We all have people in life who inspire us for many reasons. It can be because of the way they continue to keep going even when life keeps throwing obstacles their way, the way they continue to smile even when their heart is breaking inside, or the way they turn their suffering into something beautiful that impacts humanity for the better. I happen to know someone who embodies all of this and so much more.
My dear friend Fatima Awad is an inspiration and I hope to share her story so that others may be inspired.
MM: Tell me about your life growing up.
Fatima: I grew up in a traditional, Palestinian cultural-based household. My family was very strict and raised us the way they were raised in their village in Palestine. In my family, I am known as the bull, since I am stubborn. If I want something, I never give up no matter what the challenges are. I never wanted to follow the rules. I never wanted to walk the straight line, I love to take turns here and there and explore or take chances. I had big goals and ambition. Since I was a little girl, it was my dream to become a pediatrician so I could take care of sick kids.
What type of struggles have you encountered along the way?
I have had multiple incidences of people trying to make choices for me, regarding my life, not taking into account what I wanted. My family envisioned a traditional life for me, involving marriage, while I had dreams of a career in the medical field. I had to fight and not let the negativity get to me and what I wanted for myself.
So what did you do to get past that?
I didn’t feel like I had resources or support when it came to school and getting an education. I wanted to be a pediatrician, but there were no medical schools close to where I live and I could not travel to go to school outside of my hometown where my family lives. I had to pick something else which was available in my university, and still related to healthcare, so I decided to become a nurse. I worked full-time as a medication technician while I put myself through college, and after 4 years, I completed my degree both as a nurse and as an ultrasound sonographer. So I didn’t give up at all, I wanted to get my education, so I did it on my own and I worked hard on my own as well. I got two degrees instead of one just to prove to anyone that said I couldn’t that I did.
How did that feel to graduate?
It felt amazing because, even though everyone said I was never going to be able to do it, I did it myself. The best feeling was when I started working as a nurse and making my own money to support myself. That was when I finally started to feel strong, like I had a voice and could speak up for myself. I have done things in my life that people said I would never do. I have been blessed and I am doing things that people only dream of doing. I have never stopped taking chances or dreaming big. I still have these dreams and ideas I want to do. One was to have free medical clinics in refugee camps to be able to serve different refugee populations around the world.
You have come a long way it seems like, that’s incredible. Tell me more about your path in nursing and how it has led to become the person you are today.
I have worked in pediatrics, medical/surgical, long-term care, mother-baby, PICU, and home health. Currently, I oversee 14 clinics as a director of clinical operations. My determination and desire to keep being better have led me to be promoted and have multiple opportunities for improving the health care system in the USA and overseas. My greatest love is helping the helpless in the Middle East. I feel whole when I am there with these people, listening to them, helping to heal them. I feel this is why I am on this earth — to help in any way I can.
You are doing amazing work. Tell us about the work you are doing in Palestine and Jordan?
We have been going to different universities in Palestine to give lectures to nursing students on various topics. In collaboration with some colleagues, we have been running medical clinics in Jordan and Palestine, providing free medical care to refugees. I have not given up on my dreams of wanting to be able to care for sick children, so I am currently getting my masters in Nursing Leadership and certificate as a Family Nurse Practitioner. I want to still be able to provide health care to underserved children, especially who have no access to health care at all. Currently, planning a home health program in Palestine for chronic diseases and end of life care to help people and families as well as continuing to hold free clinics in refugee camps with my peers and students. I’m also planning for another clinic in Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine soon.
On the days that were the toughest when you felt like giving up, what kept you motivated to keep pushing forward?
I knew I wanted to be educated and have my independence, along with being able to provide care for the sick and needy, so this gave me the drive and willpower to keep fighting and moving ahead.
What advice to you have to younger women, and men, who may be struggling to have a voice and deal with the challenges they are faced?
Stay strong and never, never, never, NEVER give up. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it or that your dreams are too big or unrealistic. If you have these dreams in your heart, protect them and keep working for them. If you really want it, don’t let the negative remarks and criticism affect you.
Special thanks to Fatima for encouraging and inspiring so many of us around the world and for all she does for humanity. May Allah SWT give you the strength to keep it up and bless you in this life and the next for all that you do.