university studies due to personal financial difficulties.
Until August 1997, UNRWA operated an Agency-wide scholarship programme through its regular budget, in addition to funds received from donors including Japan, Switzerland and Aramco. Due to financial difficulties experienced by the Agency in 1990s, the regular budget portion of the scholarship programme was frozen. Subsequently, UNRWA enacted the scholarship programme as a special project initiated with donor funding earmarked for this activity.
In Jordan, the total registered refugee population is approximately 2 million with around 346,000 or 17 per cent of Palestine refugees residing in refugee camps. Currently in Jordan, there are ten official Palestine refugee camps scattered throughout the country. In addition, there are three areas in Amman that are considered camps by the Government of Jordan and unofficial camps by UNRWA. UNRWA provides basic education, through grades 1 to 10 to some 120,000 Palestine refugee children through 172 schools in four areas in Jordan.
A significant number of registered Palestinian refugee students who graduate from secondary schools with high grades and the desire to pursue higher education are unable to enroll or abandon university studies due to personal financial difficulties.
In Jordan UNRWA has limited scholarship funding and is continually seeking resources to expand such opportunities to help build a brighter future for young Palestine refugees.