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From Refugee Camp to International Development Professional

Published 06/03/2013 by Global Communities

From Refugee Camp to International Development Professional: 
Abdul-Nassir Farraj Making a Difference for the People of Palestine
Nassir came to Pestalozzi in 1977, graduating ten years later. He is now the Program Director for the Local Government and Infrastructure Program at Global Communities (formerly CHF International) in Palestine. Here he shares the story of how Pestalozzi changed his future – and subsequently the future of others around the world.

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I waved goodbye to my family in the early morning of 24 January 1977. They were huddled together in our small, one-room shelter in a refugee camp north of Ramallah in the West Bank. Our shelter had been built by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees. I arrived at Pestalozzi in the greenery of rural East Sussex at 4pm that same day. It is a journey that will always be in my memory.
My experience of growing up at Pestalozzi with children from all across the globe, combined with the education I received, meant that I ended up studying International Development at an undergraduate and postgraduate level. Upon completing my graduate studies in 1990, my sole aim was to return home to Palestine. I wanted to work in development, helping my family and community and opening up opportunities for other vulnerable persons to realise their potential.
One of the first things I did when I returned home was to build an appropriate home for my family, replacing the one room shelter in our Refugee Camp. I also quickly settled in to work with the British NGO Cooperation for Development – it was a privilege to help others less fortunate while also being paid for it.
As my career progressed, I worked with the British Council on an innovative education program that helped transform the Palestinian education system, focusing on more child centred learning approaches. I was later recruited by Save the Children (US) to run their programs in Palestine. Save the Children, like Pestalozzi, aims to make positive lasting changes on the lives of young people in need across the world. I became Save the Children’s Country Director in Azerbaijan, and lived there for three and a half years, which enriched my developmental exposure and experience.
It was in Azerbaijan that I got to know more about CHF’s work and their mission to be a catalyst for positive change. When I was recruited by CHF in 2007 to run the Emergency Jobs Program in Palestine, I knew I was not only joining a rapidly growing agency, but also one that takes sound development interventions and programs very seriously.
CHF’s work includes a focus on green building development, which is very important in the Middle East. This is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the effects of climate change and degradation of the environment. Climate change will eventually threaten the supply of natural resources and affect every community, especially those that are poor and depend on local resources to survive. Rapid urbanization in the West Bank and Gaza could be detrimental to the environment – environmentally friendly green buildings is one way of mitigating the effects of urbanization. Without a focus on sustainability, increased pressure on natural resources will be disastrous for this area, which is already subject to multiple political challenges and imposed conflicts.
My work with these various development agencies always brings home my experience: the opportunity that Pestalozzi gave me to excel. As we all know, children in need lack the opportunity to be lifted out of poverty. What Pestalozzi and other developmental agencies provide, though a drop in the ocean given the millions of children in poverty, is that opportunity.
Pestalozzi changed my life for better. It taught me positive values of tolerance, respect, hard work, empathy, objectivity, professionalism and more. I treasure the values that came with my life at Pestalozzi and I strive to share them with my family and friends as well as in my professional life.
About Pestalozzi
Pestalozzi is an educational charity that gives life-changing two-year scholarships to young people from around the world. Pestalozzi students are academically bright, but have difficulty accessing higher education in their home communities. Learn more here: