Sahar Sarsour finds new opportunities at Mason
BY SARA ANWAR, STAFF WRITER
Growing up in the Gaza strip is not easy or favorable for a girl with big dreams. Gaza is a war-torn territory where individuals constantly struggle with financial and psychological issues. Life is difficult for Gaza dwellers, specifically for girls in regards to fulfilling their dreams and aspirations. However, Sahar Sarsour fought against the odds and worked hard to achieve her goals. Sarsour paved her way through all the hardship and adversity in Gaza—a territory that is under-siege and has no airport to travel from——and is now a fellow at Mason.
Sarsour was looking for a way to make a difference in her life and stumbled across the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), a U.S. based nonprofit organization. IREX has a professional leadership development program for the brightest community leaders worldwide. After completion of a four-month fellowship through IREX, community-solutions fellows return to their home to apply their new skills through a community-action project. Sarsour’s focused vision towards having a professional career led her to apply for the IREX program. She was selected to work as a community-solutions fellow in Mason’s student media department.
Sarsour shared some of her experiences and goals while working with Mason faculty and student media. The diversity in cultures within the student body at Mason astonished her.
“Universities in Palestine have no cultural diversity and the lack of resources also limit their abilities to excel in various fields,” Sarsour said. “However, Mason provides its students with vast and numerous educational resources to thrive in any field.”
Sarsour finds that there are huge differences between U.S. and Gaza’s media organizations. “In Gaza, media outlets work under government authorities and journalist[s] have no autonomy to criticize any government policy,” Sarsour said. “Moreover, often times they have to suffer severe consequence for their action, but U.S. media enjoys its full liberty in terms of publishing or criticizing on any government policy, and it does not face any government persecution, whatever it shows to its audience.”
Despite being so far from home, Sarsour did not feel homesick upon coming to Mason. She said that faculty members here helped contribute to not feeling homesick because they were very welcoming and friendly to her. Various learning prospects at Mason equip her to see the world with a different angle and make her feel more confident.
Sarsour cultivated good English language skills despite being in a country where nobody speaks English. “Developing English language skill[s] in Gaza was not easy for me,” Sarsour said. “I have self-taught myself. YouTube was a great learning tool for me and I practiced a lot. Speaking in front of [the] mirror enabled me to be fluent in English.”
When discussing her goals, Sarsour said that during her fellowship she is determined to learn how to analyze and evaluate the impact of social media campaigns, and also determined to learn how to raise awareness for the role of women in the community.
“Students [at] Mason are blessed with such resources and facilities, which we can only dream about in my country,” Sarsour said. “Therefore they should not take these blessings for granted and be thankful and humble to God.”
Sarsour is a project manager for a press house in Gaza. She has experience managing media projects that present advocacy and documentation opportunities to young journalists. She also works as a training coordinator and a translator.