Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish has always valued education and the transformative change it brings to the world, and on Wednesday night his hopes for greater educational equality were becoming reality. The red carpet welcomed sponsors and partners to the Sarasota Opera House for the Educate to Empower Benefit for women’s education, an event presented by the Sarasota Film Festival Education Department in partnership with Daughters for Life, Educate for Change and New College of Florida.
Abuelaish wrote the inspiring book I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey and started the Daughters for Life Foundation, an organization that works to provide higher education for young women from the Middle East, following the tragic loss of his daughters. After attending an event at Temple Beth Sholom last year, the three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee teamed up with New College to form Educate for Change. “It’s helping to diversify both the college and the community,” Executive Director of New College Foundation Shannon Duvall said of the resulting program. “It’s wonderful to have folks from different social, religious and ethnic groups together. It’s great for Sarasota.”
Through Educate for Change, New College will offer free tuition to up to ten young women from the Middle East who will be hosted by families in Sarasota. Abuelaish hopes that they “will become leaders in their community and will become the agent for the change in their community and in the world.”
Following a VIP reception in the courtyard, attendees watched Sepideh, a documentary about a young Iranian woman who aspires to be an astronaut and the obstacles that she faces. The film was both a powerful reminder of how difficult it can be for women to access education in other parts of the world and encouragement to believe in one’s dreams, the perfect example of the evening’s theme.
Judge Charles Williams interviewed Abuelaish after the film about the impact that Daughters for Life has had on Sarasota. “These girls who are coming will be your girls, will be ambassadors for [Sarasota] in their own countries, and they will help you here to see a human face, to connect us as one in this community,” Abuelaish told the audience. Sarasota might be “small in its size, but it’s big in the size of its efforts and actions.”
“No one should suffer or be deprived of education because of social or economic hardship,” Abuelaish continued. The Educate for Change program is a fulfillment of Abuelaish’s dream to see education made more available to women. “Education is the biggest weapon because we can’t equalize between the one who knows and the one who doesn’t,” he said. “Education guides us in times of darkness to see the world.”