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Seham Alkhdour and her family are currently still living in Gaza. Samar Alkhdour, her sister, created a GoFundMe site to assist them in their travel expenses to Canada, so they can live with Samar and their other family members. Provided by Seham Alkhdour.

Alum raises money to rescue family from Gaza

Every morning, Ohio University alum Samar Alkhdour wakes up with a sense of urgency. She is waiting to hear from her only sister, Seham, who is stranded in Gaza, along with Seham’s husband and two children. The lack of a stable internet connection in the Gaza Strip contributes to Alkhdour’s struggles to communicate with her family in Gaza. 

“I have to check the phone every minute,” Alkhdour said.

She tries not to get consumed by feelings of despair, hoping her sister and her sister’s family can join her in Canada.

The long-standing conflict between Israel and Palestine escalated Oct. 7, 2023, and has since had attacks on both sides of the border. According to a Washington Post article, last updated Wednesday, there was a recent jet strike in Gaza, and there have been hostage-release talks. 

Alkhdour started raising money through a GoFundMe page Jan. 2. The fundraiser will help cover the transportation costs of getting her sister and family to Canada, which would involve crossing the border to Egypt and flying to Canada. However, leaving Gaza is costly, Alkhdour said.  

“I know the goal is big, and it could be seen as too much,” Alkhdour said. “Yet this is what we are obliged to pay as Palestinians to leave Gaza.” 

The goal is set at $45,000 in CAD — about $33,000 in U.S. dollars — to rescue four people: her sister, her sister’s husband, her niece and her nephew. It also originally covered expenses to transport Alkhdour’s eldest daughter, Jana, from Gaza, who died earlier this January. The fundraiser has received more than 200 donations and accumulated just over $16,400 CAD, or about $12,000 in U.S. dollars. 

Gaza Alumna story

Samar Alkhdour, her husband and two other children celebrating Christmas in Canada. Provided by Samar Alkhdour.

Life in Athens: 2017-2019

“Contributing to this fundraiser is going to help save one family,” Alkhdour said. “Yet, I want a bigger impact, especially with the awareness happening amongst the youngest generations in the U.S. and Canada and Europe.” 

She asks people – including students of Ohio University, her alma mater – to donate if they can, but more importantly, educate themselves about the conflict. 

After graduating from the Islamic University of Gaza, she received a Master's in International Development Studies from OU in 2019. 

A Fulbright Scholar at OU, Alkhdour made the difficult decision to attend school in Athens with two of her three children in 2017. Her eldest daughter, Jana, and husband, Mahmoud Elkahlout, were denied visas allowing them to exit Gaza, prohibiting them from crossing the border. 

Alkhdour said her time in Athens was an experience she will carry with her forever. Risa Whitson, professor and director of women's, gender and sexuality studies, taught Alkhdour. They have been in touch since. 

“The way that I interact with her in some ways (is) more like a peer who I was mentoring, teaching," Whitson said. 

Whitson, who considers herself inactive on Facebook, has tried to share Alkhdour’s fundraiser to encourage friends and family to contribute. She said she hopes the fundraiser performs as well as other ones she promoted on Facebook.

Through months of grueling efforts, Elkahlout obtained his visa in 2018, traveling to the U.S. to support Alkhdour in raising their two youngest children. Jana remained in Gaza with Alkhdour’s in-laws, and she waited for her visa and air ambulance to join her family. 

Living in Canada, Now

“I have a constant feeling of being worried, being scared that something might happen to them, especially when there's no connection, no communication,” Alkhdour said.

Alkhdour said she has to remember to take care of her two other children and her husband, who are living with her in Montreal.

Alkhdour moved to Canada in 2019 after graduation, where she sought asylum. She was granted refugee status in 2021. 

“I would say we were forced to do that,” Alkhdour said. “It's not a choice that we had made or had taken.” 

Alkhdour now works as a community case worker for family services and youth protection in Montreal. Her husband is learning French, the first language of Quebec, to join the workforce. At a French school, Alkhdour’s two younger children, a daughter and a son, attend fourth and first grades. 

Half a world away, 13-year-old Jana was still living with her paternal grandparents in the war zone. 

“When I was in Gaza, we used to take care of her, like her father and me, and even their extended family,” Alkhdour said. “And she was smiling all the time.”

Gaza Alumna story

Jana Elkahout, Samar’s daughter (13) died Jan. 8. Provided by Samar Alkhdour.

Back in Gaza

Jana was born with a severe degree of cerebral palsy. She died Jan. 8 – four days after her 13th birthday – in Gaza due to malnutrition and lack of medicine. Alkhdour’s in-laws chose not to evacuate from their home. Alkhdour asked her in-laws to drop Jana off at Holy Family Church in Gaza, where disabled children and adults were given care. 

However, due to blockades and surveillance, church members were given a limited food supply. 

“They were not able to get enough food for everyone in the church, and that's what caused Jana to pass away,” said Alkhdour.

Alkhdour recalls the risk taken by those working at the church who laid Jana to rest. 

“It was those working in the church who buried Jana,” Alkhdour said. “There was no family around her, not my in-laws, not my own family. It was a very risky thing because snipers would shoot at anyone.

Remembering Jana, Alkhdour reminisced about non-verbal cues they would communicate in: “She would be smiling, you know, whenever she hears my voice, she’d be smiling.” 

She remained unsure of Jana’s feelings when she heard loud sounds from bombardments and wondered if Jana would giggle or feel scared. 

Fundraising for Family

Alkhdour shares a special bond with her sister, Seham, who is nine years younger. 

“She is not only a sister,” Alkhdour said. “I felt like she is my daughter.” 

She dearly loves Seham’s children and tried to get all of them out of Gaza even before the war started. Seham and her family are displaced in Gaza. 

“They have no ceiling over their heads,” Alkhdour said. “There's no access to food, no access to clean water, no access to toilets. All those basic needs of life, they don't have them.

She said she feels her family members are alive but not safe during these destructive circumstances. While Alkhdour’s children attend school in Montreal, they feel the emotional effect of loss from half a world away. 

“Even though (my children) are far from what’s happening in Gaza yet, it is still impacting them emotionally, mentally and in many ways, and even that's gonna impact their future,” Alkhdour said.

For Alkhdour, she wants to continue to spread awareness about the conflict in Gaza even after her sister eventually arrives in Canada.  She said she wants people to be more aware of the situation of Palestinians in Gaza. 

“My sister's story is one of tens of thousands of millions of Palestinians; I am not the only one,” she said. 


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