MBA diary: From Gaza to Edinburgh

Travel and visa restrictions means that Amany Haniya had to leave her family behind in Gaza when she started her MBA at the University of Edinburgh Business School. It has been tough, but worth it, she says

EVERY student from this year’s University of Edinburgh Business School’s MBA cohort started their journey on September 11th 2017, except me. I was stuck in Gaza, a place without airports, waiting for one of two options: to leave via the opening of the Rafah crossing to Egypt or get an Israeli permit to travel through Jordan. 

My place in Edinburgh had been assured since the summer, when I applied for the temporary UK entry visas I would need for my daughter and me to travel to Scotland. But after hers was refused, I was left with the most difficult decision of my life. With time running out on my own visa, I asked Gisha, an Israeli NGO, to help me negotiate my exit from Gaza alone.  Without its co-ordination and support, Israeli security checks can take months with no guarantee of success. 

The school could only extend my final deadline to October 4th but on the morning of October 3rd a miracle happened. I got a call from Gisha telling me to come to the Israeli crossing immediately, to get the permit and travel. I hugged my daughter for the last time that year and rushed to the crossing. After eight hours of waiting I finally left Palestinian lands for Jordan. I booked my flights while I was in the taxi heading to the airport. I arrived in Edinburgh at 8:30am on October 4th, put my things in the hotel, had a shower and headed directly to the Business School.

My interest in an MBA had grown as my career moved in new directions. I graduated as an electrical engineer from Islamic University of Gaza in 2012, but found myself working in project co-ordination for several international non-governmental humanitarian organisations, delivering infrastructure, education, health and relief to the Palestinian community. I saw an MBA as the perfect route to realise my goals: to come back to my country with more skills; and then to work in senior management in an international NGO abroad. I knew I wanted to study at a high-ranking university in Europe. Edinburgh stood out because of its international reputation, beauty of the city and its peaceful environment. The diversity and gender-balance also appealed to me. This year’s class has 25 women and 20 men, from 22 different countries. Gender equality is becoming mainstream in Palestine, with many more women taking on senior roles in public and private organisations, but it’s still unusual for a woman to travel abroad alone to study. I felt Edinburgh would be a safe place for me.

After securing my place at Edinburgh, I applied to the Hani Qaddumi Scholarship Foundation for funding. A Jordanian not-for profit, its mission is to revitalise Palestine by providing international education opportunities to students who otherwise cannot fund their studies. It was a very competitive process; this year more than 80 applied and I was one of just two students to successfully receive a scholarship.

The first weeks were hard. I had to catch up on lectures I’d missed and adjust to life without my daughter and husband. My daily routine was attending classes, doing my homework and calling my family. I had planned to bring my husband and daughter here after I’d settled, and staying in Britain for the next two years. But the Egyptian crossing had only opened twice since I’d left, each time only taking a few hundred people from the thousand-strong waiting list. 

However, the challenge has been worth it. As part of an option course on International Business and Context, my classmates and I have just returned from Colombia, where we learned how business has supported the rebuilding of communities that were once destroyed by conflict. Since the fall of the drug cartels in the mid-1990s, they have recreated a sense of trust, making people feel responsible and highly committed to their communities once again. In Medellín, we met business and community leaders who had engaged local people to build new infrastructure. During the construction of the city’s Metrocable, cable-car network firm Metropolitan went to schools, universities, and community gatherings in different places, teaching them how to use the new system and instilling a sense that the network was their property. Within the first years of implementation, people were taking it on themselves to teach visitors how to use the system.

Colombia’s success in freeing itself from its association with conflict and instability is inspiring. For me it’s a lesson in what the private sector can achieve if it adopts a people-first, rather than profit-first approach, but also in the power of such projects to bring people together. The importance of public-private relations in developing the economy and society in general is a lesson I want to take back with me when I return to work in Gaza.

Some of the benefits of the MBA are clear, like personal branding, career development and leadership skills, while others will become clearer through working. It has been lonely without my family, but I have learned a lot about being independent. I am confident I will return to my daughter stronger, and carrying hope and light into her future.

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