Editor’s note: Walaa Al Ghussein launched a GoFundMe campaign in late December to support her MA at CUNY. She recently extended her fundraising goal after she was notified the university sent her to collections. She has already raised enough money to cover her outstanding debt and registering her thesis. This last push it to pay off the creditors.
I’m Walaa, a Palestinian from Gaza based in Brooklyn and an MA student at the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center (MEMEAC) at City University in New York.
I moved to the U.S. in December 2016 after struggling for months to get a permit to leave Gaza and pursue my master’s degree in New York — a city full of life and, in its own charming way, bursting with contradictions. After years of living and working as a journalist in Gaza, I wanted to commit myself to continue to be an active part of my new home and community. Thanks to the wonderful people I’m surrounded with, my journey has been a remarkable success, but also a near constant source of anxiety and fear.
You’d think someone who grew surrounded by war could survive anything, but the pressure of being a foreign student from Gaza in a place like the United States should not be underestimated.
Ever since arriving in Brooklyn, I’ve carried the ever-present worries associated with being far away from a home that’s constantly under the threat of another war. I’ve also had to confront the individual and collective traumas of being a woman from Gaza, and to cope with living in an uber expensive city like New York while navigating the many restrictions imposed on student visa holders in the U.S.
My employment options are limited but I worked hard to finally secure part-time work at CUNY’s Graduate Center after my first semester there. At first, I was paid $16h, which barely covered my rent and living expenses. I worked there for two semesters and was treated badly. My wage was cut twice due to budget issues and I eventually had to look for another job. A year later, I worked with the Institute for Middle East Understanding as a Production Assistant until I was again no longer legally allowed to work in the US on CPT as my academic program came to an end (visa restrictions), so still, I was barely able to pay my bills due to limited hours and visa restrictions.
None of this was a reason for me to stop working on my goal as an intellectual committed to bettering my community and the world at large. In the two years, I’ve spent in the U.S., I’ve formed a diverse network of journalists, artists, writers and more. I hosted a successful fundraising campaign for children in Gaza who need wheelchairs. Some 150 people attended my fundraiser and contributed to the campaign in different ways. We also had three booths selling embroidered handmade products made by women from Gaza, and featured talents from supporters of the Palestinian community in NYC. I’ve also contributed as a speaker to several panel discussions, mostly focused on local journalism in Palestine and life under siege in Gaza. These panels include the Palestine Lives Conference at CUNY’s Hunter College, The Red Nation Conference in New Mexico, and others at Columbia University and the American Friends Service Committee.
And even though I’ve focused primarily on academic writing over the past two years, I also made time to highlight the risks facing journalists working in Gaza to cover recent popular protests, during which photographers, aid workers and unarmed civilians have been targeted by Israeli snipers. My project was published by The Institute for Middle East Understanding.
I am a fighter, a journalist, a feminist and a Palestinian and there is so much I have to contribute. But the struggle to find a source of income as an international student to pay for my education has been impossible. Being from Gaza, my family is busy trying to keep afloat themselves. My siblings, who are scattered across the world, are also struggling to find ways and means to survive. My parents are still in Gaza, where more than a decade of siege has crippled the economy, and government wage cuts coupled with UN aid cuts are making everyone’s life so much harder.
I’m writing to ask for your help, If I can’t pay my tuition by January, I won’t be able to sign up for classes or graduate in time. I’ll be at risk of immediate deportation and returning to Gaza may be impossible, depending on the border situation.
By January, I need to raise a total of $9,974.40, divided as follows:
- $7,364.70 Spring Term, 2018 (This is going to debt collectors, which is going to cost more fees and trouble)
- $2,609.70 Fall Term, 2018
This time of the year is a time of giving, of family and of love. Your support will help me get the education I need and will ease a lot of the fear and anxiety of being one more person at the mercy of debt collectors and at risk of deportation.
I believe I have more to give here, and your help in doing that means the world to me. Please donate/share with your network and let me know if you have any questions.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you.