Climbing Mount Everest to save an UNRWA School When Jarah Alhawamdeh was having treatment for bone cancer, he lay awake at night dreaming of his future as a mountaineer. He was just 15-years-old and suffering lengthy bouts of insomnia after doctors amputated his right leg. But Jarah refused to let it ruin his life.
The Palestine refugee student from the UNRWA Al-Jofeh camp was determined to turn his situation around. He has since become a certified climber and this week begins his greatest challenge – climbing Mount Everest. “It gave me the opportunity to be anything I wanted. It made me special,” says Jarah. “Not everyone has one leg, and I am using my story to show the world that even if you are facing problems you can overcome them.”
Jarah, one of six children, was born to Palestine refugee parents in Al-Jofeh, in South Amman, Jordan. He grew up with stories of how his grandparents were expelled from their home in Palestine during the Nakba and how they never stopped hoping they could return. “They had a framed certificate of land ownership that was on the wall in the middle of their home,” says Jarah. Their story affectedly him deeply, but also inspired him to achieve great things no matter what the obstacles in front of him. “The Palestine community believe the only way to get back to our land is to be successful and to show the world we deserve to go back,” says Jarah Jarah also never let go of hope.
While he was undergoing cancer treatment at the King Hussein Cancer Center in Amman, he continued to go to the UNRWA Al-Jofeh boys school as often as he could. At the time he was in a wheelchair and couldn’t get up the stairs to join his class on the second floor. But because he was so determined to continue his education, the school moved his whole class to the first floor, so he could join in.
A bathroom was also modified to fit his wheelchair. Two years after he lost his leg, Jarah had become an accomplished climber ad the first certified climber with an artificial limb in Jordan.
In 2015 he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with a message of hope for cancer patients – “that nothing is impossible”. “I wanted to make a strong statement. To be a climber you need to push yourself a lot. Not everybody can be a mountaineer. Let alone someone with one leg,” says Jarah.
Now, with his former school at risk of closing because of drastic funding cuts to UNRWA, he is taking on a new challenge climbing to the Mount Everest base camp, to raise $1 million to keep the school open. Jarah starts his climb, which is about 17,000 steps, to the base camp on April 2. Follow his journey #MyFirstStep on his Facebook, Instagram, orTwitter.