WASHINGTON (WDVM) — One of D.C.’s own has been named one of the country’s top influential Arab Americans under 40. Laila Mokhiber is the director of communications for UNRWA USA, a United Nations nonprofit organization. UNRWA serves 5.6 million Palestine refugees and shares their stories to energize and galvanize Americans to support them. Many of UNRWA USA’s staff members are Palestinian refugees.
“Once more Americans know the kind of work we’re doing and the kind of work UNRWA is doing, they would naturally support it,” said Executive Director Mara Kroenfeld. “It’s a very simple equation. We just need more people to understand the plight of Palestine refugees.”
Mokhiber is a fourth-generation Lebanese-Palestinian. The Arab America Foundation selected her as part of its 40 Under 40 initiative. “I find it’s my responsibility as an American to do as much as possible to bring forward stories that aren’t heard otherwise,” she said.
Her work as the nonprofit’s director of communications is especially important as UNRWA’s beneficiaries live thousands of miles overseas. Mokhiber has visited the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory that borders Egypt, five times in her career. It’s her responsibility to bring the stories she hears back to the U.S.
During one of her trips, she met a graduate of a UN sponsored school who had built his own 3D printer. He was using it to aid demonstrators. “With the 3D printer he was able to print tourniquets to help people who were suffering injuries from being part of these peaceful demonstrations,” Mokhiber remembered. “Something that would cost about $50 to import, he was producing for $5. And I was just mind blown by the fact that he had the idea to do this.”
“While COVID-19 has prevented that we continue to engage now virtually with those people and the stories are absolutely amazing,” she said. The pandemic didn’t prevent another tradition from happening, however; Mokhiber managed to hold the organization’s annual Gaza 5K (virtually) to raise awareness and money for refugee mental healthcare.
“It’s not only that she’s articulate and thoughtful,” Kroenfeld said, “but she has an organic, authentic connection to this cause and it’s been a labor of love and a lifetime labor for Laila.”
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