Today, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) honours former student and current NASA electrical and power team member Loay Elbasyouni. In April 2021, the NASA Mars helicopter Loay helped engineer, completed its first flight to Mars. This historic feat of ingenuity is a result of seven years of hard work by Loay and the rest of the team at NASA. A former UNRWA school student from Beit Hanoun, Gaza, Elbasyouni, left the besieged Strip in 1998 to pursue higher education in the United States. UNRWA currently offers education to more than 286,645 students in 278 Agency schools across Gaza.
The Second Intifada began soon after and the resulting Israeli siege on the Strip prevented Loay from seeing his family for 10 years, between 2002-2012. The continued siege limits his access to them and makes it impossible for his family to visit him in the US and celebrate his achievements.
Highlighting Loay’s success in his recent address to the 156th League of Arab States Council Meeting, UNRWA Commissioner-General Phillipe Lazzarini said: “Loay’s achievements are impressive and a tribute to a mix of brilliance and bravery that has possessed.
Leaving Gaza as a youth and not being able to see his family for years did not stop Loay from achieving his dream: he went from Gaza to NASA! What an inspiration to thousands of young people and young refugees. The sky is indeed the limit for the hopes and dreams for this next generation of artists, scientists and everything in between.”
Since its founding, UNRWA has graduated two million Palestine refugee students. Through its network of 711 schools and eight vocational training centres, the Agency is proud to continue to protect the right to education for more than 540,000 Palestinian refugee students and youth across the Middle East.
Watch this video to learn more about Loay and his journey.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall.
UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 with a mandate to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to registered Palestine refugees in the Agency’s area of operations, namely the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.
Thousands of Palestine refugees who lost both their homes and livelihood because of the 1948 conflict have remained displaced and in need of significant support for over seventy years.
UNRWA helps them achieve their full potential in human development through quality services it provides in education, health care, relief and social services, protection, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance and emergency assistance. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.