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Mai's path from Palestinian refugee to humanitarian leader

12 June 2024

Mai (UWC Atlantic, 2005-2007)

Mai received a Horizon-UWC Scholars Programme scholarship to study at UWC Atlantic in 2007. Mai grew up in Beit Jibreen refugee camp near Bethlehem in Palestine and was the first girl in her community to study abroad. Mai has built a career in the humanitarian sector, and she describes below how her UWC experience helped shape her decision to return to Palestine to help others within her community.

Growing up in a conservative culture, the idea of a 16-year-old Palestinian girl studying abroad was always going to be met with resistance. However, when I met a group of UWC Atlantic students during their Middle Eastern history study trip to Palestine, I started to understand more about the UWC mission, and I knew I had to apply. Receiving the offer to study at UWC Atlantic with the support of the Horizon Foundation was more than I could have ever dreamed of. Although my community at the time saw it as highly inappropriate and dangerous for a young 16-year-old girl to be travelling alone to study abroad, my parents were more open-minded and actively encouraged me.

Profile picture of Mai

Of course, there was a big shock once I arrived in Wales, UK. The food, the culture, the language and the weather! However, the inclusive and diverse environment at UWC Atlantic played a crucial role in making me feel part of a global community. More than 70 nationalities coexisting in peace, respect and love was a unique experience that expanded my horizons. Despite being a refugee, I never felt set apart. The atmosphere of respect for diverse backgrounds allowed me to thrive and be recognised for my potential rather than my status. This experience laid the foundation for my desire to work in the humanitarian sector, which I further developed through international voluntary work during my studies and after graduation.

Image of Mai with students
Studying International Relations and Political Science at Exeter University in the UK was a natural progression, generated by a desire to better understand global politics and contribute to positive change, especially for refugees. Returning to Palestine after my studies was a conscious decision to contribute to the local development of my country. The skills acquired abroad became valuable assets in addressing local challenges. My involvement in youth programmes, notably with ActionAid, was a chance to improve the wellbeing of Palestinian refugee children. I felt a deep sense of responsibility and empathy having myself experienced being born and raised in a refugee community where conflict was all around me.


Being appointed as a Global Ambassador for the Save Our Future campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic further amplified my advocacy for equal access to quality education, particularly for refugees. Now, as a Senior Project Coordinator for CARITAS, I continue to work towards humanitarian development and environmental sustainability. The ongoing conflict in Palestine and the increasing number of displaced individuals worldwide emphasises the importance of our work. Remaining hopeful for the future is a choice I make every day, rooted in the belief that positive change is possible.


"I am deeply grateful to UWC Atlantic, the Horizon Foundation, and everyone who has been part of my journey. It is through these collective efforts that I continue to strive for positive change, fuelled by the belief that education is a powerful catalyst for a more just and equitable world."

- Mai (UWC Atlantic, 2005-2007)