The Countless Obstacles a Palestinian Girl Overcame to Study, From Gaza To the USA

A brilliant filmmaker who shines a light on the plight of Iraqi refugees through her video documentaries, Lana Hijazi has a moving story to tell herself. Born as a refugee in Yemen to Palestinian parents, Lana strived for higher education as she studied in the Gaza strip, until she got a life-changing opportunity: the chance to study in the USA. But as she struggled to get out and into Palestine to obtain her visa, a seemingly endless journey through borders, checkpoints and airports had just begun. 

“Leaving Gaza is not simple. Paradoxically, it is easier to cross to Egypt to apply for a visa than doing it in the West Bank,” she points out. It was only by travelling to Norway that she was able to leave Gaza for the first time. “If I hadn’t gotten the Norwegian visa I wouldn’t have been able to leave,” she says in an interview with BarakaBits. I was lucky because I used to work with a Norwegian film house and they invited us over.”

Upon her return in 2011, she went to the American embassy in Egypt to apply for her student visa. “But I had to stay for a month and it was very expensive,” she explains. “So I did the interview there, and as it took time, I had to have my passport sent by mail”. When the visa had been finally issued, she traveled to Cairo once more to take the plane towards the US, but violent clashes on the border between Gaza with Egypt forced the authorities to close the Rafah Crossing, and Hijazi had to wait once again.

“The crossing has big gates and you have to wait, sometimes hours, sometimes several days to be able to go across. Then you travel through the Sinai desert by taxi, which is very dangerous. Everyone who leaves Gaza knows that he is putting himself in danger,” she says. Lana was eventually able to cross the border, but arrived to Syracuse University late, where the Master in Fine Arts was just about to begin.

Fast-forward to 2013, and Lana couldn’t wait to see her family again, having spent six years apart. But it took her a three-week long vacation and a 53-day stay in Jordan to enter Palestine and see her family, who were living in the West Bank. “I went back to the US to finish my study, not knowing if I would ever return, because at that time Gaza was under fire. But my objective has always been to come back,” she concludes.

This interview is part of a series on education in Palestine through the work of Hani Qaddumi Scholarship Foundation. Read more of their stories on their official website.

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Valentina Primo

Journalist, globetrotter, and determined idealist. Since Valentina left her home country of Argentina, she has searched for ways to build bridges between cultures and foster dialogue. Her previous work in international organizations in Italy and Germany fed her passion for the world of development, while her 8-year journalistic experience in Argentina and Egypt increased her curiosity for everything that challenges the stereotype. She holds a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Peace Studies with a specialization in Human Rights.

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