Despina Athanas Constantinides is one of the lucky ones. As a Palestinian Christian growing up in the Holy Land, she has faced an uphill battle for mere survival in a population plagued with lack of education, rampant unemployment and diminishing prospects for improvement.
But rather than falling victim to the state of affairs that are common fare for Palestinians in her homeland, Despina has earned a Bachelors degree in accounting, a Masters degree in Business Administration, an advanced certification from e-Cornell University in Strategic Human Resources. She is currently working as human resources for UNICEF’s Jerusalem office.. All of this has built for her a resume that gives her hope for a promising future and the ability to stay in her homeland.
It started with a scholarship from the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL) to Berzeit University in the Palestinian West Bank of Israel. Following graduation, Despina was hired as a part-time accountant for the local YMCA before moving into full-time employment as a senior accountant with the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
“The church also supported me so I could receive my Masters degree,” she says.
In 2008, she was hired by the United Nations to work in its Jerusalem UNICEF office where she was working at the human resources department in order to help the Palestinian children and the ones displaced by conflict throughout the Middle East. Her work also included two months deployment to Libya, one month in Iraq and another month in northern Iraq as a response for the recent Syrian crisis.
Even with the scholarship, Despina recounts almost daily hardships she and other students faced because of severe travel restrictions imposed on all Palestinians in the Holy Land. Israeli checkpoints changed frequently, and she, her sister and other students often banded together to find their way to the university.
“We were a bunch of girls going and coming back together to avoid the hassle as individuals,” she recalls.
She points out that FFHL scholarships “are really making a difference” in the lives of Palestinian students, and she admits that without the scholarship she received, she said that “she would “never have been able to achieve any of my professional and educational goals.”
Currently, FFHL has 14 programs designed to help provide education, housing and work for Palestinian Christians living in the Holy Land. All FFHL programs are supported by private contributions mostly from the United States.
While several of her friends from the university are now married with families of their own, Despina is still single and lives with her mother and two brothers while focusing on what can only be considered a bright future in the land she loves with her family and friends.
By Ward Degler