Poor in the Gaza Strip has a totally different meaning than it does anywhere else.
"Being in America has opened my eyes. It’s made me realize that you don’t have to look like me to respect and help everyone; to me, it doesn’t matter who’s in front of me."Abdallah Maher Al Jarjawi, BSN Class of 2025
There’s never enough money to cover rent, or bills, and everything is extreme. But when you live in a place like that and you’re a kid, it’s normal.
My first memories of war are distant. I remember my father would disappear. I knew he was working as a doctor, but, because I was so young, I didn’t realize that his disappearance was connected to the conflict.
By 2014, I had gotten used to it: I’d be playing marbles and football (what Americans call soccer) with bombing and shooting in the distance. Sometimes it was up close. The hospital where my father worked was bombed; he’d left just 15 minutes before. A bullet hit the living room chair where my sister usually sat. Our neighbor’s home was destroyed, the shaking was so violent we thought it was an earthquake. I remember fire, people running, screaming, and ambulances coming.
But a lot of my life was normal, too. I read and studied the Qur’an and attended prayers at the mosque. I was a champion ping-pong player for my school. As I got older, I decided I wanted to help people through politics, medicine, and, later, through nursing.
When I came to the United States at age 14 with my family, I spoke no English. They put me in eighth grade, but taking double and summer courses, I’ve finished eighth through twenth grades in three years. I got good grades, studied a lot, and always worked. I’ve been a janitor, a hookah boy, lifeguard, valet, even slaughtered animals.
Coming from a very conservative background, being in America has opened my eyes. It’s made me realize that you don’t have to look like me to respect and help everyone; to me, it doesn’t matter who’s in front of me. In nursing, that will give me an advantage.
Eazima is the Arabic word for perseverance. You don’t have to be smart, tall, good looking, or rich, but be willing to go hard, to not give up, to put in the work. I have gone through things, and still keep a smile; in the same way, we never really know what others are going through and must help if we can.
I remember wanting to help when my father went to the war in Gaza; I wanted to do something but couldn’t. That’s why I chose nursing. Nothing will stop me from trying to do good. Why would I give up now?
One of six children of Maher Al Jerjawi and Wafaa Aljerjawi, and a district champion wrestler, Abdallah graduates from Bellaire High School in Houston, Tex., this June, where he organized his school’s first-ever ESL graduation ceremony, for which he will offer the valedictory address.