Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, speaking during a 2014 visit to campus, started Daughters For Life Foundation in memory of his three daughters, who died in a bombing of their Gaza Strip home. The foundation offers scholarships at universities to promising young female students from countries in the Middle East. (Photo by Michael Sheeler)

EMU partners with Daughters For Life Foundation to provide scholarships for two female students from the Middle East

Next year, Eastern Mennonite University will become the academic home for two female undergraduate students from the Middle East. A memorandum of understanding was recently signed between EMU and the Daughters for Life Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Canada that provides opportunities for girls and women to pursue postsecondary studies.

“The Daughters for Life program is an opportunity for EMU to support a worthy cause and to enrich the learning community here on campus at the same time,” said Provost Fred Kniss. “We hope to bring talented young international women to campus who have significant academic and leadership potential.  We hope they can exercise their gifts here on campus, developing them further in order to make a significant contribution to their home communities after they graduate from EMU.”

The foundation was founded in 2009 by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish in honor of the three daughters he lost during an Israeli shelling of their Gaza Strip home. An obstetrician and gynecologist by training, Abuelaish is now an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

He visited EMU in November 2014 to talk about his book “I Shall Not Hate,” and to speak about peacebuilding through a medical lens. While on campus, he introduced the possibility of such a partnership with university officials. A favorable response led to more discussion and the signing of an MOU nearly a year later.

“The Daughters for Life Foundation is proud to be playing an important role in supporting the education of women in the Middle East,” said Abuelaish, “and we are honored to have Eastern Mennonite join us in our transformative mission to foster peace through education. Establishing a just, safe, healthy and peaceful world is only possible if we ensure that women are educated and able to fully participate in and contribute to their communities and the world.”

The Daughters for Life (DFL) program currently has more than 20 young scholars enrolled in a number of universities and colleges across North America and Bangladesh. Students are selected on the basis of academic achievement, “but also for their character and commitment to improving the lives of girls and young women in the Middle East,” according to the DFL website.

As part of their agreement, the students must agree to eventually “return to their homelands to improve the lives of girls and young women in the Middle East.” According to UNESCO, only 20% of women ages 15 and older are in the labor force, the lowest level of any world region. Women in these countries are twice as likely to be illiterate as men are and make up two-thirds of the region’s illiterate adults.

Applicants will be required to meet EMU admissions standards for international students, said Director of Admissions Matt Ruth.

Under the terms of the agreement, two full academic scholarships and lodging will be provided, along with international airfare, activity fees, textbooks and board.

As part of the agreement, Abuelaish will donate his time to one fundraising event to benefit both scholarship funds and DFL expenses relating specifically to the scholars at EMU.

Seven North American institutions, including EMU, will host students for the 2016-17 academic year: Collége Boréal, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Sault College, all in Ontario, Canada; and Manhattanville College and The University of Rochester in New York state, and New College of Florida, in Sarasota, Florida.