May 30, 2023

Class of 2023: Trailblazer empowers immigrant communities

Arts undergrad Liyan Alkawafhah embarks on a global journey of service, education, and creating the conditions for lasting change
Liyan Alkawafhah’s experience volunteering at one of the world’s largest refugee camps shaped her education and personal goals.
Liyan Alkawafhah’s experience volunteering at one of the world’s largest refugee camps shaped her education and personal goals. Liyan Alkawafhah

Liyan Alkawafhah, a new graduate of the University of Calgary, is a shining example of someone who is dedicated to giving back to her community.

Before coming to Canada to attend UCalgary, Alkawafhah grew up in Jordan. She knew education was key in her efforts to give back to the community. She spent much of her childhood teaching herself English and helping raise her two younger siblings.

In 2017, Alkawafhah started volunteering at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, the largest refugee camp in the Middle East, where she taught English. Her experiences there gave her a deep understanding of the challenges faced by refugees, motivating her to embark on a lifelong journey of helping others and giving back to the community.

“I was very privileged with the education I was given; it was very good. By being aware of that privilege I was able to pay it forward and give back to the community. I was one of the youngest volunteers at the Zaatari, but it was important to me to help educate others,” says Alkawafhah.

While volunteering at the refugee camp, Alkawafhah also worked with the Charity House Dar al-Ataa Orphanage, assisted with the UNICEF Say No to Violence Initiative, and became the youngest person to represent Jordan at Youth for Human Rights with the United Nations.

Lands in Calgary after a global search

With this impressive resume and an unwavering drive, Alkawafhah had her pick of schools when she applied to post-secondary institutions.

“I applied for a handful of scholarships from schools across the world and had my pick out of 10, one of which was the University of Calgary. Once I started looking more into Calgary, I knew I had to come here. I fell in love with the city immediately and felt like I belonged,” says Alkawafhah. She landed in the Faculty of Arts, where she enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in both international relations and political science.

Upon arriving in Calgary, she jumped right into volunteering, starting with Pangaea, a UCalgary club that aims to connect students with resettled families. She assisted refugees settling in Calgary, tutored children, and practised English language retention techniques with Arabic-speaking families. She also participated in a project where she facilitated resettlement initiatives for newly resettled immigrants alongside the Calgary Immigrant Education Society (TIES).

Liyan Alkawafhah, third from right, and other members of the University of Calgary Model UN team meet with Vit Koziak, Slovak Republic ambassador to Canada.

Liyan Alkawafhah, third from right, and other members of the University of Calgary Model UN team meet with Vit Koziak, Slovak Republic ambassador to Canada.

Multiple volunteer roles

Alkawafhah also took on other volunteer roles within her community, working with the Calgary Drop-In Centre and the Daughters for Life Foundation. She was selected for a competitive four-year scholarship provided by University of Calgary International, in partnership with the Daughters for Life Foundation, which supports empowerment of women and girls in the Middle East. Additionally, in conjunction with completing her studies, Alkawafhah works on campus as president of the University of Calgary Model United Nations Team and as a PASS instructor with UCalgary’s Student Success Centre.

When asked about why she places such importance on her volunteering and work within the community, Alkawafhah says, “I realize how fortunate I am to have the opportunities I do, especially here in Calgary. I want to make sure I give back to the people and communities that have given me so much.”

While Alkawafhah is graduating this spring, there is no slowing down in sight. She is continuing her education at the University of Pennsylvania with a Master of Science in Social Policy. UPenn was gracious with their enrolment offer, which included a generous scholarship.

“It’s been a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, but I am excited about this next chapter. It is bittersweet, though, as leaving Calgary is going to be hard,” says Alkawafhah.

Strategy to make a difference for immigrants

Looking to the future, Alkawafhah's ultimate goal is to make a difference for immigrant communities in North America and make sure they are properly integrated in society. She believes that education and advocacy are key to creating lasting change, and she is committed to using her skills and knowledge to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

“These people are leaving everything behind and moving to North America for a better life, and sometimes that road can be very bumpy and difficult. Going forward, I want to help pave that road for them and make sure they have the easiest time possible integrating into this new society. I really want to help them feel at home.”

Join our celebration as another class of enterprising University of Calgary students marks the milestone of graduation and begins making a difference in society, in fields such as health care, engineering, business and the arts. Spring Graduation and Convocation takes place May 29 to June 2, 2023. Learn more 

Read more inspiring stories about the accomplishments and journeys of the Class of 2023.

A note for soon-to-be UCalgary alumni: As you prepare to transition from student life, we encourage you to check out our Life Kit for Recent Grads — custom-built to inform you about the programs, benefits and services available to you as a member of the UCalgary alumni community.

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