Dr. Karen Hamad and attorney Sue Jacobson have different heritages and different faiths, but their mothers instilled in them a common belief: Educating women can change the world.
Hamad and her mother, Renee, and Sue and her mother, Dorothy, have been early and enthusiastic supporters of New College of Florida’s partnership with the Daughters for Life Foundation.
That partnership has bloomed this fall, bringing five Middle Eastern women to the college this fall on full four-year scholarships. The program’s hope is that by empowering women with a college education, they can bring change to one of the most volatile parts of the world.
“If you educate women, it’s been shown that they go home and raise up their communities,” says Karen, an internal medicine specialist in Sarasota. “They use that education to improve not only their own lives but the lives of the people they live with and of the children they have. The more you educate these girls, the more they realize that they shouldn’t spend their life behind a burka, that they shouldn’t be locked in rooms or married off to men 50 years their senior.”
That concept, that women will drive change in their homelands, is at the heart of the Daughters for Life Foundation. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish created the foundation to honor his three daughters, who were killed when an Israeli tank mistakenly fired a shell into their home.
Born in the Gaza Strip, Abuelaish practiced medicine in both his Palestinian homeland and Israeli hospitals. The foundation embodies his belief that educating young women from various ethnic, national, and religious backgrounds can bring peace to the Middle East.
“If you educate women, it’s been shown that they go home and raise up their communities.They use that education to improve not only their own lives but the lives of the people they live with and of the children they have.”–Dr. Karen Hamad
These two mother-daughter pairs parallel that notion of cooperation across cultural lines. “I’m very excited about the idea of us, a Jewish mother and daughter, partnering with a mother and daughter with an Arab background,” says Sue. “I think it sends a message and conveys what we believe: Let’s join hands on this.”
This idea of multinational unity hits close to home for the Hamads, who serve as an example of how different cultures can blend together.
Renee was born and grew up in Cairo, Egypt, and is of Jewish descent. She married a Palestinian Christian, and the couple raised their two children in the United States, encouraging and financially supporting them throughout their educational paths. Once her children were grown, Renee focused on her own education, finishing the bachelor’s degree she’d started in Cairo by graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Eckerd College.
“My parents are really brave, and our whole lives they told us that it’s about tolerance,” says Karen. “Maybe if you meet people from another part of the world and they eat like you and cry like you and study like you and worry like you, maybe they won’t be so ‘other.’ That’s what I hope.”
The Hamads expect the program to be an eye-opening experience not only for its participants but also for the rest of the college population and the local community as a whole.
“Being able to communicate with these women and ask them questions as to how they live will be like opening a window into a different culture,” says Renee, who recently finished a stint as president of the board of the Women’s Resource Center of Sarasota County and now is immediate past president. “Hopefully the gaps will narrow and the culture differences will diminish.”
“Education gives you the tools to be able to work with people, to be able to confront whatever issues exist in your day-to-day life. Education expands your world, and, for women in particular, it just has a tremendous ripple effect.” –Sue Jacobson
Sue and Dorothy share the same desires through their support of the initiative. “I don’t think you can do much
in this world without an education,” says Sue, of counsel at Kirk Pinkerton in Sarasota. “Education gives you the tools to be able to work with people, to be able to confront whatever issues exist in your day-to-day life. Education expands your world, and, for women in particular, it just has a tremendous ripple effect.”
The two have both seen in their own lives the power an education can have. “My mom went to college in an era when not every girl went to college, but her father thought that was really important,” says Sue.
Dorothy received her bachelor’s degree from University of Buffalo, and pursued her master’s degree from Elmira College while raising her family.
“I wanted to go on,” says Dorothy. “And it was good because my children were in high school then. They would see me studying and so it became important to them.”
Now they look forward to giving other women these same kinds of skills with which to navigate—and hopefully change—the world.
“This will really foster leadership in women,” says Sue, who has served in local and national Jewish organizations. “Not only will they be getting a college education, but they’ll be exposed in a big way to other people with different backgrounds. It will help them see the bigger world, and I think that will have a positive influence on whatever they want to do. And if there are more female leaders in the world, there will be more peace in the world, period. ”
“I really think that the only way the violence and hatred over in the Middle East is going to stop is when there are enough women educated that they don’t allow it to continue anymore,” says Karen. “Someone has to empower them to stop all of that, and it has to start with one person. So this is a way to really make a big change with an individual at a time.”