Noora Reffat: Ibrahim Alumni 2018-2019, Yale University
Updated: Apr 2, 2021
As written by Sharon Jackson:
“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship,” theorized writer Susan Sontag, in her work Illness as Metaphor. “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”
Noora Reffat knows, however, that though all of us spend some time in “that other place,” how long one stays there is determined, in part, by another kind of citizenship. There is much to take in on an Ibrahim journey — countless stories to hear, and countless facets combining to shape each one, but as Noora visited Israel, Palestine, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman during her Ibrahim trip, she was struck, over and over again, by the lack of access to medical care by those born on the “wrong” side of a border. While in the UAE, she met migrant workers who labor for long hours, yet cannot always receive the medical attention they need; while in Oman, she came across immigrant women who could not go to a doctor without permission from a male relative; while in a Palestinian refugee camp, she encountered a man who had gone on a hunger strike during his imprisonment in an Israeli jail, and had not had proper access to healthcare both within the jail and outside of it.
Upon returning to the United States, Noora was determined to make the night side of life shorter and more bearable for displaced and refugee populations in the Middle East. She was accepted into the Yale School of Health, where she is currently pursuing a five-year BA-BS/MPH joint degree. It is her aim, after she graduates, to return to the region as a doctor as part of the organization, Doctors Without Borders.
Noora is not waiting for graduation to begin affecting change, however — a powerful writer, she has published articles about her experiences in Standby: The Yale Travel Magazine and the Globalist. She has also worked as a researcher at the Yale Law School Schell Center for International Human Rights, in partnership with the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation, a non-profit that runs a Somali refugee camp. As part of her research, Noora worked to distinguish between Islam and political Islam, and recommend ways to implement Islamic teaching in human rights law and curricula. Afterwards, Noora traveled to Egypt to conduct an oral history and photography project.
It has been Noora’s observation that many of the organizations working on the ground in the Middle East began in, and are managed by, mostly white people in the West — hence, she believes strongly that, as a Muslim Egyptian woman who wears the hijab, her voice is necessary for shaping the way non-profits address healthcare disparities in the Middle East. She is eager to utilize all she has learned, both in school and on her travels, to guide people across the border from the kingdom of the sick back into the kingdom of the well, regardless of whether their passports announce them to be citizen, stateless, or refugee.