Video Duration 25 minutes 00 seconds

Mohamad at Eton: From Refugee Camp to UK Boarding School

Follow a Palestinian boy’s transformative journey from a refugee camp to one of Britain’s most prestigious schools.

Almost a decade ago, Al Jazeera’s Witness series followed 16-year-old Palestinian refugee Mohamad Fahed on a scholarship to Britain’s most prestigious private school, Eton College.

Thanks to an all-expenses-paid scholarship he was looking forward to spending two years in an environment that is largely unfamiliar even to average British students.

Mohamad was a thoughtful boy whose life so far has been spent in the Rashidiya refugee camp in southern Lebanon. He dreamed of becoming an engineer, but as the second generation of his family to be born in exile, access to further education and jobs were limited.

But then he won the Horizon Scholarship to Eton, which opened up his life in ways he could not have imagined.
This moving film followed Mohamad through his first year at this extraordinary school – going through homesickness; taking advantage of extra-curricular activities like sport and music; participating in some of Eton’s eccentric annual events, and most important of all, knuckling down to the rigorous educational timetable.

Mohamad had to find ways to adapt to life in a boarding school and Eton’s Christian framework with chapel attendance compulsory.

Eight years on, REWIND catches up with Mohamad, who has now realised his dream and is working as an engineer with a large company in the UK, and he tells of his achievements – and his hopes for his, and Palestine’s, future. 

Al Jazeera: You graduated from Eton in 2012. What has happened since?

Mohamad: I was very fortunate to have been awarded another scholarship by the Horizon Foundation to continue my studies at UCL in London. I was awarded a job offer in London at a global engineering consultancy called Mott MacDonald where I have been working for more than a year now.

Al Jazeera: What sort of projects are you working on there?

Mohamad: I’ve mainly been working on two projects; the first one is a road expansion in the US. After that, I started working on a huge scheme in London called Cross Rail II and the aim is to build a new railway that connects South West London with North East London.

Al Jazeera: Do you have any plans of going back to Lebanon, or even to Palestine?

Mohamad: The reality is right now, as a Palestinian, I am deprived of the right to return to Palestine because of the Israeli occupation. The United Nations has reaffirmed our right as Palestinians to go back to our home countries.

Every single year since 1948, since my grandparents were kicked out, the UN resolution 194 affirmed our right to go back but we’ve never been allowed to go. My grandmother, who was featured in this documentary, passed away two years ago without achieving her dream of going back.

In terms of going back to Lebanon – I love Lebanon because my parents are there. I miss them, they miss me. The problem is that as Palestinians in Lebanon, we’re deprived of many civil rights. We are not allowed to work in more than 20 professions. Me, as a civil engineer, I wouldn’t be able to practise in Lebanon. Many of my friends who have graduated from university have gone back to Lebanon, and at the moment are still unemployed.

Al Jazeera: So where is home for you? How does your family feel now that this has been more of a one-way journey for you?

Mohamad: My dream is to be back in Palestine. The ultimate goal of a home is Palestine.

At the same time, I still have my childhood memories of Lebanon. I love Lebanon because I grew up there and my family is there.

The UK, on the other hand, has provided me with life-changing opportunities. I spent the formative years of my life here, I made many friends, I made work connections, so I will always have a connection. Home will always continue to be, in the back of my mind, Palestine.